A New Kind of Training – Responding Well to Others is a Skill: Defensiveness

blake-ross-croppedBy Blake Anthony Ross, Lead Front-End Developer

If you were to ask one of your co-workers, “Hey, do you ever feel like I get defensive?”, what do you think he or she would say?

Your co-worker may be the exacting sort of person who would follow a question like that with, “Well, what do you mean by ‘defensive?’” That would be a fantastic question! But let’s not burden ourselves right now with plumbing the depths of what defensiveness is. Perhaps we can come back to that in a future article.

The fascinating thing is this: however hard it might be to succinctly articulate what defensiveness is, boy is it easy to feel when someone is being defensive. It can really affect the workplace environment and the quality of communication you can experience on a team. Anyone who has worked with someone who was prone to defensiveness can probably shake your head and utter a quiet “gosh, yes,” right now.

For now, the simple goal of this article is to crack open the window to maybe let in a little more oh-so-precious-for-our-career self-awareness. Specifically, we are going to put a magnifying glass on our own defensiveness.


Here’s the plan. We are going to ask ourselves three questions and a co-worker one question, and we are going to do so for several reasons. First, we want to ask these questions because no one wants to work long-term on a team with someone who gets defensive. Second, all of us are capable of having food on our face without knowing it, meaning that we all are capable of acting in particular ways that everyone else sees and feels while we march on oblivious. Third, it’s worth asking ourselves these questions because responding well to others is a skill. We can become skillful, non-defensive communicators at work if we will put some of that same effort toward eliminating defensive behavior as we might put toward increasing a particular skill relevant to our specific professional expertise. These questions can begin that process.

So let’s do this. On your own, consider these three questions for a moment:

  • Can you recognize when someone else is becoming defensive?
  • Do you think you yourself ever become defensive?
  • If you ever feel defensive at work, do you think others notice when you do?

Then, talk with one person you work with whom you could ask the question this article began with: “Hey, this may seem random, but… do you think I ever get defensive?” If they say yes, thank them. In essence, they gave you $50,000 from thin air, since that is a lower estimate of the practical impact on your lifelong income should you wake up to any career-constricting defensive behavior you may be doing.

With the above questions in hand, we leave with a vision that intentionally progressing in any skill involves these two components: 1) self-awareness of where you are with respect to the skill; and 2) strategizing how to grow in the skill from where you are to where you want to be. This particular article is all about that self-awareness piece. In a future article, we’ll start to get into the component of how we can become skillful communicators in situations where right now we might tend to become defensive.

Farewell for now, comrade. Train like your career depended on it!