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Empowering Teams and Relationships Through Intention and Mindset

conscious leadership radical collaboration Aug 04, 2023

Recognizing Defensiveness in Interactions: "When we perceive a threat to our wellbeing, we respond defensively."  

Please note: The story shared in this post is a fictional example created to illustrate the concept of defensiveness in professional interactions. All characters and scenarios are entirely fabricated and are used for educational purposes only.

Understanding the Impact of Defensiveness

Recently, Mary had experienced in meetings where her boss was present that he commented on her opinions and suggestions as if she wasn't following or didn't understand properly the conversation. She noticed in her chest the tension building up, she was angry, it was happening again. She decided to have a conversation with him and set up a meeting with him. She was upset, angry and felt unfairly treated. On her way into the meeting, she noticed a lot of tension because she knew already how she would be treated. She was in defense mode.


The Source and the journey to Awareness

It turned out that Ben, Mary's boss, was feeling pressured with deadlines and budget and had a need to look good and feel good about himself as her leader. He hadn't noticed that he had crossed the line. He was unaware of his defensiveness.


Recognizing Defensiveness in Ourselves

Both Mary and Ben are experiencing a threat to their wellbeing, and both of them respond defensively. They are not expressing what they are feeling openly, and the consequence is that tension builds up between them. At the point Mary is bringing this up, she has all her defenses up.


Understanding Defenses

Defenses are a fear response, and they trigger one of three responses: fight, flight, or freeze. In this mode, they are both in their most ineffective state. If they both continue in this state, it might create even more tension, and what often happens in situations like this is that people allow themselves to marinate here, leading to potential negative outcomes.


From Defensiveness to Collaboration

Imagine that Ben had just been to an offsite, learning about defenses and where they came from. One of the afternoons at the offsite, he started to reflect on his relationship with Mary. Suddenly, he tensed up, he realized how he had treated her. He was able to sit with it for a while and observe their latest interactions, and he realized that it was all the stress around the budget and deadlines.


Embracing Collaborative Intention and Mindset

He thought about his upcoming meeting with Mary. Determined to have a good atmosphere with his team, he decided it was time to open up. His intention was to collaborate, and he needed to keep that intention in mind and have a collaborative mindset by openly sharing his fears and hesitations.


The Power of Openness

Back at the office, as Ben was about to meet with Mary, he went early to the meeting room, and when she showed up, he stood up and said; Hi Mary, I am so happy you called for this meeting. I want to start immediately by sharing that I have realized that I have not treated you well lately, and I want to apologize for it. I am sorry, I want to have a good relationship with you, and I hope you are willing to accept my apologies and hear what has been going on for me lately.

Mary was caught by surprise, and all the anger and tension she had felt on her way into the meeting was now at the blink of an eye turned into curiosity, she responded; I must admit I am a bit surprised by this, and this was not what I was expecting when entering this meeting. I accept your apology, and I am open to hear what you want to share with me.


The Keys to Collaborative Intention and Mindset

They sat down and had a conversation that ended up strengthening their relationships and collaboration. The keys to Collaborative intention and Mindset are:

  • Understanding what defenses are
  • Understand your own defense mechanisms and triggers
  • Clarify your intention
  • Be aware of your mindset when entering a conversation
  • Practice Openness
  • Take time to reflect and be curious about yourself, your relationships, and others


Cultivating the Right Mindset

The right state of mind when entering any relationship or collaboration is crucial. Defensiveness is so easily triggered that it is almost unnoticeable. Openness is a radical act and requires clarity of what is going on in yourself first, and if you don't have that clarity, the willingness to share what you are experiencing in the current moment.


Embrace Collaborative Intention for Empowered Relationships

It is only when you have an underlying intention and a mindset of wanting to collaborate that openness can happen. Without the underlying intention, you might unconsciously be driven by your defensive reactions.


You can learn all the details of how to embody these skills in the Radical Collaboration® training. Reach out if you are interested in joining or want an in-house training for your team.

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