Diffusing Defensiveness – Healing Emotional Wounds!

SERIES: Part Four of a Four-Part Article

As a tactical leader, a true sign of interactive greatness comes from the aftermath of engaging or referring defensive behaviors. Reflecting upon how individuals internalize the involved issues and personalities at the height of their defensive behavior will weigh greatly on the outcome, how they perceive others in the future and others’ perception of them in the future.

To understand the emotional charge that a defensive situation raises, understand that the workplace brain serves two purposes. While the conscious brain serves as the “processing” center for rationalization and new learning, it is the subconscious brain that serves as both the “memory” and “emotional” centers. When diffusing defensive behavior, it is important to remember the conscious brain is about 17 percent of the brain’s capacity, and the subconscious brain is the remainder.

Thus, the subconscious brain is the bully that, in many instances, overrides the conscious brain. Recall past hostile or defensive situations. You will notice people (as it is never seems to be us in the situation…) saying and doing things that inflame a situation. It takes a lot of focused, committed, conscious brain energy to override the sometimes defensive and destructive subconscious brain!

As a leader, recognize that defensive behavior may arise when a person feels professionally:

  1. Threatened
  2. Alienated
  3. Denigrated
  4. Belittled publicly (meeting dialogues, memos, eCommunications, one-on-ones, etc.)
  5. Unappreciated
  6. Left out of a perceived loop
  7. Used

These intrusions can create scars that may heal quickly with some individuals, but can also create long festering wounds that reveal themselves in future defensive behavior eruptions. These scars reside in that subconscious brain!

As a leader, you will want to tactically engage – in a non-threatening manner when possible – an individual exhibiting defensive behaviors. Consider:

  1. Start with an empathy action or statement, revealing you acknowledge their position.
  2. Do not take an immediate position of agreement or disagreement with the other person – that is what they will be expecting.
  3. Invite them to share plural solutions to the problem that has brought about their defensiveness. Plurality is a powerful tool, as it allows you to engage all parties in civil dialogue. If you solicit for a singular idea, you may merely elevate the level of challenge, and increased defensiveness may (perhaps on your behalf) as a result.
  4. Establish either privately or jointly a follow-up plan to demonstrate you are committed to resolving what raised the defensive behavior in the first place. Continue to ensure the emotional wound heals and the person in question does not digress or attempt to tie in future unrelated issues to this issue.
  5. Make sure you continually avail yourself to them and keep a conscious ear to what is happening in the workplace. This will ensure others don’t antagonize the wound you are attempting to heal.

Healing emotional wounds and ensuring defensive behaviors do not erode an otherwise effective organization is crucial in today’s fast-paced and highly competitive workplace, where people’s emotions are at wit’s end. Your ability to subtly engage individuals when they are defensive to others, allow them to save face and move onward to greater productivity and profitability outcomes is a trait of tactical leadership

Dr Jeff Magee
Facebook (Get a FREE copy of my Performance Execution Ebook)

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