Effective ways to stop defensive behavior

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Do you react defensively at any hint of criticism? When someone disagrees with you, do you find it difficult to accept his opinion as simply different from your own, or do you feel the need to debate the subject into the ground in an effort to prove you are right.

Feeling defensive is a natural reaction when you perceive someone is finding fault with something you have said or done. Sometimes you may want to respond, but it is wise to think before assuming a defensive attitude, for you might simply have misunderstood what you heard, or taken it more seriously than was it was intended.

How to curb your defensive attitude:

Think before responding

In all human interaction, it is wise to mull over what you think you heard, in order to avoid jumping to the wrong conclusion. In some cases you might be projecting your own feelings about yourself into another person's comments.

Your inner voice is your worst critic. For example, you may be berating yourself silently for not getting a project completed by deadline. When your boss says, "I thought this would be finished sooner," he might be making a simple observation and not being critical at all.

Ask for clarification

If you do feel a comment was directed at you personally, ask the person to expand on what he is saying. This could be impetus for a calm dialog, rather than a heated confrontation because you have reacted in haste and taken something too personally.

Admit if you are wrong

Sometimes a defensive reaction is the result of not wanting to admit you are wrong. Everyone makes mistakes; that is how we learn and improve. Better to express regret and embrace the constructive criticism than to argue, make excuses or place blame when you are in the wrong. You will earn respect with this honest reaction to a mistake.

Listen attentively

Response is not always necessary. Often, listening is the best way to accept criticism. Allow the speaker to have his say without interrupting to justify or rationalize your behavior. While you are listening, your defensive attitude might dissipate and you will be able to maintain your calm.

A response such as, "Thank you for sharing your opinion," is an effective way to neither agree nor disagree with what is being said. If you opt for such a reaction, ensure to erase any hint of sarcasm from your tone.

Develop a sense of humor

Examine your own thoughts and attitudes. Perhaps you are taking yourself too seriously. The ability to laugh at oneself is a virtue. If you strive to find the humor in each situation, you will feel less inclined to react defensively.

You cannot change what others think of you, nor should you be overly concerned with their opinions. Worrying too much about what others are thinking will not enhance your self-esteem.

It is not what others "think" that is important, but rather what you "know" to be true about yourself. If you behave with sincerity, integrity and good intentions in all your behaviors and interactions, you can have self-respect and rest assured that the opinion of others is just that: an opinion.

When you come to grips with the fact that you cannot please all of the people all of the time, you will be able to take the comments of others with a grain of salt and stop acting so defensively.

More about this author: Carol Gioia

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