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Defensive: Who ME?


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Conversations about conflict provide parties with the opportunity to examine their own actions and
reactions. This process of reexamination inevitably evokes people’s natural defensive mechanisms.
Defensiveness prevents people from learning and blocks the potential for transformation to occur. This
workshop will look at the internal and external causes of defensiveness, as well as ways that mediators can
intentionally work with this natural phenomena.

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Defensive: Who ME?

  1. 1. Courageous Conversations DEFENSIVE: Who ME? Facilitator: Janet P. Schmidt
  2. 2. Courageous Conversations What do people want from mediation…. • The other person to take responsibility • The other person to change • Work to not hurt and feel safe again. • The past to not repeat itself “Past behaviour is the best predictor of the future behaviour.”
  3. 3. Courageous Conversations Therefore what needs to happen in the mediation process…. • Both parties must be open to see the situation differently (and understand that they only have it partly right) • Both parties must take some responsibility for what has happened. • Both parties must learn something about themselves and live differently in the future. • Both parties must learn the wisdom of where to accept differences and where to insist on change.
  4. 4. Courageous Conversations • Defensiveness is a behavioural response to a perceived threat or attack to ones face or self- esteem. • It is the result of what and how something is communicated.
  5. 5. Courageous Conversations View Clip • Place yourself in the clip. The meeting leader, Louise, Dave and their colleagues. • What do you physically feel? What are you thinking?
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  7. 7. Courageous Conversations Privat e Action Effect Intent Public Assume Words – 7% Tone – 38% Body Language – 55% COMMUNICATION 101
  8. 8. Courageous Conversations Case Study (part 1) • Think about a recent conversation where you felt defensive. • What happened in your body at that moment? • What did the other person say/do that triggered that feeling? • Why did you feel defensive? How did you interpret the situation?
  9. 9. Courageous Conversations Why were you Defensive? • We are embarrassed • We are humiliated or feel stupid • We don’t see ourselves that way • We feel betrayed • We don’t think that the person has the right to give us that information • We are reminded of earlier negative experiences • We feel a sense of failure • We feel forced to make a change, and change is difficult • We grew up in an atmosphere where negative feedback was experienced as a bad thing. • Other….
  10. 10. Courageous Conversations How long does it take for you to get defensive? How many people on earth do you think get defensive?
  11. 11. Courageous Conversations Two Pathways of the Brain 1. The first path is thoughtful one through our consciousness that allows us to become aware, feel the emotion, comprehend its meaning and ultimately choose an appropriate action. 2. The second path (much faster) is designed to take immediate defensive action, focusing on bodily responses. This happens unconsciously.
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  13. 13. Courageous Conversations “Our civilization is still in a middle stage, scarcely beast, in that it is no longer guided by instinct, scarcely human in that it is not yet wholly guided by reason.” Theodore Drieser
  14. 14. Courageous Conversations Cognitive Dissonance • Dissonance occurs when there are two attitudes or an attitude and behaviour that conflict. • This feeling of dissonance causes discomfort and depending on the larger context can be extremely disorienting (and even painful).
  15. 15. Courageous Conversations Two Contexts…. 1. When you have invested time, money, reputation, effort, or pain in some activity or some belief that turns out to be wrong or baseless or foolish. 2. When a central element of our self concept is threatened i.e. competent, kind, hard working. The more important the belief is to us, the more central to our self identify and feelings of self worth the harder it will be to accept dissonance information
  16. 16. Courageous Conversations Most people have a reasonably positive self- concept, believing themselves to be competent, moral, and smart. Their efforts at reducing dissonance will be designed to preserve their positive self-image. Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, Harcourt, 2007
  17. 17. Courageous Conversations Sigmund Freud claimed that defensiveness happens when we are presented with an ‘unbearable idea’. An ‘unbearable idea’ is one, whether conscious or unconscious, that makes us unacceptable to ourselves.
  18. 18. Courageous Conversations Three Core Identities Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen Penguin, 1999 1. I am competent 2. I am a good person 3. I am worthy of love 1. Am I competent? 2. Am I a good person? 3. Am I worthy of love?
  19. 19. Courageous Conversations Case Study continued (2) • How would you be experiencing cognitive dissonance in your scenario? • What core identity is being challenged?
  20. 20. Courageous Conversations Typical Responses 1. Surrender • Giving in, blaming yourself, making excuses for other 2. Withdraw • Avoiding talking about it 3. Counterattack • Responding by making excuses • Attacking the other person’s position “Taking the War Out of Our Words” by Sharon Strand Ellision
  21. 21. Courageous Conversations Specific Defensive Responses… 1. “But you don’t understand….” 2. “It’s not my fault…” 3. “No one else does it” or “I’m not the only one” 4. “You didn’t….” 5. “They are out to get me.”
