Without a doubt, one of the hardest parts of managing people, particularly during performance conversations, is dealing with defensiveness.
However, if you are skilled enough to identify defensiveness and handle it effectively, before it sets in and takes over, your discussions can be focused on: the future, on solutions and next steps, as opposed to being stuck in protectiveness, the past, and who’s to blame.
Understanding the mechanics of the mind, and how the brain works, is critical to learning how to manage yourself and develop new behaviours for dealing with defensiveness.
So let’s have a look at some of the signs of defensive behaviour:
AKA: explaining yourself & making excuses.
With this pattern, you might find yourself saying "yes, BUT..." an awful lot.
So someone might make a comment, and you say "yes, BUT!" and you will explain why you have to do things the way you do or explain why the other person is wrong. You feel that you have to justify your behaviour and act as though their questions or comments are attacks on you.
Someone might say to you; "I’m really disappointed that you can’t come to the lunch." When rationalising, you would end up getting upset with them and explaining the numerous reasons why you can’t go to the lunch rather than just acknowledging that this person might just miss you.
With blaming, you shift the focus from yourself by making the other person (or people) the reason for your behaviour or the way you feel.
For example, if you didn’t get to work on time it’s because someone didn’t wake you up or you just missed the bus because the insensitive bus driver didn’t stop when he saw you.
It is always someone else’s fault with this pattern.
3. Attack and Counter Attack
You might complain about a problem you’re having, and when the other person gives you some insight into the role you play in the problem, you attack or judge them.
You say; "huh?"
You feel indignant, you feel wounded or misunderstood by the suggestion that you might play a role in your own problems.
You might accuse them of being mean and insensitive, or you counter attack by drawing their attention to something that they’re struggling with and how ineffective they have been!
4. The Need to be Right
… or the need to make others wrong.
Characterised by a tendency to see why things won’t work or point out flaws. This can take a few different forms.
It can be an oppositional style which is characterised by stubbornness, sarcasm, cynicism.
You know the one, “…as if that’ll work!”
It can be a controlling, authoritarian style where things can only be done one way.
It can be a competitive style which is what we call a win-lose mindset where you need to beat the other person; you always need to be one-up on them.
Know Yourself & Neutralise Defensiveness
You will never handle defensiveness in others well if you can’t handle your own defensiveness. Self-awareness must always come first.
When you find you are displaying defensive signs, start by asking yourself, “What am I feeling?” and then labelling the feeling. If you cannot do this immediately, you might need to notice what behaviour you are displaying or contemplating.
For example, are you shutting down emotionally or are you winding-up emotionally? It’s important to notice and label this feeling because this will help quiet down the amygdala (the emotional brain).
The next thing to do is tune-in to your body, your physiology.
Notice what’s happening in your body.
Is your breathing shallow? Is your heart pounding? Are your muscles tense? Because the first sign of defensiveness might be an emotion, or it might be a bodily sensation, it might be like a jolt of energy where you feel the protectiveness kick in.
Self-awareness is our foundation strategy in the Great Managers Academy. This skill will strengthen you professionally, personally and put you in the top tier of leadership.
Click here to find out more about the Great Managers Academy and how you and your Managers can neutralise defensiveness in your workplace.