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Who me? Defensive!

Groucho MarxGroucho Marx via last.fm

You're in a meeting and a team member points out an error you made in a recent report. Instantly, you feel your face flushing. Your stomach knots up. Your mind starts to race. What you do next - and say next - says a lot about:

  • how you see yourself
  • how open you are to learning and improving
  • how others will ultimately see you

Get defensive when someone is critical or trying to give you feedback, and it's like shooting yourself in the foot. Get upset with messengers delivering messages - whether they're flattering or not - and soon the messages will dry up.

  • People will give you less and less feedback. Pretty soon you're operating with a self-perception that's flawed because it's not aligned with how others see you.
  • Then your blind spots start to multiply. Eventually you'll get in trouble because you're operating with pieces of important information missing.

Most people don't enjoy giving even truthful and helpful feedback to a defensive person. It's not easy or fun. So they just don't.

If you know you're guilty of being defensive, change all that. (And hey, we all can be defensive at times, depending on how invested we are in whatever is at stake.)

When someone says something that makes you bristle, instantly think to yourself,

  • "Wow, if there's even an element of truth in what they're saying, I need to know it. I could be making a problem for myself, and others, and this could be a way out. What am I doing to get this feedback? What can I learn from this feedback."

Be curious. Sincerely curious. Like a scientist might be with a science experiment. If you can switch from:

  • being defensive to being curious
  • focusing on your own feelings to focusing on the other person's perspective,

a calmness will settle over you. The racing thoughts will slow down. The strong emotions will subside. Your ears will open up and you'll be able to listen for any nuggets of truth in what's being said.

It all starts with your frame of mind. Is your mindset open or closed? Don't be like Groucho Marx who supposedly said, "People say I don't take criticism very well, but I say, 'What the hell do they know?' "

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Got some good feedback from a co-worker on this. Looks like perfect timing! Thanks.

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