How to make the other person defensive


There are many ways to make the other person defensive, some more effective than others. I’m going to write about one that’s guaranteed to work every time.

Clearly I’m joking a little.  I know you want to learn how to get your point across without making the other person defensive and what to do about it if they are.

Most people don’t realize that when the other person is defensive, they actually caused it.  And they usually have no idea how they did that.  It’s a real blind spot.

Here’s one way it happens.

Acknowledgments are some of the most powerful skills I teach.  Even if you do acknowledge others, there are so many ways to mess this up that you need to know.

Acknowledgment happens at a precise point in time after the other person has told you something, anything.  They have completed that thought.  And now your acknowledgment lets them know you understand what they told you.  And, very importantly, that you can see it from their point of view.

That’s ALL it does.  If it does any more than that, it’s not an acknowledgement.

An acknowledgment does not contain any evaluation of what they said, nor any response to it.

In its purity an acknowledgement simply communicates, “I really got it.”

Acknowledgments have a profound impact on people. Having traveled the world as our programs were delivered in 30 countries, I can assure you this runs deep throughout all of humanity, all around the globe, with both men and women, with every age group, at home and at work and with the next door neighbor.  

You can observe people visibly brighten up when they are well acknowledged.  Often they look terribly relieved.

What a well delivered acknowledgment does it is it lets them know that their purpose for communicating (which is to be understood) has been accomplished.

Most people think the other person needs to be agreed with, but if you penetrate the surface you’ll see that what they really need is to be understood.  There is GREAT satisfaction in simply being understood.

Many people think the other person needs to be validated for what they said, that they need to be told they’re right (even if they’re wrong).  Again, I’ve acknowledged people who were asserting how right they were and they were quite satisfied with a well communicated acknowledgment letting them know I thoroughly understood them.  Without my ever having agreed that they were right.

So what does this have to do with making someone defensive?  People get defensive real FAST when you mess up the acknowledgment part of communication. 

Your thoughts are powerful.

Whatever you are thinking when you give an acknowledgment goes straight into your acknowledgment, and especially into your tone of voice, which really matters when you’re giving an acknowledgment.

Here’s how it happens:

You’ll hear people say the words, “I understand,” but at the same time they’re saying these words, they’re also thinking:

  • I understand but I’m not interested.

  • I understand. Now let me tell you what I think.

  • I understand but I’m annoyed.

  • I understand but please stop talking it.

  • I understand. You’ve already told me that, you’re repeating yourself.

  • I understand, but you’re totally wrong about that.

  • I understand but I can’t believe you think that.

  • I understand but let me correct you.

  • I understand but that’s not important. Let me tell you what’s really important.

  • I understand that you’re crazy (or an idiot).

The important thing is that you don’t even have to say these things. Just THINK one of them while you’re giving the acknowledgment and believe me it comes through loud and clear.  It overrides your acknowledgement.

Whatever understanding there is gets completely wiped out and all the other person hears is the part that comes after.

And so, they get defensive. Wouldn’t you?

Try a little experiment. It doesn’t even have to be a particularly significant or important or difficult conversation.

When you’re talking with someone, listen intently to what they say because this is important for your acknowledgment to work.  Obviously if you weren’t really listening, letting them know you fully understand is insincere.

So listen intently and when they’re finished, let them know you really understand.  As you’re doing that, just be thinking about really understanding them, don’t be thinking about anything else. Don’t be thinking about what you’re going to say, or your evaluation of what they said, or anything else.

Just be full of understanding. And hold that until you see they’re satisfied with your acknowledgement.

What you’ll observe is a look of satisfaction and a readiness, openness, to receiving whatever you want to say next.  If you don’t see that right away, just acknowledge them a little more until you do.

Remember, you’re not responding to what they said.  All you’re doing with your acknowledgment is letting them know you understand what they said.

It takes practice and even coaching to become really skilled at this and do it so it’s second nature.  But you’ll still have success even if it’s your first time trying it.

Acknowledgments are a vital part of causative communication and are very worth of mastery.

They’ll keep people from getting defensive and will relieve it when they do. They’re vital in every negotiation or conflict you find yourself in the middle of.  They allow a great conversation to happen.

This is so universal you can try it anywhere anytime and see results.

Have fun!  And let me know what happens.

Be the cause!