When faced with conflict, it’s easy to become defensive—especially when you feel like you’re being attacked. But unless you want to get stuck in a defensiveness loop with your conversational counterpart, you need to shift your communication to focus on solutions.
Business psychiatrist Mark Goulston offers six ways to stop being defensive and start finding solutions in your conversations.
1. Take a deep breath. When you first come up against conflict, instead of immediately jumping to defend yourself, take a deep breath. Give yourself a second to process what’s actually happening instead of jumping to conclusions about a perceived threat.
2. Catch another deep breath. If you get past the immediate desire to defend yourself, next you’re going to come to a point where you want to retaliate. Instead of giving into that impulse, breathe again. The goal is not to escalate the situation.
3. Act from a place of clarity. After overcoming the desire to defend and retaliate, you’ll understand what needs to be said and done to produce a solution. When you have clarity, then start conversing.
4. Listen actively. Active listening involves listening to what the other person is saying and then building upon it. For example, you might say, “I’m hearing that you think the meeting should start earlier. If we do this, how do we bring about the highest benefit for all?”
5. Control the conversation. Controlling the conversation is not about controlling your counterpart; it’s about controlling yourself. Use intentional pauses and count to three in your head to remain in control of your emotions and communicate that you’re not willing to take his bait.
6. Stay focused on fairness. By standing firm in your principles of fairness to all parties involved, you’ll be better able to remain solid in a way that doesn’t come off as defensive or provoking to your counterpart.
— Adapted from “Don’t Get Defensive: Communication Tips for the Vigilant,” Mark Goulston, Harvard Business Review’s HBR Blog Network.