Oops- 2 Phrases That Accidentally Sound Defensive!

by Dr. Chris White, PHD on Aug 29, 2023

Building blocks

What if I told you that I saw someone in the grocery store with multiple better options but knowingly chose to get in the longest line (by far) at the checkout? Crazy, right!

What if I told you this person was you?

The reality is, when we get defensive, it’s like choosing to get in the long, slow line of personal growth. It’s like signing our name next to the statement “Thanks, but I’ll just learn more the hard way!” By the way, I’ve signed my name there many times!

First, let’s be clear what defensiveness is and isn’t. Defensiveness isn’t disagreeing with feedback or correction you receive (this response may be necessary), and defensiveness isn’t choosing not to act on input we receive (also necessary at times).

My definition of defensiveness is this: Attaching excess emotion to feedback we receive.

With that in mind, here are two phrases that can make you accidentally sound defensive:

1. “But here’s an example of when I did do….!”

I did a virtual workshop for a team recently and in the evaluations at the end, one participant said, “Chris could slow down more especially on key points.” My immediate reaction in my head was I did slow down countless times when I wanted an insight to really stick. So, who is right—me or them? The answer is definitely…both!

The participant is simply reminding me of something I’ve been intentional about and that I need to still keep on the radar. They didn’t say that I never slowed down, they just said I could still slow down more, and to that I should simply agree and take the comment as a great reminder!

2. “But you’ve done the same thing…!”

This one hardly needs explanation, and yet I still hear it all the time! And of course I’ve said it or at least thought it many times myself. Here’s what it boils down to: It doesn’t matter! Can someone who has a struggle still effectively call out someone with the same struggle? Can we learn from imperfect teachers? Yes, and yes!

Don’t let your mind chase thoughts like this and end up wasting mental energy and possibly missing out on some accurate feedback.

As we all strive to avoid defensiveness, I’ll see you in the express checkout line!

*These two phrases are a sample of some of the content covered in the Teamalytics “Defensiveness” workshop module offered to teams.

Team Leaders try this with your team: have everyone read the content above and discuss:

  1. What statement above are you most likely to accidentally say?
  2. What can you say instead?