How To Deal With The Defensive Behavior Of Your Employees

December 23, 2021

How To Deal With The Defensive Behavior Of Your Employees

It is not uncommon for managers and HR professionals to deal with employees who do not take criticism well. Many people have reported that some of the hardest employees they have had to deal with are consistently oppositional.

These individuals have a habit of debating or ignoring any constructive criticism. Moreover, in an attempt to undermine the feedback, some employees are known to refuse to follow instructions they disagree with or create a constant stream of negative comments about new initiatives.

The anticipation of the attitude and the defensiveness that many receive from their employees is anxiety-inducing. Such an unhealthy atmosphere leads to the deterioration of the office atmosphere.

Hence, at this point, it is important to understand how to deal with such employees. As a manager or an employer, you have to understand what creates this defensive attitude. An employee may do this as a way to come off as strong and mask the fear of change. It is an aversion to anticipated conflict or the worry that they will look incompetent.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to deal with this issue. Mediation Services offers training for leaders that help them deal with defensive employees to build a respectful workplace.

What Needs To Be Done

If you are dealing with employees who tend to get defensive whenever someone gives them some feedback, there are a few things you need to learn before you start dealing with them. These are:

  • Learn to minimize defensiveness in feedback conversations
  • Learn to understand and manage your own anxiety
  • Learn the appropriate and helpful responses to defensive behaviour

What Is Defensiveness?

Before we move on to the actual topic of dealing with the defensive attitude of an employee, let’s take a look at what defensiveness actually is.

Defensiveness is defined as the physiological response to a perceived threat, including an attack on one’s ‘face’ or self-esteem.

Once the brain analyzes the threat and determines there is danger, it triggers various responses in our body, including the release of dopamine and corticotropin to activate the sympathetic nervous system. All of these responses force us to get rid of the danger of either moving to fight or flight.

However, the main issue here is that sometimes, the brain perceives things as a threat that are not. This leads us to try and manage a difficult moment with little to no access to the thinking part of our brain. According to research, once this process is triggered, it takes 20 minutes to 1 hour for our bodies to return to normal.

Defensiveness is often a result of two things:

  • What is communicated
  • How is it communicated

Even though we don’t have a whole lot of control over what is communicated as it is the requirement of the job, we can control how something is communicated.

Some common responses associated with defensiveness include:

  • Sarcasm
  • Rigidity
  • Blaming
  • Shaming
  • Teaching
  • Preaching

Read More: Why Are Mediation Skills Important For Leadership And How To Learn Them

Diffusing Defensiveness

Now, as a manager or a leader at your workplace, it is your job to diffuse defensiveness. For this, it is extremely important to understand the state of mind of the employee. There are two main approaches to dealing with defensive behavior.

Defensive Climates

This strategy includes six steps:

  1. Evaluation
  2. Control
  3. Strategy
  4. Neutrality
  5. Superiority
  6. Certainty

Supportive Climates

The second strategy also includes six steps:

  1. Descriptive
  2. Problem Orientation
  3. Spontaneity
  4. Empathy
  5. Equality
  6. Professionalism

To learn more about how to apply these strategies in your workplace, contact us today.

What Can You Do When Someone Is Being Defensive?

If someone is responding defensively in your workplace, try to change your approach to the conversation. If you don’t, there is a chance that the other person will either become more aggressive or will completely shut down.

To rationally engage with the person, it is better to set aside your agenda for the time being and find something you both can agree on. After that, take responsibility for something, ask a question and then take a break from the conversation. Give the other person some time and tell them that you will pick up the conversation from here some other time.

How Can We Help Build You A Respectful Workplace?

Mediation Services in Winnipeg offers training programs to help you learn mediation and leadership skills. If you opt for our courses on dealing with defensiveness and building a respectful workplace, you will learn how to conduct feedback sessions with your employees while minimizing defensiveness as well as methods to control your own anxiety and stress.

The courses include reviewing case studies of disrespect and defensiveness. The ultimate objective is to learn to respond and recover from disrespectful behaviour while maintaining your authority.

We conduct online zoom and asynchronous webinars for different issues. Such modules will help you to improve your communication and solve family, workplace, or personal conflicts. To check out our training courses, visit this link here or contact us for further assistance.

If you have questions,
please don’t hesitate to call.


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