When the sender is perceived as engaged in a stratagem
involving ambiguous and multiple motivations, the receiver becomes defensive. No
one wishes to be a guinea pig, a role player, or an impressed actor, and no one
likes to be the victim of some hidden motivation. That which is concealed, also,
may appear larger than it really is with the degree of defensiveness of the
listener determining the perceived size of the element. The intense reaction of
the reading audience to the material in The Hidden Persuaders indicates the
prevalence of defensive reactions to multiple motivations behind strategy. Group
members who are seen as "taking a role" as feigning emotion, as toying
with their colleagues, as withholding information or as having special sources
of data are especially resented. One participant once complained that another
was "using a listening technique" on him!
A large part of the adverse reaction to much of the so-called
human relations training is a feeling against what are perceived as gimmicks and
tricks to fool or to "involve" people, to make a person think he or
she is making their own decision, or to make the listener feel that the sender
is genuinely interested in him or her as a person. Particularly violent
reactions occur when it appears that someone is trying to make a stratagem
appear spontaneous. One person reported a boss who incurred resentment by
habitually using the gimmick of "spontaneously" looking at his watch
and saying "my gosh, look at the time—I must run to an appointment."
The belief was that the boss would create less irritation by honestly asking to
Similarly, the deliberate assumption of guilelessness and natural simplicity is especially resented. Monitoring of tapes of feedback and evaluation sessions in training groups indicated the surprising extent to which members perceive the strategies of their colleagues. The perceptual clarity may be quite shocking to the strategist, who usually feels that he has cleverly hidden the motivational aura around the "gimmick".
This aversion to deceit may account for one's resistance to
politicians who are suspected of behind-the-scenes planning to get one's vote,
to psychologists whose listening apparently is motivated by more than the
manifest or content-level interest in one's behavior, or the sophisticated,
smooth, or clever person whose one-upmanship is marked with guile. In training
groups the role-flexible person frequently is resented because his or her
changes in behavior are perceived as strategic maneuvers.
In contrast, behavior that appears to be spontaneous and free
of deception is defense reductive. If the communicator is seen as having a clean
id, as having uncomplicated motivations, as being straightforward and honest, as
behaving spontaneously in response to the situation, he or she is likely
to arouse minimal defensiveness.
When neutrality in speech appears to the listener to indicate
a lack of concern for his welfare, he becomes defensive. Group members usually
desire to be perceived as valued persons, as individuals with special worth, and
as objects of concern and affection. The clinical, detached,
person-is-an-object-study attitude on the part of many psychologist-trainers is
resented by group members. Speech with low affect that communicates little
warmth or caring is in such contrast with the affect-laden speech in social
situations that it sometimes communicates rejection.