Hi, everybody. I’m Mike Staver. This is Mondays with Mike, a weekly video series where I answer questions from people just like you. Here’s this week’s question.

“Why do people get defensive? What can I do to stop my own defensiveness?”

People get defensive because they hear whatever’s being said, as an accusation. If I feel like I’m being accused, or if I feel like I’m in a place where I’m around being criticized, then I’m going to protect myself. Remember, that defensiveness is protecting myself from criticism, that’s what it means, or attack. Defending myself.

In order to defend yourself, you have to believe that somebody is after something in you, they’re criticizing you, they’re making you feel– not making you feel, they’re giving you the impression that they’re accusing you of something, or offending you in some way, so you’ve got to protect yourself. Unfortunately, defensiveness is often manifested in ways that are irrational or unnecessary, which basically means that you may sometimes get defensive over things that you’re not being accused of, or you’re not being attacked by. It’s just a natural response to that.

Here’s how you fix your own defensiveness since that was the question, what can I do to stop my own defensiveness? You can ask questions, you can assume positive intent. Who was that was that? Was that Covey or somebody said, always assume positive intent? You can assume that when people say something, they’re simply asking a question or making a statement. It takes a lot of practice though, and the way I suggest to my clients is that you ask a question and that I respond, assuming they’re not coming after me, right? I assume that they’re just asking a question.

When I feel that initial cringe, or I feel that initial thing, or I feel that initial urge to be defensive, the first thing I do is hold the urge and respond appropriately, respond non defensively. If they keep coming at me, I do not need to explain myself, I just ask a question, “Tell me what you’re getting at or what it is you’re trying to say, so I can answer most appropriately.” Becoming non defensive requires a lot of work.

I had somebody who worked for me for years, it seemed like every time I said something to him, he was defensive. One day I just brought him in, well, I didn’t bring him in, we went to lunch and I said, “Look, man, it feels like often when I say things to you, I’m just asking a question or making a comment, seems like you get pretty defensive.” Of course, then he got defensive about being defensive, and then we both laughed, and then we worked it out.

Sometimes people aren’t aware of it, but you are obviously aware of it and that’s what I would do. Hold on to the feeling, respond appropriately, ask good questions, and then ask yourself, “Is what this person saying really attacking me? Is it really being negative toward me?” In most cases, it probably isn’t.

Hope that’s helpful.

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