Wednesday, March 25, 2009

On Being Defensive

Why do people get so defensive? That’s easy! They want to be right. In my experience with engineering, IT, science or accounting disciplines, these logical driven people have spent their entire life in the pursuit of having the right answer to the question. It’s no wonder that “being right” is something that they prize. So, when someone questions their answers or their assumptions, they immediately jump to defend their hard work.

Programming a response other than defensiveness takes a concerted effort. It also takes a huge shift in the person’s assumption. Rather than viewing the questioner as someone who is trying to disprove an answer, shifting that assumption to view the questioner as someone who may help to open a new view to the situation is required. One engineer that I worked with had tremendous success by using a mental picture of the situation. Upon reflection, he said that when he is in a meeting and is being questioned, he feels like he is a professor at the chalkboard and must explain his theory and his case. Others viewed this behavior as arrogant, close-minded, and inflexible. He worked to shift his mental position from being the professor at the chalkboard to being a student in the classroom. All of a sudden, his defensiveness evaporated like a cloud of chalk dust.

1 comment:

  1. This is a trait we look for when interviewing candidates for these roles. There are plenty of accountants that say "no, this is the only way to do it!" We look for the candidate that demonstrates the ability to consider other points of view and how they are able to help their coworkers. A large number of accountants work in industry, outside of SOX and GAAP there is flexibility in what they do. Instead there is often a rigid approach to business. We look for someone with a business partner versus a accounting policy mindset.