- Defensiveness is the primary barrier to effective communication. Defensive behaviors show up when a person doesn’t feel physically or emotionally safe. Usually there is a perceived or real threat. When individuals interpret another’s message as threatening, they often respond in ways that hinder effective communication.
- Defensive behaviors can be the result of a:
+ Challenge to private or public perceptions of ourselves.
+ Desire to be perfect in the public's eye.
+ Lack of self-confidence.
+ Fear of being found to be less than what was previously thought.
+ Fear of a loss of status.
+ Fear of rejection.
- Defensiveness is often a reflection of insecurity in individuals. It tends to distort questions into accusations and responses into justifications. There is a little wonder that effective communication often ends when the speaker or listener becomes defensive. In response to defensiveness, "attack or avoidance" replaces "fight or flight”, in a self-perpetuating cycle of events, leading to more threats and accusations, and more defensive behaviors and counterattacks.
- The reference here is not to physical threats to safety. It is the threat of challenge, the fear of losing the ability to control, predict, or know ourselves. Ego and prestige are threatened. Our self-image may include the perception that we are honest, ethical, reliable, trustworthy, truthful, responsible, intelligent, congenial, generous, etc. A significant threat to a self-image leaves us with basically two alternatives--accept or ignore the threat, or protect the self-image by defensive behaviors.
- Defensiveness makes us feel uncomfortable, hostile, or guilty. It causes obvious emotional and physical tension. If defensiveness is excessive, the outcome is predictably bad. Not only does the communication process end, but interpersonal relationships are injured, feelings are hurt, and the underlying cause of the conflict remains unresolved.