Social Question

jqlyn's avatar

Why do people get defensive during a discussion/debate?

Asked by jqlyn (344 points ) October 7th, 2009

I have found many people getting defensive during a discussion. Why do you think people do that? The whole point of a discussion or debate is to exchange different ideas and learn from them.

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21 Answers

DarkScribe's avatar

So that others can see that they are losing? You only need to “defend” if you feel threatened.

le_inferno's avatar

Because people don’t like having their ideas and beliefs challenged.

Harp's avatar

I guess it essentially comes from seeing the discussion/debate in terms of winning or losing; in other words, it’s ego-involvement.

oratio's avatar

Debate is not about learning.

jqlyn's avatar

Well, I usually think that it is a lack of foundation in their beliefs or understanding. You are right, it is ego related, but we shouldn’t see a discussion as a win or lose situation but as a chance for learning or at least a chance to practice our language skills.

the100thmonkey's avatar

Because by being “wrong”, they are not as “bright” or “smart” as the person they are “losing” to.

Do you like losing? I absolutely hate it.

Grisaille's avatar

Scenario 1: The defensive person knows they are right, yet lack the eloquence to aptly speak and defend their position.

Scenario 2: The defensive person is upset that the other person is correct, and is being stubborn.

Anything outside of that is as @Harp said: Ego.

DominicX's avatar

Because in many debates, one side accuses the other side of something. The other side might not agree that the accusation is valid and then they will try to refute it, which is “defending” themselves and their position. Just the very act of explaining your position and trying to make it seem valid can be seen as “defending”.

jqlyn's avatar

I guess I see people getting upset when someone challenges their ideas or opinions, defensive may be not exactly the right word. But for me it isn’t who is right or wrong but it is the interaction itself and the possibility for growth.

J0E's avatar

I only get upset if someone refuses to actually debate and resorts to name calling.

jqlyn's avatar

@JOE I agree, there has to be some decorum and respect in a discussion. I think a lack of confidence or ability can be a reason for that.

Harp's avatar

I think defensive is the perfect word, actually. People stake out ideological positions and then defend them even when it becomes apparent that the facts aren’t on their side, because their ego is invested in that battle. The emotional responses surface when reason fails (although there are some who open with insults and snipes straight out of the gate to intimidate their “opponents”; but that’s more offense than defense).

DominicX's avatar

What does it mean to be “defensive”? Clearly my definition isn’t matching what’s being discussed here.

Grisaille's avatar

Defensive, as in getting riled up or agitated.

wundayatta's avatar

If you see a discussion as a debate instead of as a chance to listen to other people’s stories, how can you not get defensive? You yell and take up space and time in order to have the loudest voice and win your point. The object is to make the other person give up and knuckle under. Who wouldn’t get defensive?

From a more distant perspective, people get defensive because the discussions are really presented using the debating model. Point/counterpoint. Affirmative/negative. A forced duality.

If you think of discussion as storytelling, and everyone gets equal time, you see a very different kind of discussion. Talking sticks are useful to teach people how to behave this way. You learn to listen to the other person, instead of thinking about what you are going to say. In that way, asynchronous discussions such as this one are better. We can all take all the time we want to in order to listen to others. Then we can share our thoughts.

In this other kind of discussion (I’m not sure if there’s a word to describe it), people build on each other and respond to each other instead of trying to refute each other. Contradictory views can coexist, and people don’t have to defend them. Our goal is to understand how others came to hold the views they hold, instead of trying to convert them to our view.

I don’t like debates, and online, I tend to tune out from them pretty fast. The religion “discussions” often end up that way. I might participate once or twice, but often I stop after that. My questions are generally designed to get people to tell stories, rather than to give them opportunities to disagree with or attack each other. This doesn’t stop people from doing these things, but you can’t have everything.

jonsblond's avatar

Like @daloon I don’t enjoy debating. I may participate now and then but very rarely. I enjoy telling my story or opinion then I sit back and read and learn from everyone else. I think I get defensive when someone questions my opinion because I wasn’t ready or in the mood for a debate. I’m more of a listener and enjoy learning different viewpoints rather than question a person’s opinion. does that make sense? I’m tired.

DominicX's avatar

There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing. As far as I’m concerned it’s healthy. Especially when it comes to current issues. Why should I sit around and accept something when I can question it? A lot of my questions are asking people to tell stories too, but sometimes I want to show that one way of doing something isn’t the only way nor is it necessarily the right way. I do enjoy debate sometimes, but not always. Other times I’m surprised at how petty issues turn into debates.

wundayatta's avatar

And I was a formal debater in high school—of course that’s a lot different from informal debate.

RedPowerLady's avatar

It is because people often do not engage in a debate unless it has meaning to them. We are human being with emotions. Someone is challenging your beliefs. It is completely normal to get upset. It make a better argument if you keep a clear head but still it is normal to get upset.

Coloma's avatar

It’s all about ego, the ‘little’ me, feeling diminished when challenged to open to new perspectives. Ego is not ‘bad’ persey…it is a tool, but, unfortunetly the root of all separation and blockage to expand or revoke ones rigidly held ‘beliefs’ which are nothing more than conditioning/programming and thought forms.

The true ‘purpose’ of being is to UNLEARN, question EVERYTHING!

Ego thrives on separation, heart thrives on connection! :-)

Being ‘attached’ to be right over opening, and opening, and more opening. :-)

khansen's avatar

Defensiveness is a reaction when under scrutiny by another person during a discussion. When I think about why we get defensive, I believe it’s because we are trying to justify our actions and defend our position. This doesn’t seem wrong to me, unless the communication becomes aggressive. But to defend oneself and to get the other person to understand your point of view should be okay. As long as the conversation doesn’t get hostile or either party feels a need to win. It’s not a matter of who is right or wrong but about understanding each other’s perspective without judgment.

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