Why do we get defensive and How to avoid?

Do you know that defensiveness is a natural self-protecting mechanism that protects us against any potential threats?

We all are defensive in some situations depending on our mood, the way the other person talk or our interpretation of what the other person says to us.


For example, our partner casually says hey, we haven't been spending much time together and straightaway we assume that our partner is going to blame us for not spending time with him or her.


Or our boss casually asks us what is happening or what is going with the project that we are currently working on, and again we jumped and assumed that something may have gone wrong and we have to over-explain things in a defensive manner.


Unfortunately, defensiveness can become an autopilot response if we do not make conscious efforts to fix it. But the good news is we can change this bad habit if we learn more about defensiveness so we can be more aware of how we respond to certain situations.

What makes us become defensive?

1. We often get defensive if we feel personal attacked, criticised or embarrassed. And this is particularly worse if it comes from a person that we do not have a good relationship with.

2. If the tone of voice from the other person is threatening, condescending or unpleasant, it can trigger our defensiveness as well

3. We might have been living in the "blaming environment" where we were being blamed for everything or we have been excused and blamed many times in the past so when someone simply ask us something, we feel the need to defend ourselves before the other person starts blaming us.

4. When we feel that our job, image and reputation are at risk, we will be defensive to protect them.

5. When we have victim mentality and we feel that everyone else is at fault except for us. We also refuse to take responsibility for anything that goes wrong.


So if we notice that defensiveness becomes our autopilot response, it is not a good thing.

Being defensive comes across as unattractive and negative and it is not a good trait to have. Being defensive can seriously harm our personal and professional relationships.


What can we do to avoid coming across as being defensive?

1. Practise mindfulness so we can be more self-aware of our own response, our body language and the words that we use.

2. Respond in a calm manner. When we are calm, we are less likely to be defensive.

3. Acknowledge when there is some truth in whatever the other person says before we explain ourselves.

4. Always offer a solution or a reflective statement at the end of the conversation. e.g. You can say that you have been really busy with some projects at work and were not able to manage your time. However, you can ask your partner to give you some time to adjust your schedule in order for you to find time so that both of you can spend more time together.


And lastly, we also do not want others to become defensive towards us.

So what we can do to help others and ourselves avoid having defensiveness in our conversations?

Firstly we need to watch our tone of voice and we need to speak with respect.

A study shows that when people feel valued and respected, they will less likely be defensive.


Lastly, how we can help others to be less defensive.

This is particularly useful if you want to give constructive feedback to someone because the moment they get defensive, they will not listen to whatever you say.

  1. Be genuine with your tone of voice and body language

  2. Break the ice and ask something casual first

  3. Speak with respect and start with acknowledging their values and good points

  4. Let them know why you think it is important for you to share with them this feedback. The reason should be for their own good and not for anyone else.

  5. Use active listening and listen to what they have to share.

  6. Close with an action item to address what we spoke about.

I hope that you have learnt more about defensiveness. If you have any other ways that you use to avoid being defensive in your conversation, please share with me in the comment box below.

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