Ideally, we want to put the other person at ease so he or she becomes less defensive. The more defensive she is, the more difficult the conversation will be. Your body language can help you to come across as less of a threat.
You need to show that you are open to what she has to say. Keep your arms from being crossed or resting on your hips. Instead put them to your sides without clenching your fists. Or if it feels more natural, hold something like a notebook in your hand.
Use your head to nod slightly at what she says when you agree, but do not shake your head when you disagree. Notice I said “nod slightly,” not a constant nodding—you don’t want to look like a bobblehead, or overly eager to please. Keep your body toward her to show that she has your full attention. Lean in a little.
Keep your eyes on her but not with a creepy stare.
Angle your body slightly (opposite of her if she is angled) which is a more relaxed stance. Keep your knees slightly bent so you don’t lock them. Notice how she is standing or sitting and slightly mirror her. If her legs are crossed, perhaps you cross at the ankles. This makes her feel more at ease because you are like her. It may sound difficult, but practice mirroring on friendly conversations and you’ll see it’s not that hard.
What else can you do to bring down defenses? You can go into the conversation thinking that the other person may not even see this as difficult. Oftentimes we have stress over things that turn out not to be stressful for the other person.
For instance, you may consider it difficult to ask your cubicle neighbor to lower his voice (or face in the opposite direction) when calling clients because it distracts you. You may work yourself up and get really nervous and you put it off and put it off. Then when you finally tell the person he might say, “Oh, I hadn’t realized it. I know I raise my voice when I’m pumped up, but I hadn’t thought how it may be distracting to others. I’ll work on it.”
Goodness! You wasted all that time and energy and worry for nothing! Have you heard the Mark Twain quote on worry? “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” That’s absolutely true for me. I’ve had many conversations I worried about and made things worse just from worrying!