Stellar Coaching + Consulting

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Getting Your Back Up? Ask a Question

I’ve had a few clients recently share similar challenges. This tends to happen; common themes emerge in my work, reminding me that our human conundrums are often universal in nature.

The specific challenge in this case has been defensiveness -- and it’s a two-pronged challenge. There’s the defensiveness that we sense from others, as well as the defensiveness that arises within us in response to others. Sometimes, the former leads to the latter. And always, defensiveness is a challenging type of interaction.

When folks get defensive, whatever exchange is happening can quickly escalate into a metaphorical tug-of-war. Each party wants to be right -- and so the pseudo-discussion goes back and forth without any resolution. The objective, when you’re on the defense, is to protect your stance -- and to convince the other person to get on board.

You probably don’t have to dig too deeply to remember a scenario in which you either were defensive or someone you were interacting with was defensive. It’s a very common human dynamic, especially when dealing with opposing or new views.

What if there is another way? What if you could diffuse the defensiveness and shift to a more productive interaction? What would that look like? Is it even possible?


Yes, it is. And the key is to shift from TELLING to ASKING.

When you feel defensiveness rearing its head, it’s time to ask a question. Questions can take a variety of forms. Here are a few to consider:

  • I feel like you’re not on board with this idea; am I right?
  • What don’t you like about this idea? (this can be asked on the heels of the first question)
  • This idea is not sitting well with me. Tell me why you think it would be helpful?
  • It seems like we’re on opposite sides of the fence; how can we work together?
  • What’s our common goal?

These are just a few ideas to try. The trick in each case is to ask the question from genuine curiousity -- and then LISTEN to the responses. Don’t make assumptions about what you think the answer is going to be, or how you can counteract it. The goal is genuine understanding and, to the degree that’s possible, aligned forward action.

Bottom-line: defensive energy rarely yields positive results. Sometimes it’s hard not to get defensive -- and yet, when you feel that energy in the space, there is a way around. Ask a curious question or two. Listen for the answer. Develop understanding. Then act from there.