Sunday, November 11, 2007

Are you defensive in your relationships?

Who Me? How to Deal with Defensive People James Tamm Santa Clara University School of Law

A coworker responds with anger whenever someone disagrees with him. A husband retreats into silence whenever he gets into an argument with his wife. An employee buries her boss in piles of irrelevant information whenever she is asked a question.

These behaviors might appear different, but they're all just variations of the same problem -- defensiveness. Additional forms of defensive behavior include habitually claiming, "I already knew that," when corrected... rationalizing or explaining away every misstep... or chronically making fun of others to deflect criticism from oneself.
Defensive people believe that their reactions protect them from outside attack. In fact, defensive people are unconsciously trying to shield themselves from their own doubts about their significance, competence or likeability.
We all get defensive sometimes and to some degree, but most of us learn to limit our defensive tendencies. Those who don't curb their defensiveness make life difficult for themselves and those who live and work with them. Their chronically defensive behavior promotes conflict and divisiveness... encourages rigid thinking that stifles creativity... and brings out the defensiveness in others.

Here's how to control your defensiveness -- and better deal with the defensiveness of those around you...

The best way to blunt other people's defensiveness is to not become defensive yourself, even when provoked (more on that later). If you start to get upset, remind yourself that this person's defensiveness is rooted in his/her insecurities and has little to do with you. Arguing back will only make the person more insecure. Instead...
Be a good listener. After the emotional moment has passed, offer the defensive person a chance to speak with you about the situation that led to the defensiveness. During the conversation, resist the urge to evaluate, criticize or suggest. Just listen intently, and take both the words and emotional content into account. Every now and then, summarize what you're hearing to make sure you understand -- and to make sure the person knows that you're really listening.
Example: A coworker is upset with you because you criticized his proposal in a meeting. Rather than defend your position, listen to what your coworker has to say, then summarize -- "You felt I misunderstood your recommendations" or "You were embarrassed in front of your colleagues."

By listening, you help the defensive person feel understood and accepted, easing his insecurities and making future defensive reactions less likely.
Change the way you argue. Try "interest-based negotiation." With this strategy, your first goal is to state your opponent's underlying interests to his satisfaction. Your second goal is for him to do the same to you. Only then do you start proposing solutions. This creates an atmosphere of understanding that makes defensiveness less likely.
Example: I once mediated a labor strike in which the union insisted on a 7% raise, though the union leaders knew that management couldn't go past 4%. The discussions became adversarial. Through interest-based negotiation, management learned that the underlying goal of the union negotiators was not the 7% raise itself, but to make good on a promise they had made to their members to deliver a 7% raise. The parties agreed to a 7% raise for six months of the year, the equivalent of a 3.5% annual raise, which was within management's budget. Union members were happy with the 3.5% increase overall and pleased to have the negotiations resolved.

The most difficult step in overcoming defensiveness in yourself is acknowledging that you are indeed defensive. You probably consider your responses to perceived criticisms to be rational and justified when they occur. Reconsider them after the moment of confrontation has passed. Do they still seem appropriate, or were they unwarranted and unhelpful? If you're not certain, ask your spouse or a trusted friend -- and try not to get defensive at the reply. If you feel you tend to be defensive, identify the form your defensiveness takes. Are you belligerent? Uncommunicative? Overly talkative?

Other warning signs of defensiveness: Tightening in the gut... general sense of paranoia... adrenaline rush... feeling that you lack allies... a sense that you have been personally rejected, though the subject under discussion is only tangentially related to you.

To cut off defensive reactions...
Intercept the physical symptoms of defensiveness, such as rapid, shallow breathing and a quickened pulse. It will be easier to alter your behavior if you can alter these physical reactions. Head to the restroom and splash cool water on your face... take a short walk to calm down... or if there's no time for a break, take a few long, deep breaths.
Monitor your thoughts. If your mind is telling you, "This guy is out to get me," or "She doesn't think I'm very smart," you're likely to become increasingly defensive. Respond to negative thoughts with positive self-talk.
Examples: "I know this is difficult, but I can get through it"... "They're entitled to a different opinion"... "If I listen carefully enough, maybe I can learn something."
Develop a reaction appropriate to your particular form of defensiveness. If you tend to flood others with information when you feel attacked, force yourself to remain quiet for a full minute. If you tend to shut down, push yourself to say something. If you counterattack when you feel confronted, take a few deep breaths and find something that you can agree with in what's being said.
There are times when we must defend ourselves against verbal attacks, but these times are rare -- and knee-jerk defensiveness isn't effective anyway. Defensive reactions make us feel temporarily better about ourselves but rarely paint us or our opinions in a favorable light. Defensiveness provides no defense -- it only makes us seem less credible.

