July 20

When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.” – Stephen Covey

Defensiveness closes your mind to growth.

How receptive are you when someone challenges your perspective?

If you lead or work with bright, talented, capable people then you want them to push you and to challenge your ideas. In fact, if they’re not doing that then it might speak to a bigger issue of accountability within your organization. (They might not feel it’s expected that they bring their perspective!)

However, when you get defensive when someone (respectfully) challenges your idea, you are communicating to them that you (a) don’t really want to hear their thoughts, (b) are insecure about your own position to the point that you’re not able to withstand direct pressure, and (c) aren’t willing to re-think your opinion. While you might think that defending yourself will bolster your stance, it often has the opposite effect. 

In Herding Tigers I wrote:

“Do you feel the need to power up every time someone disagrees with you or offers disconfirming information? These power plays aren’t typically obvious but include subtle hints of your position or importance within the organization. You might rationalize your actions to others by pointing out that they don’t have the same information that you do, or that you have more experience. You might patronize them and pretend to be listening while sending them subtle signals that you don’t respect their opinion.”

Is there a situation in which you tend to get defensive? Do you find yourself pushing back against even the remotest criticism of your ideas?

This week, I challenge you to drop your guard. Recognize that you need a marketplace of ideas in order to succeed as a team, and the fastest way to squelch those ideas is to dig in your heels and defend your own perspective. Your team and your collaborators will stop trying.

Question: Is there a particular area of your life or work where you tend to get overly defensive? How can you drop your guard today?

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