At its core, defensiveness is a approach to shield our ego and a fragile vanity. Our analysis staff member Ellen Alley explains that our vanity is taken into account fragile when our failures, errors, and imperfections lower our self-worth. In our work, the other of a fragile vanity is grounded confidence. With grounded confidence, we settle for our imperfections and so they don’t diminish our self-worth. It is smart that defensive-ness happens in areas of our lives the place we’ve fragile vanity, or throughout a number of areas of our lives if the fragility is extra basic. Any perceived call-out of our weak spot is skilled as an assault on our price, so we battle exhausting to defend ourselves towards it.

In order to attempt to restrict our publicity to data that differs from how we consider ourselves, we get defensive and overjustify, make excuses, reduce, blame, discredit, low cost, refute, and reinterpret. Defensiveness blocks us from listening to suggestions and evaluating if we need to make significant adjustments in our considering or conduct based mostly on enter from others.

In our Dare to Lead coaching, we work with individuals to determine what defensiveness appears like for them, what it looks like, and whether or not there are some conditions which are extra prone to set off it than others. To improve self-awareness, we ask people to assume again to a time after they acquired troublesome suggestions and attempt to bear in mind what their our bodies had been doing, what ideas had been arising, and what feelings they had been feeling. The overwhelming majority of individuals wrestle to recollect the precise ideas and emotions, which is smart, on condition that many people go into fight-or-flight mode in these conditions.

However, for essentially the most half, folks can bear in mind their bodily responses: Folding their arms over their chest, shoving their fingers into their pockets, getting tunnel imaginative and prescient, feeling their coronary heart race, wanting down, and getting dry mouth are just some. It’s price fascinated with the bodily cues that present up for you when experiencing defensiveness and devising a method that may assist pull you again into the current second.

When I get defensive, I usually get tunnel imaginative and prescient and begin planning what I’m going to say as an alternative of listening. But I’ve discovered some methods to disarm my defensiveness. My technique is to subtly open my palms, even when my fingers are simply hanging by my aspect or on my lap, and truly say, “I’m sorry. Can you say that again? I really want to understand.” It’s fairly efficient. If I’m having a very exhausting time, I would say, “I’m sorry. I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m going to get a glass of water. Can we sit down in ten minutes and start again?”


This looks as if the proper place to speak in regards to the idea of flooding. The physique can turn into overwhelmed when it senses hazard, and for lots of us, a troublesome dialog, exhausting suggestions, or an argument is sufficient to ship our physique into overdrive. We can really feel overwhelmed, attacked, and confused. According to the Gottman Institute, flooding is “a sensation of feeling psychologically and physically overwhelmed during conflict, making it virtually impossible to have a productive, problem-solving discussion.”

In his e book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last, John Gottman explains, “We each have a sort of built-in meter that measures how much negativity accumulates during such interactions. When the level gets too high for you, the needle starts going haywire and flooding begins. Just how readily people become flooded is individual.” He additionally shares that flooding is affected by how a lot stress you may have happening in your life. The extra stress we’re underneath, the extra doubtless we’re to be simply flooded.

One of the worst patterns that I dropped at my marriage from my household was “Get back in here and fight with me!” Growing up, we didn’t take breaks throughout fights. No one ever stated, “This is no longer productive and we should take a time-out before someone gets their feelings hurt.” Our technique was get louder and meaner till you win or another person is crying. When I first married Steve, in the midst of a heated argument he would say, “Let’s stop and take a break.” I used to be like, “What are you talking about?”

At some level, I spotted that stopping scared me. Fighting collectively appeared much less painful than hurting alone. Looking again, I simply didn’t know the right way to do it. I had by no means been taught or seen it modeled. Gottman’s work helped me perceive the mechanics behind “Okay, can we circle back in twenty minutes?” or “Okay, how much time do you need?” Knowing that we’re coming again to complete the dialogue, and when, reassures me not directly.

This analysis additionally helped me notice that it wasn’t simply Steve who was getting overwhelmed. I get overwhelmed too. The distinction is our methods. He shuts down; I lash out. Disastrous.

Now after I really feel flooded, I’m as prone to say “Time-out” as he’s. This is an efficient factor as a result of, in accordance with Gottman, power flooding units us as much as dread speaking. Gottman discusses this impact within the context of marriages and partnerships, however I’ve seen the identical factor in organizations. I’ve interviewed many analysis individuals who expertise power flooding with their bosses, a lot so that each time they’re referred to as into the workplace, they’re already on the trail to overwhelm.

There’s solely a lot our our bodies and nervous techniques can stand earlier than they flip the survival swap and cease speaking and begin defending or attacking. Looking again, I’ve by no means as soon as regretted calling a time-out at residence or work. Not as soon as. I’ve by no means skilled somewhat time and area being a foul factor, however I’ve loads of regrets the opposite method round.

Excerpted from Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown. Copyright © 2021 by Brené Brown. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No a part of this excerpt could also be reproduced or reprinted with out permission in writing from the writer.

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