Strategies for Dealing with Defensive Employees

Feedback is wasted on Mr. Defensive. He closes his mind to anything that feels threatening. 

The chronically defensive can’t benefit from helpful suggestions or constructive feedback.

Strategies of Mr. Defensive:

The moment you bring up an uncomfortable issue, Mr. Defensive:

  1. Has a reason or excuse why things didn’t work out.
  2. Casts blame. It’s always someone else’s fault. Mr. Defensive can’t take responsibility.
  3. Explains all the good things he’s done. Mr. Defensive is awesome, even though things aren’t going well. 
  4. Tells a long story that keeps them in control of the conversation. You can’t get a word in edgewise when Mr. Defensive begins story time.
  5. Accuses others of being worse than he is. He might have screwed up but he’s not as bad as someone else.

Don’t get defensive when someone gets defensive. Practice kind candor.

Kind candor clarifies confusion as long as it turns toward the future.

Strategies for dealing with defensive employees:

  1. Evasiveness: Say, “I’d like to circle back to my original topic.”
  2. Avoidance: Say, “I’m having trouble connecting what you just said with the issue I mentioned. What relationship do you see between the original topic (name it) and what you said in response?”
  3. Avoidance: Say, “I thought you were responsible for this project. Am I mistaken?”
  4. Blame: Say, “I don’t want to talk about someone who isn’t in the room. Could we discuss your role in this issue?”

Notice don’t judge.

I noticed when I brought up this issue you turned the conversation to something else. I’d like to circle back to my original topic.

Deal directly with defensiveness:

Mr. Defensive loves it when you dance around issues.

Seek to understand.

Say, “I notice that you started talking about someone else when I brought up this issue. What’s going on for YOU right now?”

Short-term pain beats long-term drain.

How might leaders deal with defensive employees?