What do you mean, I'm defensive?
June 30, 2010 9:29 PM   Subscribe

How can I not react so defensively to things?

Lately, I've noticed that I can be very defensive about things. I work in a high paced office environment. When I'm at work and someone asks about a project or such, I immediately try to explain myself or go into this long detail. Even if someone makes a joke about something, I'll sometimes take it too seriously and go into these long explanations.

So the question is, how can I work on not being so defensive about things? How can I just learn to relax and not fire something back? I'm just wondering if anyone had any tips or help. Thanks.
posted by Polgara to Human Relations (7 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
What has helped me in the past is to remind myself that most of what people do or say to me in a day has little to do with my words or actions, and a lot to do with their own internal struggles and dialogue. How does that quote go, "Every person you meet is fighting a great battle?" Give someone the benefit of a doubt in their intent, and realize that in most situations it's not you that's under the microscope, it's the situation and how THEY will fit into it. Someone asks about a project that you both are working on? They're probably wanting to know how things will affect THEM down the line, not analyze your past or current performance.

When their intent isn't clear and you think your words or actions are under scrutiny, ask questions until you know which words or actions they are specifically concerned about. By breaking it down to specifics you can eliminate most of the general worry that causes defensiveness and see that whatever problem there is is just one small thing. Easier to manage that way.

Also, what are the odds that any person who might be critical of you will do so? An even smaller set of probability: What are the odds that those critical people will have a valid complaint? Chances are that, unless they're your direct supervisor, they don't have direct experience with what you've done or how you do it, and so don't have enough context on which to base criticism. In that case they're just expressing frustration, blowing off steam; acknowledge their frustration, address any valid concerns and let the steam blow by.

When it comes to harmless jokes, just smile quietly.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 10:05 PM on June 30, 2010 [6 favorites]

I think to myself: "This too shall pass."
posted by Herschel at 11:25 PM on June 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's really hard. But it helps to realize that whatever it is, it's never about you*. The few and rare times you are wrong about that probably don't amount to much. And if you didn't already realize that it actually was about you this time, somebody will go out of their way to let you know.

You are now free to spend all your moments daydreaming.

*People care much more about being right/their egos/impressing somebody/social climbing/__________, than intentionally attacking you.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:26 PM on June 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Count. In those moments of conversation, when emotions are quick to rise, I have learned to count. Before, I had to count to ten. Now, it's three. While you are counting, reiterate what the person said or asked. In that slow moment, when you are counting to keep yourself calm, you are able to review what is being asked of you and you can react to it better.
posted by penguingrl at 12:37 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're defensive you're trying to protect yourself from something. Figure out what that is first, and deal with it.

By way of example: a lot of learner drivers rev the car too high and drive too quickly when slipping through the gears (on a manual, this is). It turns out that they're scared of stalling, and are trying to defend against it.

One driver instructor friend deals with this by forcing them to drive right down to the stall point, so they realise exactly how slowly you can crawl without stalling (ie: very). When they realise that their fears are unfounded, they stop driving so badly -- so defensively.

Work out what you're trying to stop happening, and then let it happen. I suspect it's something like being-blamed-for-a-mistake you're scared of. Try accepting blame for a mistake, and seeing what happens. There's a strong chance it'll work in your favour: people appreciate when people own their errors.

When being blamed holds no fear, you won't feel the need to fight it all the time.
posted by bonaldi at 5:12 AM on July 1, 2010 [5 favorites]

Best answer: When you feel yourself getting defensive, try not to respond right away. The defensive reaction kicks in so fast, and you're accustomed to acting on it. Give yourself a few seconds to realize what's happening and to make a conscious decision to react differently. A few seconds is really all it takes. After I've made a knee-jerk defensive response to something, it's that thought that always embarrasses me most -- that if I could have just SLOWED DOWN for a SECOND, I could have responded more rationally.

On a deeper level, learn to be okay with being wrong. The need to be right is the reason I'm still often highly defensive in my interpersonal relationships. I used to be defensive at work too until I realized that people care a lot more about how you handle a screwup than about the fact that you screwed up. I'm working on applying this wisdom to my personal life too. If you get defensive in non-work situations also, maybe try working first on the area that's easier for you.
posted by spinto at 9:10 AM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Think about why the people are telling you these things:
Are they just trying (ineptly) to start a conversation?
Are they curious?
Are they struggling to understand?
Are they having a bad day?
Are they generally socially awkward?
Are they trying to show an interest in you or what you do?
Are they just trying to break an awkward silence?
Are they just blurting out the first thing that comes to mind?
Are they trying to impress you?

There is a very good chance they are not actually trying to put you on the spot and make you defensive.
posted by meepmeow at 9:46 AM on July 1, 2010

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