Have you ever been in a conversation with a colleague, friend or family member about a sensitive topic and ended up in a power struggle, conflict or shutting down? Or perhaps in response to someone else’s criticism, you find yourself justifying your behavior, blaming the other person or avoiding him or her all together? It sounds like defensiveness is at play.
So, how do you stop being so defensive?
You can start by practicing powerful, effective communication.
One option is to ask curious, innocent, and neutral questions to understand accurately what the other person means, believes, or feels. For example, if someone acts upset, simply ask him/her directly about your assumption so he/she can confirm, deny, or qualify. For example, “Are you angry (upset, frustrated, irritated) about something?” Try to avoid questions that start with “why” as they tend to put others on the defense. For example, “Why are you so upset?” makes an assumption (which may or may not be accurate) and will likely make the other person feel like they’ve done something wrong. Instead, try “I get the sense that you may be upset. Am I reading this accurately?”
Nothing More Than Feelings
Another way to approach a sensitive conversation is to make statements that start with
“I feel”. If you’re simply stating what you genuinely feel and you use a neutral tone, the other person can’t say you’re wrong. Your feelings are your feelings and clearly stating them will help to stave off a power struggle from the get-go. For example, instead of saying to your partner “You’re always late”, try “I feel disappointed when we don’t get to eat dinner together.”
A third way to nip defensiveness in the bud is to use “and at the same time” instead of “but”. Often times when you use the word “but”, it negates everything you said before the “but”. For example, instead of “I understand you had to work late but I made dinner” try, “I understand that you had to work late and at the same time I made dinner”. Notice how it changes the whole tone of the message? Again, it doesn’t blame the other person. Instead, it simply states the facts.
Next time you find yourself in a potentially defensive situation, try out these tools. They may help you avoid unnecessary conflict, gain respect and strengthen personal and professional relationships.
Amber is a professional life coach who helps high-achieving working mothers manage guilt and stress and re-define success on their own terms. Through personal and corporate coaching programs (clients include Adobe, Morgan Stanley and Google) she empowers women to achieve success that’s balanced. A working mother herself, she spent 12 years struggling to create her own balance in the Fortune 500 world and is passionate about helping mothers actively choose how they want to spend their time. To sign-up for a complimentary consultation, order a copy of her book or sign-up for the Working Mothers' e-zine, go to www.workingmotherscoach.com.