"In order to prevent someone from attacking our defense we need to know the difference between defending and being defensive."
~ Bill Crawford

“In order to prevent someone from attacking our defense we need to know the difference between defending and being defensive.” ~ Bill Crawford

The Difference between Defending & Being Defensive

Have you ever been accused of something that you not only didn’t do, but is totally incongruent with your character, or who you are as a person? If so, you can understand how easy it is to find yourself becoming defensive. Unfortunately, defending yourself, or attempting to convince the person accusing you that they are wrong rarely results in their apologizing or changing their mind. In fact, what often happens that they attack your defense, and things just get worse from there.

When I’m asked to help people deal with such situations, I always encourage them to avoid either defending or becoming defensive, and, instead, to become curious. In other words, ask a question that at least has the potential to motivate the accuser to rethink their accusation. One version of this question is, “Hmmmm, is that congruent with who you know me to be?”

As you might imagine, this is not what the accuser was expecting, and, therefore, requires him or her to think about their response, and it will be important to be silent until they respond. If you are dealing with someone who knows you well and cares for you, chances are that they will eventually say, “no,” at which time you can thank them for their reconsideration.

If, however, the person says, “yes,” implying that they believe whatever you are being accused of is indeed congruent with who they know you to be, I suggest that you continue to respond with curiosity versus defensiveness, and say something like, “So, what have you seen me do in the past that has given you the impression that I’m that kind of person?”

Again, this has the potential to end the problematic conversation if they are just making things up. However, if they give you an example of something they saw you do which then resulted in their labeling you in a negative way, you could say, “Oh, okay, I can see how you might have come to that conclusion. Would you like to know what I was really thinking?”

In each of these scenarios, you are responding to an accusation with a question versus attempting to convince your accuser that they are wrong. You are neither defending yourself nor becoming defensive, and instead responding to them with confidence and curiosity.

Of course, there are situations where defending yourself is necessary, because you are being asked to provide data to some person in a position of authority. Maybe you have been sued, or maybe you were given a lower grade than you feel you deserve on a performance review, and the appeals process requires that you show cause why this evaluation should be changed.

In cases such as these, defending yourself by providing the court or organization with information is exactly what is being asked of you. However, in almost all other situations, I would encourage you to avoid either defending yourself or becoming defensive. As they say, your friends don’t need it, and those who are not your friends won’t believe you anyway.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill