Defensive Body Language

Even before we acknowledge that we’re getting defensive, our defensive body language starts to tell a story of defensive communication.

Defensive communication usually takes place when we are (or we think we are):

Cobra in   Defense Position• Judged

• Manipulated

• Criticized

• Attacked

• Looked down upon

• Made wrong


It doesn’t matter if it the threats or attacks are real or just perceived, what matter is that the reaction that arises is defensive.

We all react differently when we feel defensive, some of us will avoid the confrontation and some of us will confront the attacker (or perceived attacker) head on.

Signs of Defensive Body Language

Our body language will accurately reflect how we handle defensiveness.

If we feel attacked or vulnerable and feel that we need to erect a barrier, our body will show crossed arms, and sometimes crossed legs. We may go as far as walking behind an area that can offer coverage, like a desk, or a podium, or a chair. Or we may raise a hand, as if we were telling the person "Stop".

If we think of feel that we are being manipulated and that we need to defend ourselves from a manipulator or controlling person, we may raise a hand or an eyebrow and stare back at the person in defiance as if saying "Spare me".

If we’re being criticized or judged and we’re letting the criticism get to us, we are likely to shrink our shoulders, to look down, to become smaller in our frame. On the other hand, if the criticism is not getting to us, we will not engage in defensive communication and our body will keep a normal stance.

If we’re made wrong and we care about it, we may become agitated, perhaps raise our voice, fluster while trying to make the other person wrong. Alternatively, if we are the type of people who dislike confrontations, we may just go silent and show an attitude of I don’t give a d…n.

If we feel afraid and want to avoid a confrontation by passing undetected, we may hunch, avert our gaze and begin to put distance between the other person and us.

If we feel attacked and believe that we’re the only ones that can defend ourselves or the group, we’ll prepare for battle: our heart will pound harder, our face will fluster, our forehead will frown, our jaws will protrude. We will lean forward, perhaps even close (or pound) our fists. From defensive communication we may switch to aggressive communication. Our bodies will reflect the mental switch.

What can you do with this information?

For one, you can be alert to defensive body language in others and adjust your delivery accordingly.

If you tend to get defensive, be aware that others will notice it, even if you don’t say a word. Perhaps it’s time to do a reality check and see if you are truly being attacked, or if you are oversensitive. You may want to read more about defensive communication to figure out where you go from here.