The “You do it, too!” Defense

If you’re ever accused of doing something inappropriate, irritating, or wrong, I do not recommend using the “You do it, too!” defense. Here’s what it sounds like in some of its various permutations.

“You’re being rude!” “Well, you’re rude to me!”

“You’re so negative.” “Like you aren’t?”

“You misunderstand me.” “And you misunderstand me!”

“You’re so angry.”  “Don’t deny it; you get angry, too!”

“You’re spoiling the kids.”  “So do you!”

“You drink too much.”   “And last New Year’s Eve you didn’t?!”

“You push my buttons.”  “Because you push mine.”

“All you do is argue!”   “You started it.”

If these exchanges seem rare and far-fetched consider yourself fortunate. On the other hand, if they hit close to home, read on.

I watch conflicted people fight with the same attention an umpire watches pitches in baseball. If the folly of the “You do it, too!” approach isn’t apparent, allow me to clarify. This approach is ill-advised for the following reasons.

  1. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
  2. It leads to impasse, log jam, and stalled negotiations.
  3. It triggers defensiveness in your disputant.
  4. It’s a childish way to rationalize, justify, and excuse childish behavior.
  5. It’s irresponsible; if we don’t acknowledge our contribution to a conflict things will never get better.

What’s the alternative? The next time you’re on the receiving end of a “You” accusation replace defensiveness with curiosity. Some common phrases that help deescalate conflict.

“I do?”


“My bad!”

“I didn’t know that.”

“I wasn’t aware of that.”

“I’ll look at my contribution. Will you look at yours?”

“What is it like to live (work, commute, eat) with me?”

“There might be a grain of truth to this. Lemme think about it.”

“I don’t see me that way but I’ll try to look at me from your point of view.”

If your disputant is used to hearing you use the “You do it, too!” defense, they’ll be pleasantly shocked if you try the curious approach. I highly recommend it.

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