  22. 22. Courageous Conversations Common Defensive Mechanisms • Sarcasm • Rigidity • Blaming • Shaming • Teaching • Preaching • Catastrophizing • Trivializing • Endless explaining • Withdrawing into silence • Loss of humour • All-or-nothing thinking
  23. 23. Courageous Conversations Case Study continued (3) • What did you do in response to the situation? • What are some of your well used defensive strategies? • What are the consequences of these strategies?
  24. 24. Courageous Conversations Cognitive Dissonance SelfJustification Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), Carol Travis and Elliot Aronson, Harcourt, 2007
  25. 25. Courageous Conversations What you can do to communicate differently • Defensiveness is the result of what and how something is communicated. • Living and working with other people requires us to communicate the what. The good news is that we can determine the how.
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  27. 27. Courageous Conversations Meaning Making… We are meaning making people. We are constantly creating stories about the motivations and intentions of other people (and they are doing the same). We quickly believe our stories to be true and repeat them in our heads and to our closest colleagues, not to mention our friends and family members.
  28. 28. Courageous Conversations The Gibb Categories of Defensive and Supportive Behaviors Defensive Behaviors Supportive Behaviors 1. Evaluation 1. Description 2. Control 2. Problem Orientation 3. Strategy 3. Spontaneity 4. Neutrality 4. Empathy 5. Superiority 5. Equality 6. Certainty 6. Provisionalism
  29. 29. Courageous Conversations Evaluation/Description Evaluation – You are evaluating or judging the other person. Description – You describe what is going on rather than evaluate.
  30. 30. Courageous Conversations Example Evaluation: “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Description: “I don’t understand how you came up with that idea.”
  31. 31. Courageous Conversations “Observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence.” By J. Krishnamurti Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion Marshall B. Rosenberg p. 29
  32. 32. Courageous Conversations Feedback Often Includes •Description •Interpretation •Evaluation
  33. 33. Courageous Conversations Control/Problem Orientation Control – The degree to which a person experiences the other as trying to convince or control them. Problem Orientation – Describing a mutual problem and trying to solve it together.
  34. 34. Courageous Conversations Examples Controlling: “You need to stay off the phone for the next two hours.” Problem orientation: “I’m expecting some important calls. Can we work out a way to keep the line open?” Controlling: “There’s only one way to handle this problem.” Problem orientation: “Lets work out a solution we can both live with.”
  35. 35. Courageous Conversations Strategic/Spontaneity Strategic – The conversation is experienced as a strategy (technique) with unexplained motivations. Spontaneity – You are experienced as having uncomplicated motivations, as being straight forward and honest in response to a situation.
  36. 36. Courageous Conversations Example Strategy: “My previous boss would meet with me once a week and ask me about my ‘home runs’ and ‘do overs’.” Spontaneous: “I would love to meet once a week and select priorities and do any problem solving required from the previous week.”
  37. 37. Courageous Conversations Neutrality/Empathy Neutrality - You are neutral/detached of emotions. Empathy – You express concern and care for the other person.
  38. 38. Courageous Conversations Example Neutral: “Sometimes things just don’t work out. That’s the way it goes.” Empathic: “I know you put a lot of time and effort into this project.”
  39. 39. Courageous Conversations Superiority/Equality Superiority – When you communicate that you are superior in some way (e.g. position, knowledge). Equality – You communicate willingness to enter into collaborative participative planning with mutual respect and trust.
  40. 40. Courageous Conversations Example Superior: “No, that’s not the right way to do it!” Equal: “If you want, I can show you a way that has worked for me.”
  41. 41. Courageous Conversations Certainty/Provisionalism Certainty – You are perceived to be absolutely certain about your facts and interpretations Provisionalism – Person appears to be exploring issues rather than taking sides on them, to be problem solving rather than debating.
  42. 42. Courageous Conversations Examples Certain: “That will never work!” Provisional: “I think you’ll run into problems with that approach.” Certain: “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Provisional: “That is a new idea. How did you come up with that?”
  43. 43. Courageous Conversations Defensive and Supportive Behaviors Defensive Behaviors Supportive Behaviors 1. Evaluation 1. Description 2. Control 2. Problem Orientation 3. Strategy 3. Spontaneity 4. Neutrality 4. Empathy 5. Superiority 5. Equality 6. Certainty 6. Provisionalism
  44. 44. Courageous Conversations “The truth is that many confrontations fail not because others are bad and wrong but because we handle them poorly.” p. 46 Crucial Confrontations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler, McGraw Hill, 2005
  45. 45. Courageous Conversations Remember…. Process trumps content Put another way…. It is often not the what it is the how.
