When someone criticizes us, be it our work or our attitude, “[getting] defensive helps us protect our character and our sense of competence,” according to a Psychology Today article.
You might not even notice that you’re being defensive, but some common tactics include:
- Blaming others for your failures;
- Distancing ourselves from your mistakes;
- Drinking/self-medicating to deal with perceived threats to your self-image and self-esteem; or
- Judging others harshly so you can maintain a good image.
But when you get defensive, you often end up distancing yourself from your family, friends, and colleagues. Defensiveness doesn’t just push people away, it makes you look immature. This can be bad, especially if your workmates perceive that you’re unable to handle your emotions maturely.
Getting defensive might give you instant relief or it may seem like the only way to handle a threat. However, it may affect your reputation and your relationships in the long run.
Tips for dealing with criticism
If you’re being criticized, remember these five tips to control your mood and avoid getting defensive:
- Recall your deepest values — Thinking of your beliefs and passions can help you feel less defensive. You can even do this without directly confronting the criticism. If, for example, you receive a poor work review, don’t bring up all your previous work-related successes. Try to remember when you last felt confident instead, such as your dedication to living a healthy lifestyle, your faith, or other values that are important to you. When you focus on your values, you can build up your self-esteem and stop feeling defensive.
- Accept criticism as a sign that other people believe in your abilities — Whenever you get criticized, especially at a young age, it has a hand in shaping your identity and sense of worth. But you can use criticism to your advantage. When you’re criticized, it doesn’t always mean people only notice the wrong things you did. In most cases, like at work, your boss or colleague knows that you can do better. People will usually give you feedback to help you improve, so always remember that they believe in you. This can make it easier to hear criticism, no matter how harsh it may seem.
- Cultivate a growth mindset — Defensiveness doesn’t always mean getting verbally defensive. You can still get defensive if you talk badly about other people, if you compare yourself to people who are in worse positions, or if you overspend to “treat yourself” with retail therapy to feel better. While these methods can make you feel good, you end up wasting your energy on being defensive instead of learning to accept criticism. Try to channel your energy into self-improvement by “cultivating a growth mindset.” Instead of thinking that you’re better than other people, learn to view mistakes as a chance to improve on your shortcomings. (Related: Is caring about what others think holding you back?)
- Try not to react in the heat of the moment — If you’re having trouble following the first three tips, wait before you react. Let the adrenaline flow through you, but don’t lash out. You can try letting the other person finish speaking so you can think about how you’ll respond without sounding defensive. You can also keep quiet so you don’t say anything you might regret. Now, you’re ready for the last step.
- Use “I” statements — This classic method is effective because it helps reduce defensiveness. It lets you explain how you’re feeling without accusing the other person. “I” statements emphasize your feelings so you can make a point without getting defensive. But don’t use an “I” statement to mask an insult, like saying, “I’m sorry you don’t understand what I said.” It’s better to say, “I’m not comfortable with this,” then explain why you feel that way. You can also say, “I hear what you’re saying” to let the other person know that you’re being receptive to their comments.
Other tactics include asking the other person to explain their feedback so you can improve, and asking them for help. This lets your colleagues or family members know that you’re open-minded enough to hear criticism.
Remember, not being defensive and learning how to accept criticism can help you improve as a person.
Learn more about emotional and mental behaviors at Mind.news.