How to Defeat the Subtleties of Defensiveness

Defensiveness makes you a turtle or a tiger. Sometimes you hide your little turtle head. Other times you bare tiger teeth.

Defensiveness is eagerness to feel criticized or attacked; an inclination to see hidden agendas.

Defensiveness protects fragile egos, weakens relationships, and congeals the status quo.

Tiger with its tongue out.

The goal of defensiveness is shifting blame to other people.

Things defensive people say:

  1. I couldn’t help it.
  2. It’s your fault.
  3. What are you really after?
  4. I’m so busy. (Yes, busyness – as an excuse – is defensiveness.)

You get defensive when you feel:

  1. Afraid to ask for what you want.
  2. Guilt over weakness or failure.
  3. Danger of being exposed. You’re hiding something.
  4. Attacked. Victimhood leads to defensiveness.

How to defeat defensiveness:

#1. Know what you stand for.

When defensiveness drives response and resistance, people appear needy. Don’t apologize for driving a stake in the ground that reflects values or priorities.

Defensiveness is driven by the expectation of others. The real question is what do you expect of yourself.

#2. Express your aspirational self.

Defensiveness neglects or ignores aspiration.

Suppose you aspire to courage, competence, and compassion.

  1. What do courageous people say? Say that.
  2. What do competent people do? Do that.
  3. What does compassion look like in this situation? Show that.

#3. Shift from can’t to can.

Defensiveness is stuck on can’t. Say what you can do after saying what you can’t do.

I can’t do that. I can do this.

  1. I can’t help you right now. I can help you tomorrow.
  2. I can’t make the meeting. I can read the notes and offer input.

#4. Make simple requests.

Avoid complaining, criticizing, or whining before making requests.

#5. Bring solutions.

Shift from big problem to simple solution when you feel defensive.

Courage sees opportunity. Defensiveness sees problems and threats.

Defensiveness distracts attention, contaminates influence, dilutes results, and weakens relationships.

How do you see defensiveness in leadership?

How might leaders overcome defensiveness?