Do You Get Defensive? Here's How to Stop

How often is this repeated in your life?

A parent comes to you with a complaint and you respond in anger.

A volunteer questions a decision you made and you feel like you are being attacked.

Someone on the team offers an idea that is different than yours and you get upset.

Your Pastor asks why a program didn't go according to plan and you start blaming other people.

Conflict arises and you can't work through it without your emotions amping up.

Are you feeling defensive right now about being defensive?  Keep reading.

The good news is you're not alone.  The natural tendency for everyone is to get defensive.  But you can overcome it.  Here's how.

When a situation arises that causes you to begin feeling defensive...

#1 - Think of the first thing you want to say and don't say it.  Instead take a deep breath.  This will help you not become defensive.

#2 - Think of the second thing you want to say and don't say that either.  Take a second deep breath.  This will help you not retaliate and escalate the conversation.

#3 -  Think of the third thing you want to say and say that.  Once you have gotten past defending and retaliating, you have a better chance of seeking a solution.

#4 - Focus on listening to what the other person says and then build on it.

#5 - Use the phrase, "Say more about ____________."  This will buy you more time to calm down.  This will also disarm someone who has bad intentions. 

#6 - Say "yes, and" instead of "yes, but."  "Yes & and" validates what has been said.  "Yes & but" leads directly to defensiveness.

"Yes, but I don't think you understand the program."
(not good)
"Yes, I heard everything you said and let's figure out a way to make sure..." (good)

But what if the person is unfairly attacking you?  What if what they are saying is untrue?  What should you do then?

First, pause after they speak for a full count of three in your head.  This will both take the conversation away from escalating and may cause the other person to become nervous.  If they do, that will work in your favor.  When you don’t take the bait, they are in unfamiliar territory and this can have a slightly disarming effect.

Secondly,  look them squarely, calmly, and firmly in the eye and say, “Whoah!  Let’s each take a breath here because I am feeling very reactive and I know until I calm down a bit, whatever I say or do now will only make this conversation worse.  And I am not going to do that.”

Thirdly,  take that breath and say, “Okay, what’s clear to me is that something is frustrating you.  What, in your mind’s eye, would you like me to do to make that frustration go away?  If it’s doable and fair to you and me and everyone it affects and in their best interest, I think I’ll be happy to oblige.  If however it isn’t fair or in everyone’s best interest, I’m going to have a problem going along with it.”

Fourthly - Be quiet.  Let them respond and if it doesn’t seem fair and in everyone’s best interest say, “I’m having some difficulty understanding how that will be fair to everyone and in their best interests.  Perhaps you can explain otherwise or we can brainstorm on how to make it so.”

By standing up for the principles of fairness, and reason, and mutual best interest, you'll be better able to stand up for what’s right — and stand up to them in a way that is neither defensive or provoking.