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A Simpler, Smarter Response to Accusations

Learn this obverse psychology trick and you'll stay confident under any attack.

In your judgment, is that movie worth seeing?
Are you accusing me of being judgmental?!

So that’s a negative? Not worth seeing?
I’m not being negative! I’m a very positive person!

Wow, you seem to feel the need to defend yourself?
I’m not defensive!!! You can’t accuse me of being defensive!

Sounds like you have a bias against challenges to your character.
I’m not biased! Why do you keep picking on me?

This is, of course, an exaggeration. Still, maybe you know what it’s like to talk to some variation on this prickly pear or maybe you’ve even been this person, on constant, distracted alert to prevent shame from landing on you. People can get so touchy they treat conversation like a minefield, tiptoeing around pejoratives as if they’re about to explode and cover them with shame.

It would be nice if we could all just let our guards down, be more receptive and less defensive. It’s hard, though not for lack of people suggesting that we do. That sermon is everywhere. “Be receptive. Critical feedback is fun! Let’s everyone be open to criticism on the count of three. Just flip that inner switch and stop being defensive.”

Sound advice but no, there’s no inner switch to flip.

Don’t fight your defensiveness, upstage it with a better response that comes easily, maintains your dignity, and pivots you to more productive focuses. I think I’ve found one easy, practical alternative to defensiveness that has the added advantage of being sane and realistic.

You sound biased.

Of course, I am! Like you, like everyone. The only question would be whether I’m biased appropriately given the situation.

Go through every pejorative, every term or phrase that has negative connotations implying an insult if it were used to describe you. I think you’ll find that they all denote (describe) universal natural human traits, as universal as having toes, fingers, eyes, mouths.

So if everyone has these universal traits, how does having it become a supposed mark against you? By people treating the universal trait as a rare pathology when they disagree with how it’s applied to the situation at hand.

That’s the equivalent of someone not liking what comes out of your mouth, saying “Wow, I begin to think you have a mouth. Weird. You ought to have that checked out by a doctor,” and in your defense, responding, “I do not have a mouth!!” when of course you do. Everybody does.

The better response is “Well, of course, I have a mouth. The question here is whether I’m using it appropriately in the situation. We can talk about that if you want. Let me know if your hunch is that I’m using them wrong. I’m open to revising my hunch if I decide using it differently would be more appropriate to the situation.”

This approach works with any accusation:

You’re being judgmental.

Indeed I am, like you, like anyone. We all make judgments. The question here is whether I’m misjudging.

You’re being negative.

Of course, I am, like you, like anyone. The more positive you about something, the more negative you are about its opposite. The question here is whether I’m being negative appropriately for the situation.

You’re being defensive.

Of course, I am, like you, like anyone. The only question here is whether I’m defending appropriately in this situation.

You shouldn’t call people names.

Of course, I should, like you, like everyone. We all call names, including positive ones, like you’re a wise person, or she’s an angel. The question here is whether I’m name-calling appropriately.

Sounds like you have some anger and hate.

Of course, I do, like you, like everyone. The question here is whether I’m angry and hating appropriately.

Using this response technique is not just a matter of mouthing a snappier response. It’s shifting your attitude about morality. The pejoratives (being judgmental, being negative, being biased, name calling, etc.), imply that a universal human trait is universally bad. One should never judge, be negative, be biased, name call, etc.

That’s as ridiculous as deciding that since mouths are sometimes used inappropriately, on the count of three, we should all have our mouths surgically removed.