Overcoming Defensiveness

By | July 3, 2008

Overcoming DefensivenessA person I met tonight got me interested in a book by the Dali Lama called The Art of Happiness at Work.

For the Dalai Lama, basic human values such as kindness, tolerance, compassion, honesty, and forgiveness are the source of human happiness. Throughout the book, he illustrates with clear examples how bringing those qualities to bear on work-related challenges can help us tolerate or overcome the most thorny situations. Recognizing that not all problems can be solved, the Dalai Lama provides very sound advice. The authors urge balance and self-awareness and wisely state, “No matter how satisfying our work is, it is a mistake to rely on work as our only source of satisfaction.”

Zeroing in a bit more, a problem in myself or others at work I’d like to address is defensiveness. This is from businessknowhow.

Do you treat simple questions as accusations? Do you feel all that matters is being right? And, even when others say they’re sorry, do you find it hard to let go and forgive?

You may be spending too much time in the “Red Zone”–a defensive state of mind that suggests you don’t always work and play well with others.

Everyone gets defensive–it’s human nature. But when defensiveness reaches the boiling point in frequency and intensity, it can destroy relationships and damage personal and career success.

Where defensiveness comes from
Defensiveness is your body’s way of keeping you comfortable. It blocks bad feelings–though it doesn’t make them go away. In fact, the only way to make those feelings and defenses go away is to let them wash over you. Don’t respond right away; just feel. Then move on–before you say something sarcastic, point a finger, or whine “poor me.”

Defense mechanisms are part of your personal history. From childhood on, they emerge as you learn to cope–for better or for worse–with stress. And when the going gets really tough, they take on a life of their own–becoming a suit of armor to “protect” you. …

Recognizing your knee-jerk defenses can help you red-flag them before damage is done. Check out the list below for a dozen of the most common defense mechanisms. If you can’t identify with any of them, “denial” may be your personal number-one.

  • Sarcasm
  • Rigidity
  • Blaming
  • Shaming
  • Teaching
  • Preaching
  • Catastrophizing
  • Trivializing
  • Endless explaining
  • Withdrawing into silence
  • Loss of humor
  • All-or-nothing thinking

Turning red into green

When you feel yourself getting defensive, choose to turn your Red Zone attitudes into “Green Zone” actions:

  • Slow down. Pause. Take a breath or–even better–take a walk. Deliberately slowing down your physical and emotional reactions is a sure-fire way to defuse defensiveness.
  • Detach. You know what pushes your hot buttons, so cut off your usual response at the pass. Instead of shooting a sarcastic comeback, ask a question. Instead of “brain dumping,” shut up and listen. And, instead of freezing up, open up and tell others how you feel.
  • Stop dissing yourself. Pessimistic thoughts–“I can’t do this” or “I look like an idiot”–only make matters worse. Catch yourself when the self-talk turns negative and consciously make it positive: “I can deal with this” or “I can take care of myself.” Positive thoughts really do lead to positive actions.
  • Start over. When your personal early warning system flashes “Danger: Red Zone Ahead,” minimize the damage and begin again. Give yourself a “do-over”–a second chance to ditch the defensiveness and move forward into a friendlier future.

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