10 ways to make your point without appearing defensive, according to psychology

It’s a fine line between defending your point and appearing defensive. The key is in the delivery.

When you’re defensive, it can give off the vibe that you’re insecure about your position or even that you’re not listening to others’ perspectives.

But standing up for your ideas without seeming defensive? That’s a skill rooted in psychology, and it’s one we can all learn.

In fact, there are 10 proven strategies you can use to make your point while still remaining open and approachable. Here’s how to dive in without putting up walls.

1) Understand your trigger points

We all have certain topics that make us feel more defensive than others. It’s human nature. According to renowned psychologist Carl Jung, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

This understanding is crucial when it comes to making your point without appearing defensive. By identifying your trigger points, you can prepare for them, manage your reactions, and maintain a calm, open demeanor – even when discussing sensitive subjects.

I’m not saying you should ignore your emotions. Instead, consider acknowledging them and ensuring they don’t hijack your conversation.

Don’t forget, it’s possible to stand firm in your beliefs while still respecting the perspectives of others. And knowing your triggers is a significant first step in achieving this balance.

2) Practice active listening

The importance of active listening in effective communication cannot be overstated. Psychologist Carl Rogers once said, “When someone really hears you without passing judgment on you, without trying to take responsibility for you, without trying to mold you, it feels damn good.”

I experienced the power of this firsthand during a heated discussion with a colleague about project timelines. I was confident my plan was the most efficient one, but I could feel my defensiveness creeping in as my colleague presented alternatives.

Instead of interrupting or dismissing his suggestions outright, I decided to actively listen. I paraphrased his points to ensure I understood them correctly and asked clarifying questions. This not only helped me understand his perspective better but also softened the conversation’s tone.

By actively listening, we were able to find common ground and collaborate on a compromise that worked for everyone. It underscored for me that making your point doesn’t always mean winning an argument; often, it’s about understanding and being understood.

3) Embrace vulnerability

Sometimes, the best way to avoid appearing defensive is to let your guard down. This can be a scary prospect, but as psychologist Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.”

Recently, I was in a situation where my idea was being criticized. My first reaction was to defend myself and my idea. But I took a step back and remembered Brown’s words.

Instead of pushing back, I acknowledged the criticism and admitted that there could be room for improvement. I also shared some of my fears and insecurities about the project. It wasn’t easy, but it immediately changed the dynamic of the conversation.

Being vulnerable doesn’t mean you’re weak or unsure. It’s a courageous act that can foster deeper connections and open up new avenues of understanding. And this can often be more persuasive than any well-crafted argument.

4) Use “I” statements

clever phrases that instantly disarm a master manipulator 10 ways to make your point without appearing defensive, according to psychology

One of the simplest yet most effective strategies to make your point without appearing defensive is to use “I” statements. As psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, the creator of Nonviolent Communication, said, “‘I’ statements are a simple way of speaking that will help you become closer to others.”

Instead of saying, “You’re wrong,” or “That’s not true,” which can come off as defensive or combative, try framing your thoughts from your perspective: “I see it differently,” or “From my experience…”

For example, in a recent team meeting, there was a disagreement about a strategy I proposed. Rather than getting defensive when my idea was questioned, I responded with, “I understand your concerns. From my perspective, this strategy could help us reach our target more efficiently because…”

Using “I” statements shifts the focus from blaming or arguing to sharing and understanding. It shows that you’re open to discussion and not just trying to impose your point of view.

5) Allow for silence

Silence can be uncomfortable. We often rush to fill it with words, fearing that it may be perceived as ignorance or uncertainty. But as the famed psychologist Rollo May stated, “In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone.”

This is true in conversations too. Silence can provide the space needed for the other person to reflect on your point, process it, and respond thoughtfully. It also shows your patience and respect for their perspective.

There was a time when I shared a controversial idea during a team brainstorming session. Instead of immediately defending my idea against skeptical glances and questioning murmurs, I stayed silent and let my idea sit with the team for a while.

Surprisingly, this silence led to a more thoughtful discussion and, eventually, acceptance of my idea. It was a reminder that sometimes, the most persuasive argument is not an argument at all, but a pause.

6) Be open to feedback

Feedback is essential for growth and development, but it can be challenging to accept, especially when it feels like criticism.

As psychologist Carol Dweck, known for her work on the “growth mindset,” advises, “If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning.”

Applying this mindset to our communication style means being open to feedback on our ideas and viewpoints. It’s about understanding that we are not perfect and there’s always room for improvement.

When we show that we’re willing to receive feedback and make adjustments, we come across as more approachable and less defensive. It also fosters a culture of openness and learning rather than one of defensiveness and stagnation.

7) Maintain a positive attitude

It’s easy to get defensive when we feel attacked or misunderstood. But as psychologist Viktor Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

During a project review, I faced harsh criticism about a decision I had made. Instead of retaliating defensively, I chose to maintain a positive attitude. I thanked my critic for their perspective and assured them that I would consider their feedback for future decisions.

Keeping a positive attitude doesn’t mean ignoring criticism or brushing off concerns. It means choosing to respond in a way that promotes understanding and collaboration instead of discord. It’s about acknowledging the situation, accepting it, and choosing to move forward constructively.

8) Don’t take things personally

phrases only people with high self esteem use according to psychology 10 ways to make your point without appearing defensive, according to psychology

This may be easier said than done, especially when your ideas or decisions are under scrutiny. However, it’s essential to remember that criticism is often not a personal attack but a different perspective. As psychologist Wayne Dyer put it, “How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.”

I recall a time when a project I was leading received significant criticism. It was hard not to take it personally. But I realized that the feedback was not about me as an individual, but about the project and its outcomes.

By separating myself from the situation and focusing on the issue at hand, I was able to address the feedback without appearing defensive. It allowed for a more constructive discussion and ultimately led to improvements in the project.

Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about finding the best solution or outcome. And that often involves differing views and healthy debate.

9) Ask questions instead of providing answers

It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes the best way to make your point is by asking questions, not providing answers.

As world-renowned psychologist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman once said, “A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.”

This isn’t suggesting you should repeat falsehoods. Rather, it emphasizes the power of getting people to think through things themselves. Instead of pushing your viewpoint aggressively, try asking thoughtful questions that guide them to see the situation from your perspective.

For instance, in a debate about marketing strategies, instead of insisting that your approach is the best, you could ask, “How do you think our target audience would respond to this strategy?”

By stimulating their thought process with a well-placed question, you’re opening up a dialogue rather than a debate and reducing the chances of appearing defensive.

10) Practice empathy

Empathy can be one of the most powerful tools in avoiding defensiveness. As psychologist Carl Rogers said, “Empathy is about being with, rather than doing.”

I remember a time when a co-worker and I were at odds over a project decision. Instead of launching into defense mode, I tried to put myself in his shoes. I asked myself, “Why does he feel this way? What is his perspective?”

This simple act of empathy diffused my defensiveness and opened up a conversation instead of a confrontation. By showing that I was trying to understand his viewpoint, we were able to find a compromise that satisfied both parties.

Practicing empathy doesn’t mean you have to agree with the other person. It means understanding their viewpoint and showing that understanding in your response. It’s about building bridges, not walls.

Picture of Ethan Sterling

Ethan Sterling

Ethan Sterling has a background in entrepreneurship, having started and managed several small businesses. His journey through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship provides him with practical insights into personal resilience, strategic thinking, and the value of persistence. Ethan’s articles offer real-world advice for those looking to grow personally and professionally.

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