Ever notice how the phrase “being defensive” has an inherently negative connotation while “defending yourself” has a positive one? Sports players play defense, defendants defend themselves in court with the help of their defense attorneys, and defensive drivers are considered responsible drivers. I’ve struggled a lot with the difference between the two and how to avoid the former and practice the latter.
It seems that when you’re being defensive, it’s often a knee-jerk reaction done in order to avoid having to confront your faults. Being defensive includes attacking the other person or changing the subject so that the “heat” is no longer on you. This is an automatic defense mechanism that many people have towards criticism of any kind. However, defending yourself entails making sure the facts are set straight so that you are not accused of something untrue.
So how do you effectively defend yourself? First, make sure you’re in the right. Make sure the facts and evidence are on your side. Is what they’re saying incorrect or simply up for interpretation? Can there be two legitimate stances on the issue?
Don’t get emotional. Doing so will only add fuel to their fire and make you seem guilty. Using “I” statements will help you avoid coming off as confrontational, which could cause them to become defensive.
Ask them for examples/evidence supporting their stance. They should be able to give you objective reasons for their assertions. In turn, give your own that support your position.
It’s not wrong to defend yourself. In fact, it’s necessary so those in positions of authority cannot abuse their power and take away yours. Admitting fault or saying you’re sorry in a situation where you’re not in the wrong can actually make you liable for the wrong, regardless. Do not allow someone to accuse you of “being defensive” as a way to silence and discredit you. Keep control, stay polite, don’t do or say anything they can hold against you — but, by all means, stand up for yourself.
I personally find it very difficult to walk that tightrope between coming off attitudinal and wanting the truth to be heard and understood. Does anybody else experience the same feeling?