How to deal with a defensive person at work (2023)

Defensiveness is often the result of poor communication, stress, anxiety, or just someone having a bad day. Understanding better why those around you are defensive will help you avoid conflicts both inside and outside the office. Learn what causes defensiveness, what to do when people get defensive, and how to deal with a defensive person in your workplace.

Defensive is probably no stranger to you. It can come in all shapes and sizes, from customers to employees and colleagues to managers. Working side by side with a defensive person day in and day out can be exhausting and can make the prospect of going to work unattractive and uncomfortable. So what makes some people so defensive and what can you do about it?

defensive at work

How to deal with a defensive person at work (1)

defensive staff

Managing defensive employees can make delegating a challenge, and simply asking someone to do a task can feel like embarrassment and hurt feelings. If you find this to be a common occurrence, consider why an employee might be defensive. Do you feel overwhelmed? Did you just ask her to do another task five minutes ago? Can they feel that you always select them for specific tasks or responsibilities and not your other colleagues?

When giving feedback to defensive employees, be sure to highlight what the employee is also good at, and always express feedback in a positive way. Give employees space to express their own feelings about their performance, and strive to consider their opinions with sensitivity and understanding. Not everyone likes to be singled out, let alone criticized.

    How to deal with a defensive person at work (2)

    Defensive Colleagues

    Feeling offended at work creates an unhealthy work environment for everyone – employees, managers, owners and moreOwner's dogs included. If a co-worker responds with hostility to a suggestion or comment you make, consider why your comment provoked that response before responding with hostility yourself. Did you consider your colleague's communication preferences before speaking with him? were you too frank Or, on the contrary, were you too indirect? Did you ask them something about their personal life that they might not like to share?

    It's also important to remember that your colleague may just be having a bad day and feeling defensive for reasons that may have nothing to do with you. If that's the case, give him space to process his feelings on his own terms.

      How to deal with a defensive person at work (3)

      defensive manager

      Working defensively as a leader sets off a chain reaction throughout the workplace. Employees don't know who to turn to when they have a problem or need to ask a question. This can be a very stressful situation for employees. When an employee needs approval before handling a situation for a customer but is afraid of upsetting their manager, work stops and productivity goes out the window. People will start to dread coming to work for fear of being reprimanded at their manager's whim, leading to a hostile, uncomfortable, nervous, and most importantly, unproductive environment.

      As a manager, it's important to be aware of the impact your defensiveness can have on your team. Do you want your colleagues to always feel like they are in conflict around you? A manager's job is to ensure that day-to-day tasks are carried out smoothly and efficiently, and if you are the root cause of a hostile and unproductive work environment, then don't do your job.

        (Video) Employee Feedback - Dealing With Employees Who Get Defensive | Shari Harley

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        Psychology of Defense: What Causes Defense?

        Learning what makes a person defensive will help you understand why they react this way to small talk, friendly suggestions, or constructive criticism.

        If a colleague reacts defensively to something you say, it's probably because he feels you've criticized or embarrassed him in some way. You may think you were perfectly polite and didn't say anything that would warrant a defensive reaction from a colleague, but it's important to remember that you have no say in whether or not you've offended someone.

        A person can be defensive for many reasons, and being sensitive to their unique communication style and needs can help you understand the source of their defensiveness. By learning more about how your colleagues prefer to communicate, you can understand how to approach issues with them in a positive way, resulting in a productive, comfortable and trusting work environment for everyone.

          How to deal with a defensive person

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          Consider why someone is defensive

          What is the real reason for the defense? It won't always be immediately apparent, but the best way to deal with defensiveness is to understand where it comes from. Defensiveness is usually the result of someone feeling attacked or criticized. Is it possible that you were too direct with a colleague? Could they find your request or comment hypocritical? think back Do you often single out this person?

          Getting to the root of the problem can help you better understand what's going on behind the scenes. I hope you can take advantage of this understanding and keep it in mind when making a similar request or comment to your colleague.

          You may not be able to pinpoint why someone is defensive, and that's okay too. In some cases, they might be going through something completely different than you in their personal life.

            (Video) How to deal with defensiveness and defensive people

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            Don't return the defensive

            Responding defensively with defensiveness creates an endless cycle that erodes office confidence and morale. If someone is defensive, don't give back. Escalating a conflict is never a good idea. If a colleague reacts defensively to a comment you make, apologize and walk away, at least for the time being. If you later need to bring up a different topic, acknowledge your part in the disagreement and focus on the future.

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              Understand communication preferences

              Deciding how to communicate with a defensive person depends on your preferences. Take personality tests like thisenneagramEDiscountwill help you understand the communication preferences and personalities of the people you work with. Everyone is different and everyone approaches a situation in their own way. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for communicating with colleagues, employees or managers.

              When you take the time to learn more about your coworkers, you get to know them better, which makes it easier to avoid conflict. You might learn that someone you work with every day doesn't like small talk, so when you ask about the weekend or the weather, they seem distant. Or you may find that your blunt, direct communication style makes some of your more sensitive and introverted colleagues feel that they are being attacked, leading to defensiveness.

              💡 Learningmore about the DiSC personality testEhow to use enneagrams at work.

              (Video) How to Deal with Difficult People | Jay Johnson | TEDxLivoniaCCLibrary

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                Give space to process

                Give a defensive person space to reflect on their feelings and actions. Your emotions are probably running the show right now, and you might feel offended even if you don't mean to. This emotional volatility can quickly escalate into a conflict, so it's best to remove yourself from the conversation or situation.

                Don't add more fuel to the fire; let it run out on its own. Before trying to communicate, remember to take some time to reflect on your own actions. Could you have phrased something more sensitively or politely? If that's the case, make sure you take responsibility for your part in the disagreement.

                  How to deal with a defensive person at work (9)

                  Never flirt for a defensive no moment

                  A conversation will quickly go downhill if you call someone defensive. Never point the finger at a defensive person and say they are defensive, and don't fall for unhelpful comments like "don't take it personally". These quick jabs diminish your colleague's feelings and paint you as insensitive.

                  Assess the situation to understand where the defensiveness is coming from. Challenging someone in front of other people when that person is already feeling defensive will only create more tension and defensiveness.

                    How to Talk to a Defensive Person: Dos and Don'ts

                    How to deal with a defensive person at work (10)


                    • try to understandBecausesomeone is on the defensive.
                    • Consider the other person's preferred communication style.
                    • Give a defensive person space to process their feelings.
                    • Remember that everyone has bad days and your defensiveness may have nothing to do with you.
                    (Video) People Who Are Very Easily Defensive

                      How to deal with a defensive person at work (11)


                      • Tell a defensive person that they are on the defensive.
                      • Respond with your own defense.
                      • Minimize or ignore the feelings of others.
                      • Force a conversation with someone who isn't ready to talk.

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                        (Video) How to Deal With a Defensive Coworker


                        1. Defensiveness: Psychology Behind Defensive Behavior
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                        2. How to Deal with Toxic, Jealous, Insecure Coworkers
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                        3. Stop Being Defensive | Learn to Listen - Effective Communication Tips | Jordan Peterson Motivation
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                        4. How To Deal With A Resistant Coworker - Jocko Willink
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                        5. Diffusing a Defensive Partner
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                        6. How To Stop Being Defensive At Work
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