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Full Title: Taking the War Out of Our Words: The Art of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication
Author(s): Sharon Strand Ellison
Publishing / Edition: Voices of Integrity, 2016
Purchase; Read: This is available to purchase from the author's website. It is also available to borrow from Internet Archive.

Content Review

The main premise of this book is simple, but profound:

People use the principles of war in conversation.

The first half of the book describes what those principles are (or what the author refers to as "The War Model"), while the last half of the book describes a more effective alternative (what the author refers to as "The Non-Defensive Model", "Powerful Non-Defensive Communication", or PNDC). I will attempt to give a simple summary of each in turn...

The War Model

There are generally three options within combat: Attack, Withdraw, or Surrender

All of those actions are "defensive" in the sense that they intended to serve the purpose of self-preservation, for "loss" in war means death. The first option attempts to destroy the threat, the second option tries to evade it by retreating, while the third option gives into its demands with the hope of survival.

The War Model demonstrates six ways that kind of dynamic can show up within conversations ("The Six Defensive Reactions"). Each of these is associated with a particular "personality type", and some examples of the different conversational strategies (or "formats") that each might lead to are given. Keep in mind that people may not necessarily be any one specific personality type, applying different formats at different times. However, none of them are desirable.

The book is very well-organized, with summary tables at the end of each section. [It reminds me somewhat of the book, Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen, in that regard.] We can summarize most of the above information by combining several of those tables into one interactive table, like this:

Option In War Defensive Reaction
[Personality Type]
(Counter)attack Justify [Defensive] Responding to criticism by explaining your own behavior or making excuses
Blame [Aggressive] Attacking the other person's position in an attempt to defend yourself
Withdraw Escape [Passive] Avoiding talking about something you don't want to discuss in order to avoid conflict
Entrap [Vindictive] Refusing to respond to someone in order to draw that person into a situation where they may feel uncomfortable or act inappropriately
Surrender Betray [Co-Dependent] Giving in to someone who treats you poorly, blaming yourself, and making excuses for the person
Sabotage [Passive-Aggressive] Pretending to agree with someone who you think is treating you poorly and then doing something to undermine the person
*Click on links to open up more tables.

To be honest, one may get the sense that they are being "called out" as they are reading this section of the book. This is not a bad thing though! The War Model is just so embedded within how people think that it might seem difficult to get away from it, even when one sincerely has "good intentions" towards the people that they are speaking with.

The author then goes on to describe how our communication tools (i.e.: Questions, Statements, and Predictions) are misused as a result of The War Model, which often leads to arguments instead of enjoyable conversations.

The Non-Defensive Model

Picking up from the end of the previous section, the author explains the nature and function of Questions, Statements, and Predictions, as well as the formats that they tend to take when they are used non-defensively [The links below contain more in-depth explanations]...


Nature: Curious, open, innocent, neutral, inviting
Function: To gather information

• Ask questions about the content of the topic under discussion
• Ask questions about the process of the interaction, including the attitude or feelings that are affecting the discussion


Nature: Open, vulnerable, direct, subjective, descriptive
Function: To provide information

• Describe for the other person in your own words what you hear their conscious or overt message to be
• Share with the other person any contradictory covert message you see from your perspective - including any discrepancies you perceive between their words, non-verbal language, and behavior
• Describe what you perceive as the cause or motivation for the other person's reactions
• Describe and express your own reactions - thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors


Nature: Protective, foretelling, neutral, definitive, firm, dual in nature
Function: To provide security through predictability

• Using "if-then", tell the person how you will respond to various choices they might make in a given situation (limit-setting)
• Using "if-then", tell the person what consequences you believe he or she will experience in life as a consequence of certain choices (challenge-choice)

When used in this way (i.e.: non-defensively), they usually have certain effects...

Separateness: Each person is able to maintain the clarity of his or her own position instead of getting caught in power struggle
Disarming: Each person is likely to respond with openness and sincerity
Clarification: Each person has an opportunity to affirm, deny, or qualify a position
Accountability: Each person is accountable for what he or she says and does
Quantum Leaps: Each person has the opportunity to take quantum leaps in personal growth

She shows how all of these can be connected together into a fluid process. [This is similar to Marshall Rosenberg's Non-Violent Communication, with Statements and Predictions being akin to his "Observation" and "Request" steps.]

In order to be genuine, one must realize that this is more than just a "technique" to apply. It is something that has to be integrated into one's being (what the author calls "The Non-Defensive Mind and Heart Set"). It really is a case of "a minute to learn, a lifetime to master".

Finally, the end of the book describes its implications for society when it is applied to groups, how addiction to power struggle can be transformed into power that is shared through reciprocal interchange. This can be thought of as "the next evolutionary step" of humanity.

There is a lot of humanness and warmth within the book (that may not be evident from my, almost clinical, summary of it here). There is also a huge amount of subtle wisdom contained within the explanations and elaborations on the above information.

A nice touch is that the same examples are repeatedly developed throughout. A helpful index at the end lists all of these examples by topic so that one has a quick conversational reference on hand too.

Highly recommend reading!

Related Resources

Sharon Ellison
This is the author's YouTube channel. Many of these videos demonstrate / explain certain aspects of PNDC well (e.g.: how to ask questions non-defensively), or tell some of the stories out of the book.