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Are Your Communications Defensive?

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“One reduces the defensiveness of the listener when one communicates that one is willing to experiment with one’s own behavior, attitudes and ideas.”- Jack R. Gibb PhD – A pioneer in humanistic psychology

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Loved Me Anyway

(Lyrics by Larry S. Warfield)


I was bent and broken. God had let me down. I was angry, I just didn’t care.

I was into taking all that I could get, giving just enough to get me there.

She knew just what that was like. She’d been there before.

With strength and faith, she knew what she could do.

God warned her – “Here he comes, my Dear…” He’s gonna need your love”

She said, “Just give me time to think it through.”

Then she loved me. She loved me anyway.

Ted Thought He Had It All

Ted thought he had it all together, a beautiful wife, an ideal job with an up and coming company.  But it all ended in a very nasty divorce. He was angry. He didn’t want to get close to anyone. He became a user of people, women in particular.

He was angry with God thinking God had let him down. He had done the religious, “churchy” things, so why did this happen? They went to church every Sunday. He sang on the praise team. They had their house with the white picket fence and their two kids. What more could a person want?

Then she asked to go back to work. She felt trapped and controlled. He called all the shots and she was to jump every time he said jump.

She had given up a career because he said – “No, my wife is going to be a ‘stay-at-home’ mom. The kids need you.” Her wants and wishes were not considered. Ted had it all figured out. He was right. This was how it was going to be.

He had the mindset of – “I win, we all win,” – as long as we do it my way. But, Amy didn’t buy it. She couldn’t get him to change his mind or even listen to what she had to say. Any time she got close to the subject of going to work, he stonewalled the conversation, stomping off to the other room and refusing to talk. Forget listening or paraphrasing what she had to say. He didn’t care how she felt. He was the boss of the family and that was that.


It Came Crashing Down

One day she got up earlier than usual, dressed in a business suit, had the kids dressed with lunches walking out the door when he staggered into the kitchen for his usual breakfast that she always sat before him with his coffee.

Not today. As he watched her march the kids out the door, he finally woke up enough to say, “What’s going on? Where are you going? Where’s my breakfast?”

“First day on the job. Kids are going to daycare. Breakfast is on you,” she said walking out the door.

He stood for what seemed like an eternity watching the car drive away. Then he plopped into a chair at the table, with his head propped up on his hands. He had no clue how long he sat feeling like his whole world had just crumbled. He couldn’t even wrap his mind around going to work or even calling in sick.

The family had settled into their new routine when Amy started getting calls from work. When Ted asked who called, she said, “It’s just a work problem.” But it wasn’t long until she presented him with divorce papers. The work problem ended up being a guy from work who was pushing her to get a divorce and start a new life with him.

His perfect life with the white picket fence, beautiful wife, and two kids soon found him in the house alone. Angry. God had let him down.

Then he met Tanya, nothing like his wife. She went to church on her own. She claimed to have a relationship with Jesus. He scoffed at her, but, yet, she was attractive to him, even with the God stuff.

He began to court her and develop a new relationship. She soon agreed to let him move in.

Sometimes he was mean and abusive. He’d get defensive. He’d attack. She’d take just so much and then she’d draw the line, “Stop it or there’s the door.” For some reason, he’d always stopped. He switched to loving.

Defensive Behavior

Defensive behavior occurs when a person perceives or anticipates a threat. When a person experiences defensiveness, he or she is not able to give their full attention to the task at hand because a large portion of their attention is devoted to defending him or herself. At that moment he is occupied with thoughts about how he appears to others, what he needs to do to appear more favorable, how he can win, dominate, impress or escape punishment, or how he can avoid a perceived attack.

The defensive listener may launch into explaining how you, the speaker, misunderstood. Or clarify their intentions. Or make excuses. Or explain the cause and effect. Or say you caused it. Or say you, the speaker, do it too. Or point out something else you do wrong.

Defensive behavior arouses defensive listening producing postural, facial, and verbal cues resulting in a raised defense level in the speaker. If this goes unchecked the circular response can become very destructive similar to the “Defcon” level of international military interaction.

