How to handle defensive people who take things personally

“I’m going to buy a muffin. Does anyone want anything?”
“You know I’m on a diet. You’re always trying to sabotage me.”

Yes. Some people seem to think everything you say is aimed at them. Even your most innocent remark triggers tears or anger. People like this can seem very difficult people to handle. But there are ways you can prevent their problematic behaviour impacting on you. So how do you respond with appropriate assertiveness when someone takes everything you say personally? There are three simple steps involved, explains Eleanor Shakiba.

 

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Acknowledge their perspective

Perhaps the other person’s reaction seems irrationalaggressive or overly defensive. However, pointing this out will only inflame the situation. If you want to manage the situation quickly – especially if you see signs of workplace conflict – start by showing empathy. You can use a ‘you frame’ message to do this. This is a simple sentence which acknowledges the other person’s feelings without challenging them. For example, you could respond to the defensive statement about buying that muffin by saying “I know you’re finding it hard to stick to your diet. It must be frustrating to hear other people ordering snacks.” To learn more about how to structure a ‘you frame’ message, read Eleanor Shakiba’s book Difficult People Made Easy.

Explain your intent

When you’re handling someone who takes everything personally, it helps to make your thinking processes transparent. This helps the defensive person learn that other people think differently to them – you’re not spending hours every day thinking of ways to offend them. Your intent statement should be clear and concise. Remember that you’re not justifying your actions. You’re simply explaining a thinking process. Do this by explaining the belief or thought behind what you said. Then spell out how your behaviour linked to that belief or thought.

For example, you could say “I believe it’s polite to check with other people before I buy myself a snack. That’s why I asked whether anyone wanted something from the café.”

Set the scene for future situations

Finish your response to the defensive comment by explaining how you intend to behave in future. Then politely point out that your future behaviour will not be aimed at them. For example, say “So in future, when I ask whether anyone needs anything, I’m just being polite. My comment will not be aimed at you.”

Do YOU work with or manage someone who seems ruled by their emotions? Book one-to-one coaching with Eleanor Shakiba, so you can sort the situation out.

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