“Here’s a list of the items you requested,” the assistant said to her supervisor. After a quick glance, her supervisor replied, “Great. Would you group them by subject for me?” The assistant quickly replied, “I would have done that already, but I didn’t have the time prior to your arriving this morning.”
The assistant should have said, “Certainly. I’ll get right on it.” Instead, she defended her actions, interpreting her supervisor’s request as a comment on her skills and abilities. Yet, this was the first time the supervisor asked for the list to be prepared in this fashion.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Do you have a tendency to get defensive or start explaining or justifying your actions, even when not warranted? Typically, we go on the defense when we feel threatened, which initiates the familiar fight-or-flight response. Maybe someone makes a suggestion for a new place to hold the company picnic, which you’re in charge of organizing. Your first response might be a defensive, “This is the location we’ve always held it” if you interpret his suggestion as a criticism of the picnic location.
It may not be easy to acknowledge that you are a defensive communicator. Understand that being defensive makes it difficult for others to speak honestly with you, as they don’t want to upset you. Some common defense mechanisms include sarcasm, blaming, trivializing, overexplaining or withdrawing.
Here are steps you can take to address it:
- Awareness. Recognize and acknowledge to yourself that you are going into defensive mode.
- Breathe. Don’t jump right in with a response, but simply create a natural pause with your breathing.
- Listen. Really hear what’s being said. Often, when we’re defensive, we fail to listen to the other person, as we’re already formulating a response.
- Affirm. Monitor your self-talk. Research has shown that positive self-affirmations can reduce the tendency to go into defensive mode.
- Respond. Deliver a simple, short phrase to let another know they’ve been heard. “That’s an interesting suggestion” or “I’ll look into that location” is all you need.