How To Talk To A Defensive Person

relationship counselling brightonPerhaps you know someone who is going through a tough time. You’re worried about them and think they could do with some support. You want to help but when you try to talk to them they get angry and upset and it only seems to make matters worse. What can you do?
Thinking about things from the other side, when we find ourselves in a difficult place it is not always easy to accept support from others. It can feel like concerned loved ones are meddling in our affairs or trying to control what we do. Unasked for advice is seldom welcome but there are also times when we need help and are so close to the action that we can’t see the wood for the trees. What will make it easier for us to hear the other person and get the support we might desperately need?
Here are a few ideas for how to approach someone who has a tendency to be defensive when we challenge their behaviour – whether it be out of concern for their welfare or because what they are doing is having a detrimental effect on our own lives:

  • ask questions. This is relatively easy to do. We can ask how someone is feeling, what brings them to certain conclusions. Avoid questions that start with ‘why’ as this can imply a judgement.
  • talk about talking. In therapy jargon this is called meta-communication. Essentially, rather than talking about the fact that you are worried about someone, you talk about how difficult it is to talk to them and what happens when you do. For example, ‘when I talk to you about your drinking, you get angry and I feel shut down.’ Ask for their help with what to do.
  • keep it short. Droning on about something or attempting to justify your concerns is likely to be a big turn-off for the other person.
  • be respectful. Expressing concern about someone we care about is very important but thinking you know better than they do about how to handle a situation is unlikely to move matters on. Standing by while others take responsibility for themselves might be just what they need (it’s ok to make mistakes!) – unless, of course, we have serious concerns for their own or someone else’s health or life.

Many problems can be overcome with the support of family and friends. Therapy may be another option – a safe space in which to think about your life with someone who comes with no agenda and from whom you can walk away when you are done. Sometimes it is easier to step back and see things from different perspectives when accompanied by someone skilled at providing the right balance of support and challenge.
Postscript: For more thoughts on this subject, see my later post ‘How To Talk To A Defensive Person – Part 2’ (12th August 2014).
If you live or work within reach of Brighton and Hove and my approach to counselling and psychotherapy interests you, please contact me via email or telephone 07585 910742 for more information and to arrange an initial consultation.
Copyright: Caroline Clarke, relationship counselling in Brighton and Hove
Image courtesy of foto76 /