door 3We’ve all been there, that moment when our spouse, kid, friend or coworker confronts us with something we  have done/not done, said/not said and they are unhappy, disappointed, hurt or angry.  Whatever it is, I guarantee it is something we really don’t want to hear or deal with.

Our stomach churns, sweaty and squirming inside, our knee jerk reaction usually goes one of two directions:

Door #1:  explanations and a not so heart felt “soooorry.”

Door # 2: turn the tables with a “well you…” as we come out swinging

We feel criticized, misunderstood, judged, and maybe even caught, when we have a deep down inkling they may have a point.

Relationships are messy, hard and there is no one formula that works every time in every situation.  There is however, almost always a Door #3 that offers a way to engage and interact that enhances relationships, rather than damages them.

Door #3 is the best choice when you are feeling defensive because it puts the relationships first!

Door #3 is the way to create better relationships!

Imagine this:

Your spouse is navigating a tough and contentious work situation and comes home loaded for bear.  After biting her tongue all day, she is ready to explode and you are in firing range.  You ask about dinner plans or evening plans and she explodes, ending with the words,

“How can YOU be so insensitive!?”

Door # 1:  you backtrack quick.. “Soooory”  “I wasn’t’ trying to be insensitive…I was just asking about dinner, because the kids are hungry and you mentioned earlier that you were stopping by the store to pick up dinner.”

She rolls her eyes and opens a few cabinets and slams a pan onto the stove.

Door #2: “Well. just because you had a hard day and are on edge, doesn’t mean you can take it out on me… Talk about being insensitive! This happens every time you have a conflict with Bob at work. And, if you would just handle him the way I told you to… ”

She looks at you with daggers, as the tension escalates and an argument ensues.  Or, she looks at you with daggers and walks away, muttering under her breath.

Neither of these is an ideal outcome to your simple and legitimate question about dinner.  While your defensiveness makes sense, ( I mean it was just a simple question about dinner, we have to eat .. right??) it isn’t helpful in this situation.

You feel lousy.

She feels lousy.

Door #3:  Respond instead of React

  • Realize her comment has little to do with you and don’t take it personally. In this situation, she is reacting to a much bigger story, and she probably wanted you to read her mind and not ask about dinner.
  • Diffuse the situation, by acknowledging her feelings:  I didn’t mean to be insensitive, sounds like you had a rough day.  Why don’t you go change and I’ll hit the drive through.”

Door #3 is not who is right or wrong – it is about the relationship!

Door # 3 is about Responding instead of Reacting.

Reaction is usually about protecting ourselves, because we are feeling defensive. While responding engages from a posture of putting the relationship first.

Clearly she is struggling.  You took the hit – her accusation , “You are so insensitive,” because you know it isn’t personal.  Sure it feels personal, but instead of reacting, you take a step back and view the big picture.

You respond with the best way you know to care for her and help your relationship.  This doesn’t always mean agree, give in, or hitting the drive though. But it does mean putting the other person and the relationship above your knee jerk reaction,  feelings and desire to explain or “get out of trouble.”

There are lots of Door # 3 based on the situation, but the principles remains the same.

Door #3 is not who is right or wrong – it is about the relationship!

Door # 3 is about Responding instead of Reacting.

I guarantee your relationships – with your spouse, kids, family, friends and even coworkers -would improve if you responded instead of reacted!

Think about some of the moments you have felt defensive and reacted.  Now, apply these principles to them. 

Would the outcome have been different if you chose Door #3 and responded? 

Try to be aware of responding instead of the knee jerk reaction the next time you are feeling defensive and see how it helps your relationship get better!

2 Responses to “Pick Door # 3 when you’re feeling defensive!”

  1. Jen

    Sounds easier said then done. I will try to respond instead of react when I get into these situations. Thank you!


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