Kay Simmeth Counseling Group

Individual and Relational Counseling, EMDR Therapy and Consulting

Do You Defend or Do You Prosper?

“You are wrong!” Ouch, those words aren’t easy to hear. Criticism, correction and confrontation — how many of us like to be on the receiving end of such interactions? But, when we’re coming from a place of strength we can respond  to criticism non-defensively and can actually grow and prosper from such exchanges.Respond to criticism

In her book, Taking the War Out of Our Words: The Art of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication, Sharon Ellison estimates that we use 95% of our communications energy being defensive. As soon as we feel any threat, either of not getting what we want or of being put down in some way, we are ready to protect ourselves by being defensive. Without even being aware when we are triggered we can quickly go to a place of feeling unimportant or not good enough. Imagine how much more productive our communication could be if we learned how to respond non-defensively and how to avoid provoking defensiveness in others!

Take this quiz to see how defensive you tend to be.

True or false?

  1. When a client, boss, coworker or colleague points out a flaw in my work, I am quick to show him or her how it wasn’t my fault.
  2. If I am at fault for something, it’s because of some factor outside of myself over which I had no control.
  3. When people are upset with me, I let them know with explanations and excuses why they are wrong.
  4. I’m always looking for the hidden critical message beneath another’s words.
  5. If I don’t defend myself, I’ll get run over.
  6. I can rarely admit that I am wrong.
  7. If I think someone will have something critical to say, I avoid talking to that person.


If you responded true more often than false to the above questions, consider some of the following alternatives to defensiveness.

  • I’m always looking to improve my work, service or product, so I welcome feedback from clients, my boss or customers on how well I am doing (or not).
  • I realize that when I’m feeling defensive, I don’t feel safe, competent or confident.
  • When someone criticizes me, I sit with it to see if there’s a kernel of truth in the criticism. If there is, I acknowledge it and work to improve in that area.
  • By my willingness to admit and correct any errors, I engender trust and confidence from employees, bosses, clients and customers.
  • When someone is leveling a complaint, I ignore the words “always” and “never” and instead focus on the rest of the message.
  • I take responsibility for what I can change.
  • I listen for the usually hidden need expressed in a person’s complaint or anger, acknowledge the need, and then see whether there is something I can do to meet it.

Responding in this manner will help you navigate the inevitable criticisms and confrontations that occur.

Author’s content used with permission, © Claire Communications

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