A conversation recently turned into a disagreement and is quickly devolving into a fight. You are trying to reel in the emotions and find a solution to ease the tension. But you are trying to navigate hurt feelings and are noticing they are adapting a closed off body posture. You may be seeing arms being crossed near their abdomen, a far off look in their eyes or even turning their attention towards a piece of technology. If there are able to talk with you that might accuse you of being critical or judgmental. All these actions are signs of defensive behavior.
This defensiveness serves as a massive hurdle to having a trying productive conversation and any ability to work together to create a mutually beneficial solution. Defensiveness is a sudden reaction that serves to safeguard a person from experiencing feels of guilt or shame. They don’t mean to act out in a manner that you might perceives as a lack of caring. They are struggling to process their role in creating this tension, and feel like assuming responsibility for their part is admitting a sense of failure.
Frequently, defensiveness can be a lingering effect of a traumatic childhood or past. This history of toxicity can create a negative lens from which a person can view any potential conflict. Kids in particular, form this pattern as a means to cope with extreme difficulty. As they grow this pattern becomes more engrained and can exist in tandem with low self-worth or nothing they could ever do would be seen as “good enough. “
Defensiveness is a redirection tool to shift attention from them back onto you. By you sharing pain with this individual it unsettles them so deeply that they feel compelled to whatever they must to place the attention back onto you. However, by doing this you both get so consumed by accountability that you both avoid solution the core issue from which this tension arose.
Understand that you are only responsible for controlling your actions and reactions. By owning your part of the disagreement, you can serve as a guide through the tension for the other party. The act of you taking some accountability should create some space for you both to breathe. Here’s how shifting your reactions will inspire the other person to end their defensiveness.
It’s not helpful to begin a sentence with “you,” such as “You are so inconsiderate!” Also avoid using absolutes like “always” and “never.” These words only serve to prevent dialogue and compromise. When you use hypercritical statements, a person will refortify their defenses.
Break down walls by giving this other person the benefit of the doubt and highlighting the beneficial aspects they bring to your life. When you say “I appreciate your concern” or show appreciate for how they have helped previously in this issue, the person can feel like you truly value them and their efforts. This will help them be more at ease to work with you rather than against you in solving this miscommunication.
Be accountable and vulnerable
When you are accountable and vulnerable with your actions, reactions and emotions it helps put the other person at ease. As you show your willingness to be an active partner in creating a solution, they feel more able to meet you halfway. It also shows them how actions impacting others in a way that is kind and nonjudgmental.
Share your feelings
Sharing your feelings and opening an avenue for others to share their feelings can quickly reduce defensiveness. Consider stating any emotions you experience when they performed a specific action. For example, “When you don’t respond to my texts within a few hours, I feel like I am not very important to you.”
Be genuinely curious
Be willing to ask the other person what they are currently feelings or thinking. By taking this approach you might signal their hurt inner child that their voice and perspective is important and valued. For example, “When I didn’t ask you want you wanted to watch yesterday, I noticed you shut down. Was there something in particular that you wanted to watch with me? Can you tell me more about it?”
By maintain a steady temperament you ensure you don’t add any fuel to this fire. Being calm helps to focus on the issue at hand and any underlying pain. Try to encourage all parties to maintain deep and even breathing. Be willing to take breaks and apologize if necessary.