I’m a fan of the famous advice column Dear Abby begun in 1956 by Pauline Phillips under the pen name Abigail Van Buren and carried on today by her daughter Jeanne Phillips.
Jeanne often receives questions about defensive behavior. So I got to thinking about defensiveness in terms of when it’s inappropriate and also when the phrase “don’t be defensive” is an overused reprimand. Here’s my take:
Defensiveness is inappropriate when it shuts us off to the notion that we actually may be wrong about something. It serves us poorly when we are willing to turn a disagreement or a difference of opinion with someone into a grim contest where there’s a winner and a loser.
On the other hand, it’s quite acceptable to defend your beliefs and values if they are threatened. It’s fine to be defensive when someone with seemingly malicious intent is offering you unsolicited, unwanted advice or is maligning you.
Never allow yourself to become an object of derision. And, keep in mind that in certain situations that life throws at us, the best defense is a potent offense.