Defensiveness

Defensiveness

I Am NOT Defensive! 

It is a truly rare thing to find someone who doesn’t easily get defensive. Extremely rare actually. 

Today I want to ponder some reasons behind why we get defensive so that we can figure out some more effective strategies moving forward. 

Increasingly I have people tell me that they read my blog after having had time with me to see if I’m writing something about them. I’m thrilled to have readers but I want to say up front - this blog is not about specific situations or individuals. Everything I write about applies to most if not all of us. Today is no exception - any resemblance to you is just because you are human! 

So, someone gives you feedback or tells you something they would like you to change and you kick in to defensive mode. That can look like justifying your action. It can look like coming back with what they do wrong (related or not). It can look like the silent treatment where you block them out emotionally, etc. 

None of us would honestly say that we are perfect. (If you do then it’s time to get help for real.) So, knowing we aren’t perfect could logically lead to being at peace with feedback. Not so for most of us.  

Some of the reasons why feedback triggers defensiveness: 

* Even if I know my weaknesses I would rather you didn’t 

* When I look at my shortcomings I wrestle with not liking me and assume you will too 

* It feels like you think you are better than me when you point out stuff to me 

* I have had experiences where feedback is followed by rejection so I expect that 

* At some level I try to be perfect so I am not comfortable looking at growth areas 

* I don’t have the skills to give honest feedback so when I’m being given some it pushes my buttons enough that I give feedback defensively that I’ve been sitting on for a while 

So, we all can relate at some level. The problem is that the love we are craving we push away when we get defensive.  

What’s the answer?  

It is not perfection. It is about getting more comfortable with the truth that in our imperfection we are totally lovable and valuable. Brené Brown would say that we are “worthy of love and belonging”. 

How do we practice a new pattern? How do we let people love us and accept us in our imperfection and grow to do the same for ourselves? 

Saying stuff out loud is remarkably powerful. When we notice a conversation going off the rails switch to talking about that. Once it goes off the rails with defensiveness there is very little healthy communication happening. So, solicit the help of the other person - e.g.: 

* I’m feeling really defensive right now and I know I’m not hearing you well 

* I can feel my buttons being pushed and I’m not sure what’s going on in me 

* My fear of rejection is being triggered - can you reassure me about the big picture of our relationship? 

* I really want to hear your feedback and concerns but I’m really reacting instead - can we take a break for me to get in the right space? 

Some people set up patterns for how they want to have feedback conversations. Having structure makes the process more normal and predictable and less scary. Here are two models that you may find helpful.  

1. On a regular basis pick a part of your relationship that you are wanting to see growth in. Ask these 3 questions from the world of appreciative coaching: i) What is working well?, ii) What is tricky?, and iii) What would we like to do differently moving forward? In this model you each take turns answering each question and make sure to really work on what’s going well. 

2. Person #1 says 3 statements about the situation while person #2 listens. Person #2 repeats those statements back until person #1 feels that they really heard them correctly. Then person #1 continues until they have felt heard on their points. This slows down the process and because it removes immediate feedback it takes out the temptation to respond right away in a defensive way.  

Both of these take practice, for sure but immediately you can feel the difference of really being heard, which is the point after all! 

Until next week, 

Marilyn 

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