  46. 46. Courageous Conversations Defensiveness lingers…. That energy surge from our heighten state of readiness (adrenalin) takes 20 minutes to 1 hour to dissipate. During that time people will not be able to think clearly. The time becomes even longer if someone does something to keep it going. Which is usually what happens.
  47. 47. Courageous Conversations You can’t talk someone out of being defensive. You can prompt a different feeling so that the physiology of the brain can shift back into a non defensive state.
  48. 48. Courageous Conversations So if they are defensive.... 1. Set aside you agenda. 2. Listen to their words: their fears, needs, hopes, disappointments. 3. Paraphrase what you have heard (i.e. their fears, needs, wants and hopes). For example, “You need me to know that you have spent a lot of extra time on this project.” 4. Take responsibility for something (i.e. “I should have shared this concern with you earlier.”) 5. Ask questions to understand (i.e. lowering your voice at the end of the question). 6. And then when they are again able to engage in content, problem solve together.
  49. 49. Courageous Conversations The most important thing you can do…. If you can ask a question or make a statement in a non defensive way the person is likely to shift instantly – as if your presence is contagious. This is only possible if you are non defensive and skillful!
  50. 50. Courageous Conversations Managing Your Defensiveness If they are defensive, odds are they will say or do something that will trigger your defensiveness and then there are two or more people who are defensive!
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  52. 52. Courageous Conversations “They started it.” The “eternally popular dissonance reducer” Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, Harcourt, 2007
  53. 53. Courageous Conversations Self Justification Comes from our need to defend ourselves and reduce the discomfort of ‘cognitive dissonance’. This is accompanied with the energy that is coursing through our veins and being expressed in our tone and body language.
  54. 54. Courageous Conversations “Pain felt is always more intense than pain inflicted.” p. 192 Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), Carol Travis and Elliot Aronson, Harcourt, 2007
  55. 55. Courageous Conversations Cognitive Dissonance Taking Responsibility SelfJustification Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, Harcourt, 2007
  56. 56. Courageous Conversations So why don’t people admit to their/our mistakes…. 1. We aren’t aware that we need to. “What mistake? I didn’t make a mistake.” 2. Our culture is mistake-phobic, linking mistakes with incompetence and stupidity that will be punished.
  57. 57. Courageous Conversations Options…. • Being defensive is our primarily strategy to self protection. • What are other options? “To be open is to be vulnerable, and to be vulnerable is to be weak.”
  58. 58. Courageous Conversations Three things to Accept about Yourself 1. You will make mistakes 2. Your intentions are complex • Conscious • Less conscious • Unconscious 3. You have contributed to the problem
  59. 59. Courageous Conversations Reasons to admit your mistakes • You will probably be found out anyway • You will learn and grow • You undoubtedly did something that resulted in making the situation worse • You can lead by example • People will like you more
  60. 60. Courageous Conversations A story of being defensive
  61. 61. Courageous Conversations The irony “The mind wants to protect itself from the pain of dissonance with the balm of self-justification, but the soul wants to confess.” (p. 217) Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), Carol Travis and Elliot Aronson, Harcourt, 2007
  62. 62. Courageous Conversations So how does this impact my mediation practice?
  63. 63. Courageous Conversations Translation to mediation One on One both before the joint mediation session and in between sessions…. •“You are a good person with positive intent” •Replace meaning making with specific situations/stories (i.e. controlling, bully, disrespectful, ist) and teach intent, action effect. •Question: “If it was true, what would it mean about you?”
  64. 64. Courageous Conversations Mediation Session Introduction: •Show a sculpture (different stories/meanings) •Remind them of Intent Action and Effect and remind/invite people to not about facts (actions) and let person share why they did what they did (intent) and say away from meaning making. •You may feel defensive (you are welcome to call a break)
  65. 65. Courageous Conversations Closing Mediation Session re story telling •Need to re-story your narrative. •Retraining your brain •Tell your support person new information Final Mediation Session •Knowing what you know now what do you wish you would have done differently (taking responsibility) •What are you willing to offer the other person. Review list of needs – what else do you need that has not been mentioned.
  66. 66. Courageous Conversations Other •Generally 2-4 sessions, once every 4 to 7 days or at least overnight. And what if I don’t like the person I am mediating….
  67. 67. Courageous Conversations Metta Meditation • May ____________ be peaceful and happy • May ____________ be safe and free from harm • May ____________ be protected from mental and physical disease • May ____________ take care of him/herself with ease Repeat 5 to 7 times for yourself and/or for the other person
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  69. 69. Courageous Conversations References • The Emotional Brain by Joseph E. Ledoux • Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) by Carol Tavris & Elliot Aronson • Taking the War Out of Our Words by Sharon Strand Ellison • Jack Gibb work on supportive and defensive communication climates. (coming soon)
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