In her book, Taking the War Out of Our Words: The Art of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication, Sharon Ellison estimates that we use 95% of our communication energy being defensive. Indeed, as soon as we feel any threat, either of not getting what we want or of being harmed or put down in some way, we are ready to protect ourselves by being defensive. Imagine how much more enjoyable our communications could be if we learned how to respond nondefensively and to avoid provoking defensiveness in others! Take this self-evaluation to see how defensive you might be.
The Defensiveness Evaluation
1. When a police officer pulls me over, I’ve always got a “reason” ready for why I was speeding.
2. When people criticize or judge me, I am quick to point out their own faults.
3. I often think, “Can’t others see that I’m not perfect?”
4. If people are upset or disappointed with me, I let them know with explanations and excuses why they are wrong.
5. I’m afraid that what others think of and say about me is true.
6. I’m always looking for the hidden critical message beneath people’s requests.
7. If I don’t defend myself, I’ll just get run over.
8. If I’m open to people’s criticisms and judgments of me, it means I’m weak.
9. I can never admit that I’m wrong.
10. I may not defend myself verbally to someone, but I’ll be sure to get that person back somehow.
11. If I think someone will have something critical to say, I avoid talking to that person by not answering, leaving the room or changing the subject.
12. If I’m at fault for something, it’s always because of some factor outside of myself over which I had no control.
Changing Your Perspective
If you responded true more often than false to the above questions, consider some of the following alternatives to defensiveness.
1. I’m always looking to improve myself, so I welcome feedback from others on how well I am doing (or not).
2. I realize that when I’m feeling defensive, I don’t feel safe, competent or confident, and I don’t learn well.
3. I sit with someone’s criticism of me to see if there is a kernel of truth in it. If there is, I acknowledge it and work to improve in that area.
4. I realize that sometimes people’s criticisms about me are all about the “story” they have made up around a situation. I don’t take it personally, and I don’t take it on as my responsibility.
5. I know that I can actually have greater influence in a situation by acknowledging that I may be wrong.
6. When someone uses the words “always” and “never” I ignore those words and focus instead on the rest of the message.
7. I take responsibility for what I can change.
8. I listen for the (usually) hidden need expressed in a person’s complaint or anger, acknowledge the need, and then see whether there is something I can do to meet it.
Communication is at the heart of our everyday interaction, and if we spend most of that time defending ourselves, it leaves little room for actually hearing the truth of the message that is being shared. The coaching conversation allows you to consider the truth within the chatter. It brings to the surface areas within the conversation for reflection and noticing that will allow us to grow in ways that we didn’t imagine possible.
Take a look at your week. Consider the conversations that you have engaged in. How defensive were you? Would you like to experience and be experienced differently in conversations? If so, send me an email for a complimentary session to see if coaching might benefit you.