Ever get defensive? I think we all do. Maybe it was that time your Mom said you might be getting a little heavy (GASP!) or when some new person at work suggested a different way of doing something you’ve been doing since before they were born. I believe when we’re getting defensive, we need to pay close attention. I think we get defensive because we know there’s some truth there.
Think about it – let’s say you are busily working away at your computer and someone comes up to you and says, “I really think you’d get more done if you used a typewriter. You wouldn’t have to click print and then walk over to the printer. Think of the time you’d save!” Would you get defensive? Um, no. You might smile and thank them, but you wouldn’t change a thing. Now let’s say someone comes over and says, “I see that you constantly check e-mail. If you try checking it just a few times a day, I bet you’d get a lot more done.” I can see your defenses going up from here!
I see it with my audiences all the time – the ideas that could have the greatest impact on their work and their lives are the ones they resist the most. (And I’m the same way, believe me!) So what to do?
1. Recognize when it’s happening. All of a sudden you start justifying your way or making excuses. Maybe your heart rate goes up or you start attacking the messenger. You might not even realize how defensive you were getting until later – in the heat of the moment all we think is that we are under attack.
2. Consider the other person’s motive. What is their intention? As much as our Moms can drive us crazy, their intentions are good. Most people really don’t spend countless hours obsessing over what we’re doing so they can pick us apart. For the most part, they are just like us and want to help or be recognized for having good ideas. If they were really evil, they’d let you continue to do whatever stupid thing you’re doing, now wouldn’t they?
3. Realize your resistance to change. It’s human nature. We think, “I got this.” Yeah, maybe we had it 5 years ago and now things have changed. Technology is different or our metabolism slowed down. None of us want to admit that our way might not be the best way anymore. We think that means we are losers. Actually, we’re bigger losers if we don’t change and grow.
4. Ask yourself what it is about their words that made you push back. Is it because what they’re suggesting might be hard? Is it because you’ve taken something personally when it wasn’t meant that way? I promise you, there’s a takeaway there. If you thought they were completely insane, you wouldn’t get upset (the typewriter example). Maybe their timing was bad or they phrased things poorly, but look for the nugget of insight.
5. Practice managing this emotion. Let’s say you are 100% right about something. Your weight hasn’t changed one ounce in the past ten years! And here’s your Mom asking if you’ve “put a few on”! Before you rush to defend yourself, try letting it go. You might ask yourself what is going on with your mother – maybe she’s worried about her own weight. Maybe she needs new glasses. Maybe she’s jealous you’re young and beautiful and she’s aging. Who knows? Getting defensive usually means you lose. There’s a time and a place to defend yourself and a time to let it go.
And if reading this made you defensive, well…….