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Learning To Communicate With A Defensive Person

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by Conscious Reminder

Relationships are endangered by defensive stances since it deteriorates communication.

Instead of figuring out what needs changing, we find ourselves fighting a lot. After some time, we start giving up, until eventually, we start staying silent. This fosters resentment as well as disconnection. Both of them are poison to a relationship.

But here are some strategies for approaching a defensive person, before we stop trying. Hopefully, these will make those difficult conversations feel more like getting over challenges together, one at a time.

Before Approaching

Before you initiate the conversation, here are some questions that you need to ask, and prepare accordingly:

Will the person feel like you are attacking them?

This is especially important when the defensive person’s self-worth is fragile. They are particularly sensitive to criticism or judgment.

How significant is the conversation?

Is their behavior affecting you directly, or are you meddling in something that is not your business?

Are you being responsible for your behavior?

Before you go and ask another person to change, make sure to look at how you act. You might be a contributor to the difficulty as well.

What purpose does this request have?

Think about why you are asking the person to change the behavior. Is it for introducing healthy changes, or is it for making them feel bad? If the latter is what’s happening, then we should be examining ourselves, and finding out why we are feeling such a need.

While You Are Interacting

Start Off With Their Positive Points

All of us want to be correct. When someone acknowledges that, a connection gets created making us listen further. So point out the things, no matter how small, that they are doing correctly in the situation.

Phrase Your Feedback Like A Request

Ultimately, we want people to behave differently when things are not working. So it would be better to talk about the change that is wanted, rather than complain about the things going wrong.

Be Responsible For Your Negative Contributions

When we admit our faults which are contributing to the negative situation, it becomes a problem for both people. It lessens the sense that the other person is the only one that has to fix stuff. This way, it feels like a problem that we solve together.

Be Careful Of The Tone Sounding Superior

Being better at communicating does not mean that we are allowed to sound condescending. Even if we have pure motivations, and all we want is to talk about a strategy, it can sound like we are correcting the other person. This will make them feel like they are being talked down to.

Language Is Important

Words such as ‘never’ or ‘always’, or assigning negative character traits to the person, will almost always guarantee a defensive reaction.

For example, suppose we have uttered the first two words, and the person’s defensive reaction has been triggered. Then, it is time to do repairs. Call the mistake out. Acknowledge that they might have felt attacked. Say it directly and clearly.

Admitting our mistakes is one of the best ways of modeling behavior that is not defensive. Moreover, it also helps in building trust. People feel safer when they know that their partner will own up and admit their missteps.

Defensiveness is nothing more than a response out of fear, triggered by an attack that is perceived (it might be real or not).

If we are careful regarding how we share feedback, we can avoid fear. After that, we can do a proper job of using healthy communications to strengthen relationships.   

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