What, me defensive?

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to shift from feeling collaborative, and in an instant, combative?

One moment I see my workmate as a partner, the next she is my enemy. I shift from wanting to solve problems with her, to wanting to argue and win. Solution-seeking gives way to blame. Up-beat feelings of confidence, appreciation, and calm cloud over with concern, anger, despair. Trust gives way to fear.

My defensive response doesn’t protect me from others, according to Jim Tamm, author of Radical Collaboration. It defends me from feeling my own fear.

That’s a powerful reframe. And a helpful one. 

Because if I can notice my emotional shift, and be curious about why, I can help myself stay in a collaborative attitude. Jim refers to this mindset as the Green Zone.

“How easy it is to shift from Green Zone to Red Zone. In that moment, they own you.” he said during his keynote presentation at our 7th Annual Nuts and Bolts Negotiation Conference recently,

To avoid the Red Zone of defensiveness, and losing your own power, let yourself feel the fear. The fear is often based on subconscious concerns about whether you are seen as competent, likeable, or significant. It is one of your early indicators that you have just become defensive.

To get better at dealing with your own defensiveness:

  • Acknowledge that you are getting defensive. See  Signs of Defensiveness.
  • Slow down. Take a deep breath. Take a break if needed. Splash water on your face. Walk around the block.
  • Notice your negative self-talk. Which identity issue are you challenged by: believing your are seen as incompetent, unlikeable, insignificant, or some other negative way? Challenge it.
  • Notice your assumptions about others and the situation. Are you assuming the worst about the other person’s intentions? When we do, we are usually not correct. That’s way psychologists refer to this phenomenon as the Fundamental Attribution Error.
  • Notice your desire to act out — and choose not to. Create a Defensiveness Action Plan.
  • Separate the person from the problem so you can talk respectfully with the person about the difficult issues.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s