Changing the Way You Interact With Others
A lot of emphasis is placed on defensive activities in the sporting world from a positive standpoint. Commentators proclaim excitedly, “He played a great defensive game; the defense won that game for the team; what a great defensive play.”
However, defensive stances don’t play that well in the workplace. In fact, defensive attitudes impede learning, contradict collaboration, create destructive conflict, stifle professional and personal growth, and in general negatively impact working relationships.
We most often think the other person is getting defensive needlessly, but I would challenge you to evaluate your role in the scenarios. Do you find yourself asking, “Wow, what got into her…all I did was ask a question.” If this is the case, take a look at your approach. What about your encounter did you contribute to creating a defensive stance in the other person? Rather than always seeking to blame others for situations, your first question should be to yourself – “what role did I play in creating a defensive posture?” “Was my tone accusatory?” “Did I make inaccurate assumptions about the other person?” Did I use antagonistic word choices?”
Now for the other side of the coin. Take a hard look at yourself. Do you have a tendency to get defensive when others are only attempting to offer observations or suggestions? If so, how do you change your stance?
There are several things you can do. Try one or a combination of the following:
Ten Ways to Decrease Defensiveness:
#1. Maintain an open body posture
To appear more approachable use body language that makes people feel more comfortable. Keeping an open body posture, such as facing the person directly, uncrossing arms, and maintaining relaxed gestures, sends a signal that you are receptive to their ideas and opinions.
#2. Create an open environment
This is accomplished by maintaining eye contact, nodding, and asking clarifying questions to demonstrate your engagement: Active listening is essential in reducing defensiveness. Maintaining eye contact, nodding, and asking clarifying questions show that you are genuinely interested in what the other person is saying, fostering a more open and understanding atmosphere.
#3. Practice stress management techniques
such as deep breathing, self-talk, or counting: Defensiveness can often arise from heightened emotions and stress. Employing stress management techniques like deep breathing or positive self-talk can help you remain calm and composed during challenging conversations.
#4. Maintain a neutral facial expression, or better yet, Smile:
Facial expressions can inadvertently convey defensiveness or hostility. Strive to maintain a neutral facial expression or even put on a genuine smile, as it can help disarm tense situations and create a positive tone.
#5. Reflect before responding to perceived negative comments or attacks:
Instead of immediately reacting defensively, take a moment to reflect on the situation. Consider the intent behind the comments and whether they warrant a defensive response. Responding thoughtfully can lead to more constructive conversations.
#6. Be open to feedback and look at it as an opportunity for growth and self-improvement:
Shifting your mindset to view feedback as a chance for personal growth rather than criticism can reduce defensiveness. Embrace feedback as a valuable tool for self-improvement.
#7. Thank the person for their input even if you don’t agree or if it is difficult to hear:
Expressing gratitude for someone’s input, even when it challenges you, shows respect and acknowledgment for their perspective. This approach can foster a more open and collaborative exchange of ideas.
#8. Practice empathy and put yourself in others’ shoes:
Empathy allows you to understand and relate to other’s feelings and experiences. When you empathize with the other person’s point of view, it becomes easier to engage in a non-defensive manner and find common ground.
#9. Focus on solutions rather than on perceived criticism:
Redirecting the focus from feeling criticized to seeking solutions can de-escalate defensiveness. Collaboratively working towards resolving issues can foster a more productive conversation.
#10. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements:
Framing your thoughts using “I” statements, such as “I feel” or “I think,” allows you to express your perspective without sounding accusatory or confrontational. This approach encourages open communication and reduces defensiveness in the other person.
By implementing these ten strategies to decrease defensiveness, you can create a more positive and constructive communication environment, fostering better understanding and stronger relationships with others.