What Is Defensiveness?
Defensiveness generally stems from a consistent feeling that you need to protect yourself. There may have been a time when you were constantly questioned or felt unacknowledged. This can lead to a habit of turning on the fight response, even when it’s unnecessary. In other words, your defensiveness was perhaps useful at one point, but it’s less so now.
To learn graceful ways of coping with feeling defensive, try to pinpoint when, where, or with whom the defensiveness impulse typically occurs. Take a week to become aware of your behavior. Next, write down a few interactions you would have liked to conduct differently: do you wish you had stayed quiet and listened, asked questions, stood up for yourself, and asserted your position? Rehearsing alternative responses will help you react more calmly in future scenarios.
Time to “Go to The Balcony”
When you find yourself in a conversation triggering your self-protective, defensive impulse, take a moment to pause. Relax and think about what you are doing. Inhale slowly, gaze out of the window for a moment, or repeat a reassuring mantra in your head (“I’m feeling provoked,” “I’m annoyed by that comment,” or “I need to be centered.”) Slow down your response, so you have time to gain control.
Harvard’s William Ury, the author of such acclaimed books on negotiation as Getting to Yes (1981) and The Power of a Positive No (2007,) calls this process “going to the balcony.” It’s figuratively retreating to a mental and emotional refuge.
That’s a prudent response. When you’re provoked, one of the most significant powers you have is the power not to react but to go to a place of calm, perspective, and self-control. There, you can acknowledge your emotions. You can refocus on yourself, remind yourself of your deepest values, and reorient yourself on “the prize.”
Idea for Impact: Respond, Don’t React
There is a mighty difference between responding and reacting. When you respond, you’re using communication devices to express yourself and gain understanding. When you react, instead, you’re merely trying to fight back, win over the person or stamp out the other person’s allegation.
Reacting only creates conflict and escalates emotions.
It’s okay to become hurt by negative feedback, and it’s okay to disagree with criticism. However, learning how to respond calmly and soundly will provide you with an effective way to stay centered.