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5 Techniques to Override Our Primal Impulse to Defend and Protect our Ego

There are various techniques to lessen the chance of getting into a fiery argument and taking control of our emotions. And while they may work—in theory—they are unlikely to be the first thing that comes to mind at the moment. This is because these techniques often require a clear, rational mind, and when we become defensive or upset, we are no longer thinking rationally. Like a switch, we flip like Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde because we have entered an instinctual state to self-protect. In the modern world, that state seems to be to defend our beliefs. Emotional intelligence allows us to be aware of when this switch occurs. Knowing we are less likely to think rationally, we can take the following steps to transition back into a rational state of mind and have a sensible conversation.

1. Acknowledge you are in an emotionally aroused state.

Here are a few signs to tell when we have transitioned into this state:

  • The feeling of unpleasant emotions. You may feel anger, resentment, appalled, intimidated, panicky, humiliated, ridiculed, rejected, judged, trapped, etc.

  • Increased heart rate

  • Shallow breathing

  • The urge to defend

  • Spontaneous perspiration

2. Acknowledge this is not the time to react, although this is exactly what you want to do.

3. Don’t listen if you can’t. Choose to either listen or acknowledge you are in no state to have the conversation now.

This does not mean we should altogether avoid the conversation. However, we first must transition into a neutral state of mind. Otherwise, we will not be able to listen and come from a place of understanding effectively. If we choose to listen:

  • Take a deep breath.

  • Seek to learn something.

  • Be aware if you find yourself seeking out how they are “wrong”—this hinders understanding.

  • Look for the message behind their emotion.

  • Do not interrupt.

  • Ask questions to gain a deeper understanding, but avoid questions laced with judgment.

  • Provide a summary of what you heard them say and ask for clarification.

If you realize you are in no state to have the conversation:

  • Voice this to the other person(s) involved. For example, you might say, “[person’s name] when discussing [X] I notice I am becoming [feeling or emotion] and when I am in this state, I’m unable to hear what you are saying. I need a moment to [calm down/breathe/get into the right state of mind] before I can have this discussion with you.”

If met with hostility—after voicing your need to take a moment—decide if this is an appropriate conversation to have with this person. If there is no mutual respect, chances are, it will not be a productive conversation.

  • Find compassion for the other person or find appreciation for something else in your life. This will lower your heart rate and find something positive to focus on.

4. Fully take responsibility for how you respond.

5. Acknowledge your emotions but do not let them lead the conversation with the other person.


The above article is an approved excerpt from the book The EQ Deficiency, which provides a host of practical strategies and real-life examples within its pages.


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