Maybe you’re talking with your spouse. Or friend. Or brother. Or colleague. Whoever it is, you know that no matter how carefully you say something, the words won’t get through. They’re just so damn defensive.
You want to scream stuff like, “It’s not a personal attack” or “I’m just trying to have a conversation.” Mostly, you want to ask, “Can you just stop being so defensive?”
Here’s the thing: No, they probably can’t. It’s right there in the word. They’re defending. “It implies there’s a threat,” says Ellen Hendriksen, clinical psychologist and author of How to Be Yourself. It could be you, but just as likely your words are triggering something deep-seated.
Once their fears are ignited, all focus is danger related. It’s hard for the defensive person to get out of that mode. And saying something like, “Don’t get so defensive,” is about as effective as saying “Relax” to someone panicking.
So what can you do when talking to someone who always gets defensive? Turn up your empathy and turn down your assumptions, because you’re most likely going into the interaction hot. You’re bracing for that person to feel threatened and that ends up threatening you.
“Then we have two reptilian brains talking to each other,” says Laura Silberstein-Tirch, licensed psychologist and author of How to Be Nice to Yourself. That means both of you are down to three options: fight, flight or freeze. “It’s a limited repertoire.”
You want to open that up. You can open that up. It means going in with a different attitude, almost a blank slate, where what’s happened in the past doesn’t matter, and instead of continuing to pull on a rope, and trying to “win” the discussion, you drop it. As Silberstein-Tirch says.“Our hands are free, and we have the freedom to choose how to respond.”
How to Break Through Someone’s Defenses
There’s no one thing to say to talk to a defensive person, but it’s like any successful communication. Hendriksen says to stay in the first person – “you” ups the threat level – and focus on specific acts rather than making things eternal character traits. Example: “That presentation wasn’t at your usual level” is taken better than “You’re not really good at public speaking, are you?” You can also pepper in ways to make any criticism a show of confidence, with something like, “I’m saying this because I know you can handle it and because you’re really smart.”
“Turn it into faith in them,” Hendriken says.
But nothing is magic. Defensive people can turn the most benign comment into an attack, and there’s also something called sensitization. It’s like when hot coffee burns your tongue. Everything else, no matter how cool, will set it off, says Hendriksen. Your words, regardless of how thoughtful, can do that.
In those times, acknowledge the reality. It could be, “This might not be the right time. When would be better?” Or be even more direct with, “It seems what I’m saying isn’t working. How would you approach this problem?” In either of these scenarios, you’re out of the struggle, and giving responsibility to the other person to provide some insight and help with the solution.
“It allows them to show their cards a little more,” Silberstein-Tirch says.
Consider saying, “I notice when we talk about your mother, things go off. What can we do about it?” Here, you’re not talking about the issue, but talking about talking about the issue, and that one step removed makes it easier for the other person to engage. Rather than bumping heads, you’re now teaming up on the problem, which in couples therapy is called unified detachment, Hendriksen says.
But what also helps is to come into the conversation clean, like it’s the first time. You stay away from lines like, “I know you’re gonna get defensive,” a preface that has never caused someone to exhale. Instead, you want what Silberstein-Tirch calls “beginner’s brain.”
It means being present for the conversation that’s about to happen. It’s impossible to do this every time, but if you can foresee a difficult interaction, deep breathing can help slow you down. So can noticing three things you see, hear, and feel, in that order. “It grounds you in the here and now,” she says.
It all sounds doable and probably helpful, but also like a bit much, especially for someone else’s triggers. Really, it’s not your problem.
Maybe so, and if you had to run through these options all the time with a person, it would be too much. But if it only happens occasionally with someone you care about or need to keep working with, then it might be more beneficial to swallow some ego and take into account what matters the most in the long-term.
“It’s the difference between being right or being effective,” Hendriksen says. “Do you choose being right or the relationship?”
Human beings are social beings, we are beings that we need from others. Therefore, it is very important to learn to relate, because if we can develop this skill, we will definitely be able to exponentiate our results. If you start to analyze, the most important achievements of our life have been obtained with the help of others. In such a way, that the quality of life we have is determined based on our relationships. That is why we present the 7 steps that will help you relate:
Step 1: Be curious
Life is full of opportunities to meet people. When do you have these opportunities? When you are in a waiting room, on a bus, when you are catching a plane, queuing at the bank, etc. Take an interest in the people who are close to you. Arouse that curiosity and start asking questions. Ask them about things that might be important to them, like what you do, who your family members are, or what your interests are. Break the ice and venture into conversations!
Step 2: listen to people
One of the greatest gifts you can give another human being is listening to them, giving them your attention and your time. How can you do it and show that you are actively listening? Put your cell phone aside, pay attention to the other person, maintain eye contact, ask questions that are intelligent, start to find common ground and develop a conversation. Finally, do not ask closed but open questions, so that the other person is also curious to have a conversation with you.
Step 3: be open
They have taught us that it is best not to say much about ourselves, for fear that if we are open, people may have certain information about us that makes us vulnerable and that can be used against us. My invitation to you is to break these wrong patterns and take risks. Learn to trust yourself and lose the fear of being open. Share smart and fun ideas. Your way of thinking will open the doors for you in the relationship with the other. You never know if what you say will make someone ponder something deep, laugh or look at you from a new perspective.
