Workplace Communication without Defensiveness - Workplace on the Edge

Workplace Communication without Defensiveness

By Guy Farmer, Workplace Communication Consultant

A workplace communication skill that will help you improve almost any interaction is to have a conversation without getting defensive.  I frequently hear from professionals who say it’s very difficult to not take things personally.  A lot of people think that everything another person says is about them when it’s really only the other person’s perception.

Workplace Communication Consultant Guy Farmer

The communication in many workplaces often looks like this:

Person A:  I wish you wouldn’t get angry at me so often.

Person B:  I’m shocked you’re telling me this after all the hard work I do for you and this company.

In this example, Person A said something fairly direct but not horribly scathing or rude. Person B proceeded to blow it up out of proportion instead of realizing that the other person was simply stating his or her perception. There are so many people walking around in our workplaces feeling upset, threatened or hurt by things others say that it creates ongoing chaos. The result is stunted, superficial workplace communication and constant conflict.

A better approach

  • Think of the statement as words and information. In the interaction above  Person A said they would like to see less anger. Even if their statement has no basis in reality try to view it as if it were a fact that has nothing to do with you. This allows you to take what the other person has said, learn something about them and think of ways to improve the situation without getting your stuff mixed up in it.
  • Move away from right or wrong, win or lose approaches and focus on effective communication. Think of the statement as window into the other person’s mind and take the opportunity to learn about what they think. After all, they’re only telling you about their personal perception, not some plan to hurt you.
  • Ask open-ended questions to get more information as in: What are the reasons you think that? Listen actively and only gather information. Don’t react negatively, judge, get angry or fight. Ask open-ended questions until the tone of the conversation changes from discomfort to calm.
  • Listen and listen again. Do your best to not comment, react, rebut, challenge or try to influence the other person’s point of view no matter how strongly you disagree. Don’t interrupt and keep listening until the conversation becomes calmer. You will know you’re listening well because the conversation will become calmer and more meaningful.
  • Thank the other person for their perspective and let them know it’s important to you. It can also be beneficial to tell them what you heard them say and ask them if it’s accurate. Invite them to clarify and share any other ideas they might have. Let them know you’re there for them if they want to share again.

As you practice these behaviors you’ll encourage people to talk with you. You also demonstrate what it’s like to be listened to and valued. You’re also setting an example and demonstrating that people can talk with each other without exploding. Try this approach the next time you find yourself feeling attacked by someone else’s statements. As you practice these skills, other people will notice you’re giving them the opportunity to speak and will be more likely to behave in kind.

Even if the other person is trying to say hurtful things, you’ll be able to clarify what’s really going on without becoming part of a brawl. People often say things they don’t mean because they don’t feel heard or valued. What will you do to promote workplace communication without defensiveness?


Guy Farmer is Workplace Communication Consultant. He can be reached through his website at http://www.workplacecommunicationadvice.com.  This article originally appeared on his blog. Used with permission.

Photo Source: © Creative Common  by leosaumurejr

Graphic Illustration: S Hunt Sound Development

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