How to Avoid Responding Defensively to Feedback

20 May


Responding defensively to criticism is not automatic. What are triggers?

For starters, when someone is delivering criticism, the message is rooted in some degree of negativity and hearing something negative may cause a few sparks to fly. Combine that with listening to argue or to judge, where you are automatically creating a right/wrong, agree/disagree condition and you are positioning yourself to respond defensively.

Another trigger that promotes a defensive response is paying more attention to “how” the criticism is being delivered and overlooking “what” is being said. If you hear yourself saying to others, “Don’t speak to me that way” then you are focusing your energies on how the criticism is being delivered.

Generally,  the purpose of criticism is to get you to change your behavior—to do something better, achieve a desired end result, or grow personally or professionally. Keeping this understanding of criticism in mind can also help you see the situation differently and prevent you from listening in an argumentative or judgmental way.

Perhaps the best advice to help you avoid the tendency to come across defensively is to think about certain people who arouse your emotions more than others, and make a mental or actual list of those people. Then prepare a non- defensive response in advance. When you meet up with one of the people on your list, you will be better prepared to handle the exchange, while simultaneously keeping your emotions in check.

To avoid speaking first and regretting it later, take the advice from one passionate leader who said, “zip your lips”. You can always go back to the giver once you have thought about what’s been said to set the record straight!


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