My sister once commented to me that, “it is a better life to not get offended easily.”
She was complimenting me on my own ability to hear feedback and not get defensive. This was ironic to me since I was strongly criticized in my early career for being too defensive. What happened? What changed?
The label of defensiveness is a straight-jacket. The more you struggle against it the more it seems to constrict. Once I was labeled I realized that even the slightest counterargument, explanation, or justification for my actions would be viewed as defensive. At first this infuriated me. It felt as though my only response to criticism had to be to sit down, shut up, and take it.
And in a way that was true.
But over time it became incredibly liberating. I realized that my explanations never really convinced anyone. My defensiveness (justified or not) never made me look better in anyone else’s eyes. It only served my own ego.
On the contrary, not defending myself (no matter how much I agree or disagree) turns out to impress people. Thanking others for criticism amazes them even more.
It isn’t that I don’t feel the defensive impulse. Rather we can all practice alternative behaviors.
I like to keep things simple. When I receive feedback I rely on two statements.
- Tell me more.
- Thank you.
Afterwards I can always decide what I agree or disagree with. But during the conversation my focus is not on finding what is right. My focus is on hearing and appreciating the difficult message the other person has to deliver. (Or at least, that is my focus when I am my best self. After all, I’m still on this journey too.)