Sunday, May 3, 2009

Overcoming Defensiveness Key to Better Workplace Environment

My LPO was being counseled by the Senior Enlisted Leader (SEL) for our directorate.
"Your problem is you're too defens---" was all he was able to get out before the LPO interrupted, saying, "No, I'm not!"

This occurred after he had already been brought in to my office to discuss progress on a self-improvement plan. In that discussion, the LPO could not get himself under control to stop talking, even after repeated and even rude requests to be quiet.

After his discussion with the SEL, he came to me and said he recognized he had a problem. "So if you see me bringing my hand to my mouth," he said. "That's my way of slowing myself down so I don't interrupt or respond right away."

I told him I was curious about when this defensiveness had started. "When I became a corpsman," he said. "People assume because I started out in another specialty, I don't have any medical knowledge." He pointed out several individuals, including the Department Head and a fellow surgical technician as culprits in minimizing his experiences and abilities. "Well," I said. "There are gaps in your knowledge and not everyone knows what they are. Isn't it better to assume you don't have an essential skill than to assume you do?"

In any case, I doubt his defensiveness just started when he became a corpsman. Argyris, a leader in adult education, believes defensiveness starts in childhood and is reinforced throughout life. However, he is taking positive steps to correct this behavior. As Jim Tamm, author of Radical Collaboration, says, recognizing defensive behavior is the first step. Dr Nathan Cobb, a psychologist and marriage therapist in Calgary, has a very good workbook on overcoming defensiveness. Although "How to Overcome Defensiveness" is directed towards marriage, my LPO admitted that he adopted a defensive attitude at home, too.

One of the important things I learned in our encounter that started this spiral was my own role. I chose to become angry when the LPO would not stop talking and, for that, I regret my responses. Ridge Training's Overcoming the Destructive Dynamics of Defensiveness could have helped me stop my inner Mr Hyde from erupting.

The second step is acknowledging the emotions that come with the awareness of defensiveness. In this case, the tenets of yoga (breathing) and Buddhism (mindfulness) are invaluable. The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh looks promising. The link from YouTube provides mindfulness using movement.

This website provides information on using hypnosis to overcome defensiveness. I'll let you know how it goes.

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