Defensive employees feel threatened. Constructive feedback elevates resistance. Pressure increases suspicion.
You cause pain when you challenge defensive employees. Move forward anyway.
7 dangers of defensiveness:
- Lack of ownership. Defensiveness refuses to be responsible.
- Blame. Problems are caused by others or systems. When you press defensiveness, you receive blame. You’re doing something wrong.
- Closed ears. Defensiveness instinctively refutes uncomfortable suggestions.
- Self-justification by accusation. You can’t hold me accountable when others do the same thing. Defensiveness uses fairness as a weapon.
- Sarcasm. Defensiveness distracts you from real issues. Distraction weakens.
- Attacking the messenger. Defensive employees complain, “You don’t see the whole picture.” Perfection is a tool of invalidation. Imperfect perception is reason to ignore you.
- History justifies the present. You don’t have a right to bring up something you did in the past.
5 ways to make progress with defensive employees:
#1. Acknowledge feelings before addressing concerns.
Everything centers on emotion until feelings are given recognition.
A person who doesn’t feel understood focuses on being understood.
Acknowledging isn’t agreeing.
You could ask, “What does it feel like when I bring up this concern?”
Acknowledging isn’t apologizing.
Give real time feedback. Don’t say, “I’m sorry you feel this way.“ Say, “I noticed your voice went up. What’s going on for you?”
#2. Listen, don’t react.
Notice when people avoid.
Ask ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions when defensive employees weasel out of real concerns. Open-ended questions leave too much wiggle room for defensiveness.
#3. Declare positive intention.
Don’t assume. Explain your best intentions.
#4. Draw a line in the sand.
Don’t negotiate; give choices.
Move forward even if it’s uncomfortable. “I realize this feels uncomfortable, but these are your choices.”
Never make threats; include consequences.
#5. Examine yourself.
You contribute to every situation you’re in.
What are you doing that might invite defensiveness?
What suggestions do you have for dealing with defensive employees?