The tone of your voice can have a huge impact on how your message is received. A defensive tone of voice often leads to misunderstandings, conflict, and strained relationships.

You can come across as prickly, and unapproachable.

Understanding what a defensive tone is, and learning how to avoid it, can really enhance your communication skills, in both professional and personal settings.

What is a Defensive Tone of Voice?

A defensive tone of voice is one that suggests you’re feeling attacked, threatened, or criticised. Listen out for these sorts of features (have a listen to some of the politicians being interviewed on the election trail, you’re bound to hear more than one of these traits!):

Elevated pitch and volume: raising your voice or speaking in a higher pitch than usual can signal defensiveness.

Rapid speech: talking quickly can indicate nervousness or a desire to dominate the conversation…or just get it over and done with before you get caught out.

Harsh or abrupt responses: short, curt replies can come across as defensive and desperate.

Overly-formal language: using stiff or unnaturally formal language shows discomfort.

Negative body language: okay so it’s not tone of voice, but crossing arms, avoiding eye contact, and a tense posture help set a defensive tone to your communication. 

Are you a defensive speaker?

It’s quite hard to identify your own tone of voice, let alone know how to change it. Try to take note of any changes in your pitch, volume, or speed in your speech. See if you naturally use emotional language that conveys anger, frustration, or irritation. Do you interrupt people regularly, and find yourself blaming others or making excuses for things that have gone wrong? 

What can you do about it?

Stay present: focus fully on the person you’re talking to, actively listening to them without planning your response while they are talking, and waiting to jump in.

Reflect: repeat back what you heard to ensure you’ve understood correctly, and show empathy for the situation.

Pause: if you feel yourself becoming defensive, pause before responding.

Breathe: deep breathing can help calm your nerves and reduce the urge to react defensively.

Use “I”: instead of saying, “You always…” or “You never…,” try framing your feelings with “I feel…” This shifts the focus to your experience rather than blaming the other person.

Lower your voice: speak in a calm and steady tone.

Slow down: take your time to articulate your thoughts clearly and calmly.

Build confidence: work on your self-esteem and confidence. The more secure you feel, the less likely you are to react defensively.

Stay open-minded: be open to feedback and differing opinions. View criticism as an opportunity for growth rather than a personal attack. 

A defensive tone of voice can hinder effective communication and damage relationships. By recognising the signs of defensiveness and implementing strategies to avoid it, you can improve your interactions and build more positive connections. Remember, communication isn’t just about what you say but also how you say it. Practice empathy, patience, and self-awareness to strengthen your conversations in the workplace and beyond.

For honest feedback, and practical strategies to improve your verbal and non-verbal communication, get in touch.