Disarming Defensive Behavior

©Laurie Weiss, Ph.D. 

Some people need to be right, whether they are or not.
 

No matter what you say to them about a problem, they can explain…
 

Ř      Why they couldn't help making a mistake...

Ř      Why they are not to blame because they meant well...

Ř      Why it's your fault that they made the mistake....

 

They're so defensive, it's a real challenge to get them to address any problem.

David, an engineer who leads a team of prickly Ph.D. researchers, sidesteps this defensiveness, and you can too.

He has developed a strategy of asking penetrating questions that almost force people to think through situations in depth. Then he listens very carefully to their responses.

David explained: "I ask questions in order to get very clear about what is happening." These are questions about details.  Questions like:
 

"What happened first?"

"Then what happened?"

"How did you recognize that there was a problem?"
 

David wants to make it safe for the people he works with to tell the truth. He never blames anyone else for a problem or a miscommunication. If there is any blame, he assumes it himself by the way he asks his questions.

He demonstrates taking responsibility for learning by modeling that responsibility for others. He is likely to preface a question with a disarming statement such as:
 

"I'm really confused here."
"I'm sorry, would you mind going over that again?"
"I must have heard this wrong before."
"I must have really screwed up."
 

David reports that whenever he offers to assume blame for a problem, others are quick to argue that they are responsible for the problem themselves.

Use some of David's techniques next time you must solve a problem with someone who always insists on being right.

Excerpted from Lesson 16 of "The Integrity Course,"
Copyright 2005 Laurie Weiss, Ph.D.

  Learn more in "The Integrity Course," an online, multimedia course to help you say what you think without getting fired or losing your friends. http://www.TheIntegrityCourse.com Laurie Weiss, Ph.D. is an internationally-known executive coach and author. mail:feedback@laurieweiss.com