As a person becomes more and more defensive, he becomes less able to perceive accurately the motives, the values and the emotions of the speaker. The defensive behavior actually prevents the listener from concentrating on the message. It also distorts what they receive.

Photo by Icons8 team on Unsplash

Photo by Icons8 team on Unsplash

Defensive Communication?

Defensive communication is a reaction that occurs when an individual reacts in a defensive manner to a perceived logic flaw, a threat or a perceived unjust accusation, resulting in aggressive retaliation. A defensive response can be triggered by feelings of anxiety, insecurity, and sensitivity when the listener feels negatively evaluated, controlled or persuaded by the speaker.

Defensiveness can be a very serious problem. It can become a very bad habit on the part of the speaker and the listener.

Defensiveness is very frustrating, especially when you, the speaker, are trying to make a point and it seems like the listener isn’t really listening or derail the conversation.

Likewise, you, as the listener, can become very defensive when it feels like you are being criticized or blamed for something you didn’t do. Within a matter of minutes, the criticism and blaming and defensiveness can escalate and turn into contempt or stonewalling, where the listener withdraws from the conversation, shuts down, closing himself off from the speaker. This type of cycle can go unending for days, weeks, months, and even years.

This pattern needs to be nipped in the bud and not allowed to continue. Make a decision to establish a more “supportive” environment which creates a defense-reduction climate. The less the listener interprets unfavorable motives, the less likely his or her anxieties and concerns will be triggered. As the listener’s defenses are reduced, he is better able to concentrate on the meaning of the message.


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Add A Softer Touch

If you don’t like your partner’s defensiveness make sure you are not causing it by being critical. When you need to talk about a problem or something that could bring out defensiveness in the listener, make a soft start.

Do not “blow them out of the water with both guns blazing” to get their attention. Begin with a soft tone.

If you start the conversation with an abrupt, loud, or angry or critical remark, it’s over. The listener is in defense-mode before you get a sentence out.

Decide if this is the time or place for the conversation that you are about to introduce. If not, in a soft tone, say that you need to talk to them and ask, “When would be a good time?” Make an appointment. Wait until then to begin talking.

At the appointed time, start by using a soft tone. Use the “polite” words, please and thank you.


Criticism: “You never lock the door!”

Request:  “For the next week, would you please be sure to lock the door every day?” Thank you.


Cure For Defensive Communications

Find some part of a request or criticism that you can honestly take some responsibility for. Talk about that first. Even if you don’t agree with all of it, find some part that you can acknowledge in good faith. Address that part first. Stay on the topic until the listener experiences some relief. Don’t shift to another part of the topic too soon.


Speaker #1 says, “You’re working too many hours like you always do.”

Listener’s Response #1, “That’s true. I have been working late.”                                                     


Listener’s Response #2, “Well, I wouldn’t have to work so late, if you’d do more.”

If the listener responds with Response #2 it will lead to a fight. Response #1 acknowledges that he has been working a lot of hours.


To summarize:

  • If your partner is defensive, make sure you are not being critical.
  • Acknowledging and taking responsibility for part of the criticism lets the steam off so it does not become a fight.
  • Proverbs 15:1 ESV, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”


One day Ted woke up to the fact that Tanya really did love him. When he realized he was loved, the meanness, the abusiveness, the defensiveness, the attacks began to diminish. His responses became softer with move loving tenderness.

Loved Me Anyway

(Lyrics by Larry S. Warfield)


Then one day it dawned on me “She’s lovin’ you, you fool.”

I opened up my heart and I could see.

I’d thought I was in control. I’d thought I was so cool.

But there she was beside me. Tho’ she didn’t have to be.

Cause she knew just what I was like, making’ all that noise…

She’d take just so much and then she’d draw the line

And I learned I could trust that girl like no one else before

Now I’m so proud to tell the world she’s mine.

“It’s not your way or my way; it’s a better way, a higher way,” – Stephen Covey.

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