What does it mean to be defensive?

When we are defensive, effective communication stops. Let’s consider what it means to be defensive. When someone is defensive they:

  • Make up excuses
  • Criticism or attack
  • Sarcastic
  • Blame: “It’s not my fault, if you hadn’t ___”
  • Complain instead of taking responsibility for their part

How To Stop Being Defensive:

  1. Paying attention to what you are feeling physically can help you to recognize defensiveness. Our body has a physical reaction to a perceived attack. Most likely your body feels tense and you start thinking about what you can say back as a defense.
  2. Take a deep breath and remember that you are not in a battle!
  3. Just listen without thinking about what you are going to say next.
  4. When your partner has finished speaking, repeat what you heard and ask if you understood correctly. "If I heard you correctly, you are saying ..."
  5. If your partner becomes defensive, ask yourself if there was / is a better way to send your message.

When we are not defensive:

  • We assume responsibility for our part
  • We sincerely recognize our mistakes and apologize
  • We seek solutions to problems together
  • We agree to make changes and then do it
  • We recognize the feelings of our partner.

Remember "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." (Steven R Covey). No one is perfect at managing their defensive responses but consciously working on it helps us have better relationships. The more you work at being non-defensive, the better you'll get at it!

Here's a great and entertaining 3 minute video that illustrates this topic:


Stacey B. Thacker, MA, LMFT.png