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How To Be Less Defensive

Updated: Mar 27

We've all received feedback, whether it be spousal, parental, friend, managerial, professional, or any other type. It's not always easy to hear feedback, and it often brings up many difficult emotions that make us feel attacked. A common response to feeling attacked is defensiveness.

Lists some reflection questions about how to be less defensive
Three Important Questions About Defensiveness

What is the definition of defensiveness?

The American Psychological Association defines defensiveness as:

The tendency to be sensitive to criticism or comment about one's deficiencies and to counter or deny such criticisms.

What does developing the capacity to hear feedback about yourself in an open, non-defensive manner mean?

It means to be purposeful about developing an awareness of what defensiveness is and when a person (you) is exhibiting it, understanding the causes of an individual's defensiveness (they are usually unique to the individual), and learning techniques to reduce or mitigate the degree of one's defensiveness.

How can we be less defensive while receiving feedback?

Here are some tips on how to receive feedback without being defensive:

  1. Assume Positive Intent. The person giving you feedback is likely doing so because they care about you and want you to succeed. See the feedback as a valuable opportunity to improve rather than an attack on your character or abilities.

  2. Active Listening. When someone is giving you feedback, listen to what they say. Don't interrupt, and don't start thinking about how you will defend yourself. Just listen and try to understand their perspective.

  3. Ask questions. If you don't understand something, ask for clarification. This shows that you are open to feedback and interested in learning.

  4. Take some time to reflect. After you have received the feedback, don't react immediately. Take some time to think about it and let it sink in. Consider the feedback carefully, and try to see if it has any truth.

  5. Be grateful. Even if the feedback is negative, be thankful that the person took the time to give it to you. Remember that feedback is a gift and an opportunity to learn and grow.

While you receive the feedback, here are some suggestions for behavior "in the moment." Maybe even write these down on a notecard ahead of the meeting if you know you are about to receive feedback that might be upsetting.

  • Don't interrupt. Let the person giving you feedback finish what they have to say before you respond.

  • Don't make excuses. If you made a mistake, own up to it. Don't try to make excuses or blame other people.

  • Don't take it personally. Feedback is about your work or your behavior, not about you as a person. Try to separate yourself from the feedback and see it for what it is: an opportunity to improve.

  • Don't argue. It is essential to be open to feedback, even if you disagree with it. If you have a different perspective, you can share it but don't argue.

  • Don't get angry. If you start to feel angry or frustrated, take a deep breath and step away from the conversation. It is essential to be calm and collected when receiving feedback.

You don't have to agree with all feedback.

Sometimes, the person giving the feedback may be wrong or not have all the facts. However, it is essential to listen to all of the feedback to make sure you understand it and to show respect to the other person for taking the time to provide it.

Here are some specific examples of how to respond to feedback in a non-defensive manner.

Familiarize yourself with these phrases to increase your capacity to hear and respond to feedback non-defensively.

  • Thank you for your feedback. I appreciate you taking the time to help me."

  • "I can understand why you feel that way. I'll try to do better next time."

  • "That's a good point. I hadn't thought about it that way before."

  • "I'm not sure I agree with everything you're saying, but I appreciate your perspective."

  • "I'm going to take some time to think about your feedback and see how I can apply it to my work."

Feedback is a gift.

Remember, feedback is a gift. Receiving it constructively creates a safe space for those who care about you to approach you about potential blind spots you might have or about the "impact" of your actions or, more subtly, your inactions on others. People will feel less comfortable and willing to approach you if you always respond defensively to feedback. The net impact to you is that it slows your progress.

Be grateful to the people who provided the feedback.

After you have received feedback, take some time to reflect on it and develop an improvement plan. Then, follow up with the person who gave you the feedback to let them know what you are doing to address it.

Next Steps

If you would like a thought partner to talk to about defensiveness, consider finding a coach who can help you come up with a plan that includes some form of outside accountability so you can become less defensive.

Thought Provocateur Social Media Series

The inspiration for the Thought Provocateur Social Media Series is that I love it when I encounter questions or bits of wisdom that stop me in my tracks. These are the insights that tend to stay in your head for more than five minutes and may come back later to revisit you. In times of information overload, these are the tidbits that stand out. It’s when the signal outweighs the noise. You tend to remember them because they touch something deep inside of us.

About The Nexus Initiative

The Nexus Initiative is a boutique Executive Coaching and Advisory firm based on real-world operating experience. If you know someone looking for a trusted confidant with real-world operating experience to be their coach, please refer them to our website to set up a discovery call.

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