The Three Keys To Giving Feedback To Overly Defensive People

The Three Keys To Giving Feedback To Overly Defensive People
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When you know someone can be really defensive, it makes giving them any sort of constructive criticism a battle you’d probably rather avoid. If something needs to be said, it all depends on the clarity of your message and how you communicate it.

Photo by Kai Schreiber.

Defensive people make any conversation that doesn’t go their way a bitter ordeal, but Holly Weeks at Harvard Business Review recommends focusing on three specific attributes when it’s time for them to face the music. You should use:

  1. Clear content: Choose the right language and imagine you’re a newscaster clearly relaying the most essential information to them.
  2. Neutral tone: Remove your emotions from the equation. Think about how neutral the classic “Houston, we have a problem” NASA recording sounds.
  3. Temperate phrasing: Don’t use any words or loaded language that could provoke them into getting angry or dismissing you.

As Weeks explains, these three keys need to be a package deal. If you’re being clear with your message, but you’re letting your emotions get the best of you, they might become angry and even more defensive. Or if you have a clear message and deliver it with a neutral tone, but you jab at them with your phrasing; they might just blow you off.

It’s hard to give feedback without sounding like a jerk, especially to defensive people, but it’s not impossible with the right approach. The whole article is well worth a read, so check it out at the link below.

How to Give Feedback to Someone Who Gets Crazy Defensive [Harvard Business Review]


  • 4: Patience. I had a friend like this and quite often he would come back a few days later and tell me what I had told him as if it had been his idea in the first place

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