Step 4: Look for common themes
As different as human beings are, if you search and do some research you can find common themes. What could they be? If the person has a partner, who are their children, if they like to travel, read, do sports, what are their hobbies, etc. Develop the ability to ask questions and share stories, in such a way that you find topics that can relate to others and communicate different experiences that allow you to feel close.
Step 5: Avoid prejudice
Human beings, by social learning, tend to put labels or put people in a drawer because of how they look, their height, skin color, type of hairstyle, clothing, socioeconomic status, among others. We continually create a story around people, although in reality, we never know who is behind that image that is presented to us. Meeting many people will give you the opportunity to meet wonderful individuals and if they are similar or very different from you, with practice that will not prevent you from being able to relate and will definitely bring you closer to success.
Step 6: be authentic
It is essential to be authentic in relationships, to be yourself. It is something that people capture even if we want to hide it, because they realize when we put on a mask so that they do not see who we really are or perceive when we are pretending. Being authentic, sincere and transparent is a tool that will help you connect with others. My proposal for you is that you speak from the heart, share your opinions, learn to be yourself, because it is something that people will feel and value.
Step 7: Discover the value of people
Every human being has a value. If you manage to develop the ability to decipher what it is, it will definitely help you to relate. See what sets them apart, what makes them special, what they are proud of, etc. Find the value of each person and that will open the doors to a relationship.
Join My Mailing List For The 100 Interaction Challenge: http://improvementpill.net/programs Welcome to the BeeFriend course. In today’s lesson, we’re going to go over what I consider to be the fastest way to getting better at talking to other people. You can watch all the social skill/charisma videos that you want, but nothing will trump this one thing that will improve your communication skills. Start From The Beginning (BeeFriend Course Playlist): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHfGg… Tamed Course (FREE Habit Building Course): https://youtu.be/m8JjuyRIxOg If You Are Interested In Coaching: Email Me At ImprovementPill@Gmail.com
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Understanding what other people want, how they feel, and how they see the world is becoming increasingly important in our complex, globalized society. Social skills enable us to make friends and create a network of people who support us. But not everyone finds it easy to interact with other people. One of the main reasons is that two of the most important social skills — empathy, i.e. being able to empathize with the other person’s emotions, and the ability to take a perspective, i.e. being able to gain an information by adopting another person’s point of view — are developed to different degrees.
Researchers have long been trying to find out what helps one to understand others. The more you know about these two social skills, the better you can help people to form social relationships. However, it still not exactly clear what empathy and perspective taking are (the latter is also known as “theory of mind”).
Being able to read a person’s emotions through their eyes, understand a funny story, or interpret the action of another person — in everyday life there are always social situations that require these two important abilities. However, they each require a combination of different individual subordinate skills. If it is necessary to interpret looks and facial expressions in one situation, in another it may be necessary to think along with the cultural background of the narrator or to know his or her current needs.
To date, countless studies have been conducted that examine empathy and perspective taking as a whole. However, it has not yet been clarified what constitutes the core of both competencies and where in the brain their bases lie. Philipp Kanske, former MPI CBS research group leader and currently professor at the TU Dresden, together with Matthias Schurz from the Donders Institute in Nijmegen, Netherlands, and an international team of researchers, have now developed a comprehensive explanatory model.
“Both of these abilities are processed in the brain by a ‘main network’ specialised in empathy or changing perspective, which is activated in every social situation. But, depending on the situation, it also involves additional networks,” Kanske explains, referring to the results of the study, which has just been published in the journal Psychological Bulletin. If we read the thoughts and feelings of others, for example, from their eyes, other additional regions are involved than if we deduce them from their actions or from a narrative. “The brain is thus able to react very flexibly to individual requirements.”
For empathy, a main network that can recognise acutely significant situations, for example, by processing fear, works together with additional specialised regions, for example, for face or speech recognition. When changing perspective, in turn, the regions that are also used for remembering the past or fantasising about the future, i.e., for thoughts that deal with things that cannot be observed at the moment, are active as the core network. Here too, additional brain regions are switched on in each concrete situation.
Through their analyses, the researchers have also found out that particularly complex social problems require a combination of empathy and a change of perspective. People who are particularly competent socially seem to view the other person in both ways — on the basis of feelings and on the basis of thoughts. In their judgement, they then find the right balance between the two.
“Our analysis also shows, however, that a lack of one of the two social skills can also mean that not this skill as a whole is limited. It may be that only a certain factor is affected, such as understanding facial expressions or speech melody,” adds Kanske. A single test is therefore not sufficient to certify a person’s lack of social skills. Rather, there must be a series of tests to actually assess them as having little empathy, or as being unable to take the other person’s point of view.
The scientists have investigated these relationships by means of a large-scale meta-analysis. They identified, on the one hand, commonalities in the MRI pattern of the 188 individual studies examined when the participants used empathy or perspective taking. This allowed the localisation of the core regions in the brain for each of the two social skills. However, results also indicated how the MRI patterns differed depending on the specific task and, therefore, which additional brain regions were used.
Matthias Schurz, Joaquim Radua, Matthias G. Tholen, Lara Maliske, Daniel S. Margulies, Rogier B. Mars, Jerome Sallet, Philipp Kanske. Toward a hierarchical model of social cognition: A neuroimaging meta-analysis and integrative review of empathy and theory of mind.. Psychological Bulletin, 2020; DOI: 10.1037/bul0000303
Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences. “Empathy and perspective taking: How social skills are built.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 November 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/11/201110090427.htm>.
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