Positive and negative climates can be understood along three dimensions—recognition, acknowledgment, and endorsement. We experience confirming climates when we receive messages that demonstrate our value and worth from those with whom we have a relationship. Conversely, we experience disconfirming climates when we receive messages that suggest we are devalued and unimportant. Obviously, most of us like to be in confirming climates because they foster emotional safety as well as personal and relational growth. However, it is likely that your relationships fall somewhere between the two extremes. Let’s look at three types of messages that create confirming and disconfirming climates.
Recognition messages: These messages either confirm or deny another person’s existence. For example, if a friend enters your home and you smile, hug him, and say, “I’m so glad to see you,” you are confirming that friend’s existence. If you say “Good morning” to a colleague and they ignore you by walking out of the room without saying anything, they are creating a disconfirming climate by not recognizing you as a unique individual.
Acknowledgment messages go beyond recognizing another’s existence by confirming what they say or how they feel. Nodding our head while listening or laughing appropriately at a funny story are nonverbal acknowledgment messages. When a friend tells you about a really bad day at work and you respond with “Yeah, that does sound hard, do you want to go somewhere quiet and talk?” you are acknowledging and responding to that friend’s feelings. In contrast, if you were to respond to your friend’s frustrations with a comment like “That’s nothing. Listen to what happened to me today,” you would be ignoring the experience and presenting yours as more important.
Endorsement messages: These messages go one step further by recognizing a person’s feelings as valid. Suppose a friend comes to you upset after a fight with their girlfriend. If you respond with “Yeah, I can see why you would be upset,” you are endorsing their right to feel upset. However, if you said, “Get over it. At least you have a girlfriend,” you would be sending messages that deny their right to feel frustrated in that moment. While it is difficult to see people we care about in emotional pain, people are responsible for their own emotions. When we let people own their emotions and do not tell them how to feel, we are creating supportive climates that provide a safe environment for them to work through their problems.