Interpersonal competence is one of the keys to personal and professional success that I discuss in Straight Talk for Success. If you want to become interpersonally competent, you need to do three things. First, get to know yourself. Use this self knowledge to help you better understand and communicate with the other people in your life. Second, build solid, long lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with the people in your life. Third, resolve conflict positively and creatively. Use conflict as an opportunity to strengthen your relationships.
If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I like Chinese food, and that I eat Chinese take out a lot when I am traveling. Sometimes, I find little nuggets in fortune cookies that I post here. The other day, I came across a great one…
“When you feel defensive, examine what you fear.”
Quite a few of my posts on self confidence deal with fear. I believe that self confident people identify what they fear, and then take action to deal with that fear. This in turn, helps them become more self confident. In my talks and coaching sessions, I suggest that when you find yourself procrastinating, figure out what scares you.
The fortune cookie quote above got me thinking about fear in a different light. Defensive behavior can destroy relationships. And when you think about it, defensive behavior is often brought on by fear – usually fear of rejection.
When you’re feeling defensive, you tend to do one of two things: 1) lash out at others, or 2) go into great detail explaining and rationalizing your actions and/or behavior. Both of these responses are ways of coping with rejection. “You can’t reject me, I won’t stand for it. In fact, I reject you. I’m angry.” Or, you might take ten minutes explaining why you did something or acted in a particular way in hopes to getting the other person to accept, rather than reject your logic, action or behavior.
Either way, defensive behavior is not one of the hallmarks of interpersonally competent people. It gets in the way of building open, trusting relationships. Defensive behavior also tends to escalate, rather than resolve, conflict.
The common sense point here is clear. Successful people are interpersonally competent. Interpersonally competent people build strong relationships and resolve conflict in a positive manner. Defensive behavior hinders the development of strong relationships and tends to make conflict worse. Often we get defensive when our fear buttons get pressed – especially our fear of rejection. So, the next time you find yourself feeling or acting defensively, ask yourself “what am I afraid of here?” The answer will help you respond in an interpersonally competent manner and to build and maintain strong relationships.
That’s my take on fear and defensiveness. What’s yours? Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts on these ideas by leaving a comment. As always, I thank you very much for reading.