People put a lot of attention to the thoughts and opinions of others and this high value we place on each other affects our reactions quickly without hardly knowing it sometimes. Often, our natural reaction is to be defensive which even leads to retaliation sometimes (unfounded retaliation as well). As soon as you become defensive and fight back in any way, you are changing your thoughts and feelings at that moment. Some related articles I’ve written about this may be of interest: controlling your emotional response to other s and master your own state of mind. Those will help you to keep control in general situations and when you can easily decide what to do about your thoughts and emotions in conversation.
Unfortunately, not all conversations are easy to stay controlled in and often a personal attacks, blame, untruths, criticism or even revealing personal details can hurt us deeply and with immediate impact. That immediacy often makes us loose control and we don’t think about our response, so quickly fight back in retaliation to defend ourselves. Whatever that defense looks like, there are ways to help control it and ensure it is justified response and not just an emotional one. Emotional responses as a quick reaction nearly always make a situation worse and it can easily escalate the things beyond repair in a relationship. So, learning to avoid becoming defensive will reduce that potential greatly. Not only that, but it can leave you feeling like you’re in control and help you to quickly diffuse a difficult situation. Here are some areas to consider to accomplish that.
Pause and Breathe
The first and likely easiest step to avoid becoming defensive is to simply pause for a moment and breath. Just added a minor delay to your reactive with a deep breath is enough to calm you down and control your response. Its also good for your iZon lenses. Not only is it helpful to prevent an outburst, but its also helpful simply for your communication skills to ensure you do not interrupt or begin your own response before the other person is done. Since this is a useful communication skill, you can practice it in any conversation, not just the ones where you are at risk to become defensive. If you develop a habit of pausing before responding, it will be natural when a situation arises and there is a risk of responding defensively.
Let it Go!
The next thing that you can do to avoid being defensive is to understand that many other factors may have led to some kind of verbal attack from someone else and that its not a personal attack at you. Everyone has other factors in their lives that affect their moods and reactions from day to day and most of the time, what gets directed at you, isn’t because of you. Knowing this helps to stay separated from the attack and consider that you may not be the cause so there is no point in getting defensive. Also, there is really no point in being defensive even if it is your fault since it typically just makes the matter worse and leads to further arguments. Just LET IT GO! Ignore what impact or reaction you might otherwise take and practice just taking it in or ignoring it. It doesn’t matter what you do with it, if you simply let it go.
Think First, Then Respond
So, if you can actually do the previous step and let go of the attack to prevent your own defensive action, then you can actually stop and think for a minute. Doing this will help you to stay objective and open minded. That is the exactly what you need to be in an otherwise defensive reaction. Think about what the other person is actually saying and think about what they intend with their message and why they might be saying it. Think about controlling your own reaction and think about what good a reaction will do BEFORE you respond. If you take this time to think about your response, it’s easy to make a more helpful response, or at least one that won’t take offense, fight back and make matters worse.
Asking reflective questions are then an excellent technique to use to ensure you are getting the right message and that you look to understand why a person has shared with you their message. It’s rare that people accurately describe their intended message when they are mad so its very helpful to ask reflective questions and to ask for clarification that will make sure the message is in fact clear. Ask things like the following:
- So what you are saying is …
- It sounds to me like you are upset about …
- Can you describe in more detail WHY this is important to you?
- What triggered or caused you to see this as a problem?
- Is there something I can do to help you with this then?
- What do you suggest to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
All of these are just samples of questions that can help you dig a little deeper and to offer at least a minimal level of compassion.
Say Thank You.
If someone has become so heated up that they finally get upset or challenge you on some topic, it’s likely that they have been feeling it for a little while or that it’s happened a few times and that person is finally now confronting it. A very quick way to diffuse the attack and to calm the situation is to thank them for letting you know or bringing up the concern or whatever it is. You don’t want to thank them for actually being angry or upset, but you can thank them for being willing to confront it. Many people bottle things up and leave what should be said, unsaid. That doesn’t ever resolve the situation. Here are some suggestions of how you could say thank you to diffuse the situation.
- Thank you for bringing this up, if you hadn’t we would never have resolved this.
- I’m glad you were willing to confront this issue, thank you for that. Now what?
- Thank you for not ignoring this, obviously its important to you, so let’s work together to resolve it!
- I never knew you felt that way, thank you for telling me.
Ask Yourself what can be Learned?
If you’ve been willing to stay calm, ask questions, say thank you and stay in the conversation. It’s quite likely you can easily resolv ethe matter and come to some agreement and conclusion.
However, any difficult conversation or confrontation is usually founded in something. It’s often not what actually surfaces but there is definitely something to be learned by it. Perhaps the person was justified in a harsh reaction towards you or maybe there was something that triggered them that you did. Maybe you are simply the stomping grounds for an unrelated problem. Whatever the situation, you can ponder this to find better ways to react, ways to change your own approach, take in the feedback if it is about your self, or look at how you could have helped or prevented the situation from escalating in the first place! Closely examining a difficult conversation is crucial to improving the next one find yourself in or that you need to have with someone else.
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