Think of This When Getting Defensive

Recently, I was reviewing the book, The Last Word on Power by Tracy Goss and came across The Universal Human Paradigm, and it got me thinking. For those unfamiliar, this way of thinking says that there is a way that things should be, and when things are that way, things are right. When things are not that way, we interpret it as something is wrong, and something is not right. And it’s either with you, me, or the environment. But something should be different.

I want to declare a vision for the future where relationships are rooted in trust in the workplace, grounded from a place of integrity. Where survival mechanisms and self-protection are old defensive strategies we notice and choose to use no longer. A future where we can stand in discomfort and not be reactively defensive.

Shifting Focus

How can we create an environment where we show up, not as defensive and triggered all the time, but open to be with what is and continue working together toward our commitment and responsibilities?

I want to focus on three things that would be supportive for helping conversations move forward:

  • Empowering our choice to stand for what we believe.
  • Connecting to a higher commitment about how we want to be.
  • Creating opportunities to collaborate with others without defensiveness.

I want to recognize response patterns to triggering conversations and notice my defensive behaviors of wanting to protect my ego and shy away from what needs to be said.

To be in sensitive or challenging conversations and notice triggering contexts may feel better in the moment to avoid or even vaguely dance around. There is value in pausing to recognize that we’re not in the same places we were before having the same experience.

Human nature doesn’t want to disrupt the group, and sometimes, our defensiveness comes from not wanting to hurt someone else’s feelings or disrupt harmony, like there’s a fear of saying the wrong thing, looking stupid, and upsetting someone.

In the book, Strategy, Change, and Defensive Routines by Chris Argyris, he defines defensive routines as “thoughts and actions used to protect individuals’, groups’, and organizations’ usual ways of dealing with reality.” He continues, saying, “defensive routines are actions that are designed to reduce the individual’s or the organization’s pain, and when used effectively, they prevent correcting the causes of the pain.” He also mentions that defensive routines are “counterproductive when, in order to protect, they inhibit learning-especially that learning about how we reduce the basic threat in the first place. Defense routines are productive when they protect the present level of competence without inhabiting learning.”

In Conclusion

Sometimes, people with authority, like supervisors or managers, want to help, and I notice those of us doing the work only sometimes want help and want to be left alone to do the work. As a sign of trust or something. Can you relate to becoming triggered by someone wanting to help? 

When thinking about how things should be and how we can improve to clarify communication in our everyday social interactions, remember, we’re humans and have many different ways of interpreting our experiences.


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