When you are experiencing conflict with another person such as a coworker, a friend, a family member, or a romantic partner, it can be natural to react in a defensive manner. You may not even realize that you are being defensive. Someone else’s anger can often trigger a self-defense response in even the most calm and collected person. However, in order to preserve the long term health of your relationship with another person, it can be helpful to practice coping mechanisms for managing conflict in a healthy, effective way. This is especially important if you have noticed a pattern of anger and defensiveness, which can create a negative feedback loop of emotional disturbance for both people. The angry person can become angrier when faced with defensiveness, which can cause the defensive person to feel even more need to defend themselves from the angry person. Practicing strategies to reduce your own defensive responses can help you be more open to conflict resolution and effective in solving problems.

How to be less defensive in an argument:

Practice active listening.

Active listening is more than just sitting in silence while someone else talks. Active listening means that you are actively open to hearing the other person and have intentionally put yourself into a receptive mindset. This can help you shift from a defensive reaction and instead allow you to truly hear the other person’s concerns. Another key part of active listening is that you refrain from spending your time while someone else is talking simply thinking of what you’re going to say next. By holding back from emotional multitasking, you allow yourself to stay mindful of the situation which helps you feel calm and able to respond in a more thoughtful manner rather than having a “knee-jerk” reaction, which usually increases conflict.

Accept responsibility for your part.

When you feel attacked, you may respond defensively. However, when you are willing to look past your emotional response to the other person’s anger in an argument, you may find that the angry person has some valid points about ways you may have hurt them or otherwise caused problems. If you care about the relationship, then it’s only fair for you to accept responsibility for problems you may have caused, even if those issues were not your intent.


Set healthy boundaries.

Sometimes you just aren’t in the best headspace to navigate conflict. Knowing your limits and setting boundaries around appropriate conditions for emotionally charged conversations can help you make these tough discussions more productive. For example, if you are becoming defensive in an argument and feel tempted to raise your voice, a healthy boundary to set would be to take time away from the argument until you are able to speak in a calm voice.

If you are struggling with feelings of defensiveness, talking to someone can help. Reach out to Chenal Family Therapy today to learn how we can help.