Flue tips -how to avoid the bug

How to Flu-Proof Your Home... Car... Office Susan Rehm, MD
National Foundation for Infectious Diseases

In the past year, we have repeatedly heard about the threat of an avian flu pandemic, but most people don't think about the reality here and now of the "regular" flu. Each year, tens of millions of Americans contract influenza. For most, it just makes for an unpleasant week, but 200,000 flu sufferers each year end up in the hospital -- and 36,000 Americans die from flu complications. Most outbreaks occur between October and May, with the peak season between late December and early March. To flu-proof your home, car and office...


Get the vaccine. You know this already, but it bears repeating because as many as two-thirds of those who should get the flu shot, don't -- even though it is the single best way to flu-proof your life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends flu shots, particularly for anyone over age 50, because potentially fatal flu complications are more common as you get older. Flu shots also are strongly recommended for children from six months to five years... and for anyone with a chronic lung, kidney or heart condition, diabetes or a weakened immune system.

Wash hands properly and often. Hand washings must be vigorous and last at least 20 seconds to be effective. Simply lathering up and quickly rinsing aren't enough. It's the act of physically scrubbing one hand against the other with soap that dislodges flu viruses.

If you're not near a sink, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be equally effective. Just don't apply so much of the sanitizer that your hands remain moist for very long. Hands become sterile only when the alcohol evaporates, leaving them dry.

Learn the difference between a cold and the flu. People often mistake bad colds for the flu. The onset of the flu is sudden, and includes fever, severe muscle aches and fatigue, while colds tend to take hold gradually and often are not accompanied by severe aches or a fever. When flu includes a cough, it tends to be a dry cough.

Important: The reason it is crucial to know the difference between the cold and the flu is that a prescription antiviral, such as Tamiflu or Relenza, can help reduce the severity of the flu -- but only if taken within 48 hours of initial infection. Call your doctor immediately if you think you have the flu.


Kids, grandkids and your spouse are the ones most likely to bring the flu virus into your home. What to do...

Avoid sharing silverware, glasses and kisses with a family member who is not feeling well.

Use disinfectant wipes to clean items you commonly touch, such as doorknobs, drawer handles, kitchen appliances, phones and remote controls.

Ask your doctor for a prophylactic dose of an antiviral medication, such as Tamiflu or Relenza, if someone in your house has the flu. These prescription drugs can reduce the odds that you will come down with it.

Postpone visits from young children if they are not feeling well or if the flu has been active at their school. When a visit from young children is unavoidable, wash your hands thoroughly after touching the children or objects they have recently handled. After the kids leave, use disinfectant wipes to clean items they touched.


When you share a car ride with someone, you also share the air in a small, enclosed space. If one of you has the flu at the beginning of even a short trip, the odds are good that both of you will by the end. What to do...

Encourage sick car pool members to stay home. If you find out that you shared a car in the past 48 hours with someone who has the flu, ask your doctor for Tamiflu or Relenza.

If you let someone else drive your car -- even a parking attendant -- use alcohol disinfectant wipes on the door handle, window controls, steering wheel, gearshift handle, parking brake lever, seat controls, radio controls and any other surfaces that the other driver is likely to have touched. Do this even if the person didn't seem sick.


The biggest threat is sick colleagues who drag themselves to work.

Don't share office supplies. Shared pens are particularly dangerous because many people unthinkingly touch them to their lips. Always carry a pen with you (which also is useful for signing at stores and restaurants). Avoid sharing your phone and computer keyboard. When office equipment must be shared, wash your hands thoroughly before and after use and wipe off the equipment with a disinfectant wipe.

Other office trouble spots: Door handles, drawer pulls, conference room tabletops, water fountains and elevator, fax and copier buttons.

Keep an eye out for coworkers who sneeze into their hands. These people spread their germs when they handle office equipment or shake hands. Sneeze into a tissue, shoulder or sleeve.

If you attend a meeting featuring snacks and handshakes, try to handle your food only with your left hand to decrease the odds that flu germs will make it to your mouth. When in the office cafeteria, don't touch your change and then your food without washing your hands in between.

Use a paper towel to turn off the water and open the door after washing your hand in the office bathroom.

Encourage sick colleagues to go home -- and do so yourself if you are not feeling well. If you are a manager, make sure employees understand that a sick day won't be held against them.