Dealing with criticism is difficult. Oftentimes, when we hear criticism, we tend to separate ourselves from our work, and we end up feeling attacked. Of course, this is natural to feel angry, defensive, hurt, annoyed and so many other feelings. It’s because our brains are wired to detect perceived threats and put our own most comfortable defense mechanisms in place. It’s also difficult to deal with criticism if the criticism isn’t given in a constructive or positive manner. But defensiveness in the workplace creates a tense work environment, more negative conflict and it impedes collaboration.

With defensiveness being the product of poor communication and collaboration, we tend to offend our coworkers without even realizing it. When we are questioned about our own work, we automatically and unconsciously rationalize our decisions and shut out others’ critique. We don’t even hear what they say or even more so, we ignore them even though they are trying to be helpful.

Ultimately, defensiveness hinders our communication to be productive and supportive in the workplace. Productivity decreases because we find that teams cannot work together. Nowadays, we need to figure out ways to work better whether it is face-to-face or virtually. And if we don’t have that trust, then this negative cycle will occur. What can you do to improve communication, decrease the defensiveness and collaborate more effectively with your peers these days?

Have you ever approached someone to ask a question or provide a constructive comment and felt negative energy from them and maybe even a sense of defensiveness? Knowing how to address others is a skill.

Much of combatting defensiveness is teaching people how to communicate constructive criticism. We cannot control how others may react to what we are saying, but we can do our best to ensure that our comments are productive, constructive, and concise. Check out these quick easy tips to keep in mind to reduce defensiveness and improve communication:

Ask the Right Questions: Sometimes, we unknowingly and accidentally offend others. If the question is about a deliverable or project, it might be perceived to be accusatory. Focus on reframing the questions so it sounds supportive. Instead of “Why haven’t you finished this report yet?” maybe try “What do you still need to work on, and what might you need support with?”. Asking them what they have already accomplished commends them for their progress while asking what they need help with indicates your encouragement and support.

Focus on the Positive: When providing critiques, it’s easy to just say what you think. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of one’s work and reframe your criticism around positive elements of aspects they know you like. For example, saying “You need to change the color of the subheading. I couldn’t read it.” can be rephrased to “I really like the color palette, and it’s very eye-catching. I think you could make it pop even more by changing the color of the subheading.”

Ask What They Think. A good rule of thumb is to ask others what they think about your comments. Including them in a conversation and value their opinion and expertise. It may also clear up miscommunication because then you know exactly what they think about your criticism.

Be mindful of how you communicate with others especially when you deliver feedback and criticism. For companies and teams to succeed, we need both the right teams and the right tools. And we can start with constructive, productive criticism to mitigate defensiveness and build one another up.