How to stop being defensive – how to deal with defensive behaviour

Published on August 17, 2018 9:33 am

What makes people become defensive?

Feeling attacked, criticised, threatened, the desire to protect….what’s to be gained?

Defensive reactions can:

  • help us feel better about ourselves
  • make us seem less credible
  • limit our learning and growth
  • stop our relationships from achieving their potential

The abilities to listen, reflect and take feedback are the keys to change and growth. 

What are the signs of being defensive?

  • responding instantly without thinking, reflex responses
  • attempting to take control of conversations
  • adrenaline rush
  • a sense that you are at risk in some way
  • excuses, no can-do statements

Other signs to look out for include; your customer, client, partner, friend or colleague trying harder to get you to listen, changing the subject or even disengaging with you.

As with all problem solving the first step is to decide to do something about it. 

What can you do to stop your defensive reactions?

  • Ask people to tell you when you are being defensive
  • Write down the consequences of persisting with this habit
  • If you feel that you have no ambition to achieve personal growth, this may be your defensive habit trying to ‘keep you in your comfort zone‘, so beware of denial.
  • Recognise your feelings and learn how to manage them

8 steps to convert emotions to action and progress

What can you do to stop others from being defensive?

  • Seek first to understand then to be understood
  • Learn to ask better questions and listen
  • Direct questions can make people defensive
  • Indirect questions tend to make people share
  • Start with easier to answer open questions, ones that show interest in the person or people you are talking to. Use close questions to get a group to respond in unison. The different answers to open questions to audiences are more challenging to process and co-ordinate.
  • If you are looking for commitment or to make change. Be patient and take your time. Take the pieces off the table, one piece at a time and eventually you will reveal the way forward and take others with you in less defensive ways.
  • If you attack or do something that makes the other person feel you have acted unfairly or unreasonably, perhaps even in an underhand way (even when you think you haven’t) then you can expect a defensive or aggressive response.

How can we help you?

We are learning and development specialists who can help you, your employees or colleagues to react in smarter ways. We help people to develop their soft skills, communication, influencing, sales, leadership and negotiation skills.

Call or email us on +44 (0) 1952 201966 email us at or by using our contact form.

Dealing with defensive behaviour is critical to

  • Customer relationships
  • Customer service
  • Managing or leading people
  • Sales
  • Negotiations