Quit Being So DEFENSIVE!!!
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6 Ways to Optimize Performance Through Openness & Accountability

By: Jim Tamm

It’s probably one of the least effective sentences anyone could say. If you’ve ever been feeling defensive and have someone point it out to you (accuse you) then you know how unhelpful that is. So, if you are dealing with a very defensive person with a strong adversarial attitude, rule # 1 is don’t waste your time trying to convince the other person how defensive they are.

We use a little short hand description “Red Zone” or “Green Zone” to describe a range of attitudes. At one end of the spectrum is a non-collaborative Red Zone attitude. This Red Zone can take two different directions…. a very aggressive adversarial attitude, or a more passive, conflict avoidant, attitude (really just a lighter shade of Red we often call the Pink Zone). The other end of the spectrum is what we call a Green Zone attitude… a much more collaborative, supportive and effective way of being. Most of us, if we simply quiet our mind for a few seconds, can recognize if we are in the Red Zone or the Green Zone.

So, if you are dealing with a person in the Red (or Pink) Zone, instead of blaming or shaming them, what can you do that will help? The most important thing is for you to stay in the Green Zone, for you to not get triggered yourself, for you not to take the bait and follow blindly into the Red Zone. You are always more effective dealing with someone in the Red Zone if you can stay centered, stay non-defensive, not get your own buttons pushed; i.e. for you to stay in the Green Zone.

Next, we recommend that you put more energy into listening to the other person. People often fall into defensive Red Zone behavior when they are not feeling listened to or feeling misunderstood. Use those active listening skills that almost all of us have been taught… and quite regularly ignore. Clearly communicate through both words and your own behavior that you want to hear and understand the other person’s point of view. Summarize what you are hearing and feed it back to the other person checking for understanding to make sure you got it right. AND, pay attention to both the substance of what the other person is saying as well as the emotional undercurrent of the message.

Finally, we encourage you to use something called Interest-Based Problem Solving as a way to resolve any differences you may be having with the other person. An interest based approach focuses attention first on understanding all the underlying interests, needs, wants, etc. before you rush into looking for solutions. It was the primary negotiating-problem solving tool that we used in a pilot project in California that reduced measurable conflict in 94 different organizations by 67% over a 3.5 year period. This was the program that led up to the development of the current Radical Collaboration program. Those tools saved the State of California so much money the state legislature created and funded a non-profit foundation to train public sector entities in the methodology.

The main thrust of the Radical Collaboration program is to help people become more effective at collaboration by giving them easily learned skills to reduce their own defensiveness, solve problems and build trusting, long term, collaborative relationships. Tools to help you operate from a more effective Green Zone. In two recent studies in companies using Radical Collaboration as a key part of their leadership development program, participants were found to be between 36% to 51% more effective at being able to stay in the Green Zone. They also ranged between 23% to 32% more effective at getting their interests met when they got into conflict situations.

Being able to stay in the Green Zone and deal more effectively with adversarial people in the Red Zone takes skill. But the necessary skills can be learned, practiced in a very short period of time and implemented immediately to create more collaborative relationships and environments.

© James Tamm, RC Group, 2017