Defense

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My husband came into my office the other day looking grim, and I immediately got defensive. As far as I knew I hadn’t done anything that would upset him, I had no indication that he was looking upset because of me, but I automatically told myself a story that he was upset with me, and that I needed to defend myself.

Sometimes, when I feel the need to defend myself, I go on the offensive and attack first. Sometimes I withdraw into myself. Either way, it’s difficult to be curious and open. I think I know what I will hear, and I don’t want to hear it, so I’m shut down and angry. I feel like I’m under attack and need to defend my borders.

These stories we tell ourselves get us in trouble, not just at home, but also at work. People at work may feel that if someone questions one of their ideas then they are questioning their worthiness to exist, so they defend their ideas to the death. Or maybe they’re afraid that if someone shoots down their idea that will mean they will be injured somehow so they don’t bring up their ideas at all.

All of this is normal human behavior. I don’t want anyone to think it’s wrong or bad to want to defend oneself. I want everyone to feel safe sharing their ideas. And – it’s very helpful to notice when the automatic reflex of defensiveness goes into play, so that we can ask ourselves different questions or tell ourselves different stories.

With my husband, I’ve learned over the years that my instinctive responses are often way out of sync with what’s going on for him. My fears are based in childhood stories, and almost never play out in my adult life. So I make space to ask what’s going on, while telling my defenses how much I appreciate that they are there, and to please wait in the wings for me to call on them if and when I might need them. It turned out that he was upset about an email he had gotten, and it had absolutely nothing to do with me. I was able to give him support, and he left considerably happier.

So what can you do when someone else gets defensive? Certainly, if you are the one getting defensive, you can notice, as I’ve learned to do, and put off the heavy walls until you’re certain they’re needed. But if it’s someone else, how can you help them listen?

Short term: Back off. Let them know you don’t mean to step on their toes. Acknowledge them for their insight, bravery, loyalty, or whatever else you see in them. Admit to any aggression you may have (inadvertently) brought to the encounter. Ask to talk about it later, when people are feeling more even-keeled.

Long term: Model openness. Talk about when you feel defensive and why. Ask how you come across to others, and try to be less aggressive. It is very powerful to be publicly vulnerable, and it gives others permission to talk about what is going on for them.

We don’t need more people in the world who look like they never make mistakes and never feel bad. We need more people who show up with all their humanness and flaws, and show how to move forward anyway. It’s more honest, it fosters more open communication, and allows others to show up more fully as well.

Having Something To Say

I recently was interviewed for two audio programs and a TV program. The TV program hasn’t been aired yet, but both radio programs have been, so I thought I’d share them with you.

I was interviewed most recently by Linda Patten on her radio show on Voice America. Here is the link:

Voice America

She was a great interviewer! Really made me feel comfortable, like I was just talking to her over coffee, instead of to millions of listeners. She told me I was a great interviewee, with my answers on point, not too long, and leading easily to the next question. So enjoy our conversation!

A few months ago I was interviewed by Francesca Anastasi for her Succeed Against The Odds podcast. This was also a lot of fun, she asked great questions and I hope you find our conversation interesting.

You can listen from the web page: pod cast
or on ITunes: itunes

The TV segment hasn’t aired yet, but keep an eye on Channel 29 on Mondays at 8 pm. Dr. Georgiana has a show on relationships, and had me on for my perspective. I’ll keep you posted for when it is released!

I’m going to speak tomorrow to a Rotary club in my area, too. This group actually said yes when I asked if I could speak there, before even asking what I’d speak about! I imagine it’s difficult to find interesting speakers every single week.

I find that having a single message that I speak about is helpful. I can approach it from many different angles – making more money in business, having better relationships at home, being more innovative, decreasing turnover, making better decisions, bringing play into the workplace, etc. – but in the end, it’s all about getting every voice heard. That is at the core of everything I speak about. Everyone needs to be heard. Organizations benefit when they are. Relationships benefit. We can use play and creativity to help get everyone heard. But the core message is getting everyone heard.

What is your core message? If you could tell the world one thing, what would it be? If you could give your younger self some advice based on your life experience, what would you tell yourself? What do you have to say?

We’re All In This Together

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I was talking to my husband about what he wants in a team. He’s worked in a number of companies, with a number of different teams, and I was wondering what he’d say. The first thing he said was he wants team members who are professional – and one of the points he made was that professionals care more about the success of the project than they do about benefiting themselves.

I think this is an interesting, important, and often overlooked piece of working in teams. People often want their ideas to be implemented without any change, because they like their ideas and want to be The One With The Ideas. Or, they want recognition, or praise, or a promotion, for what they contribute, so they want their contributions to be separate and recognizable. This is human nature – there’s nothing wrong with it! The only problem comes when the desire for recognition or power comes before the good of the project.

Part of the benefit of working in teams is that a good idea can become better when many people share their perspectives. A good recipe blends the ingredients, and relies on all of them to make the food taste good, without any one standing out. If the rosemary says it won’t cooperate unless the sage withdraws its contribution, everyone loses. A good team with a supportive leader will recognize all the flavors, not just the ones that stand out, and the individuals will all feel like they contributed to something amazing, and larger than anything they could do alone.

I actually like to take this approach to life in general, not just work. We’re all in this life together. We could step on each other to try to get ahead, but then we end up with a lot of hurt and anger. Why not support each other along the way? Why not treat life like a project we are all trying to make better, without individual egos getting in the way? It feels good to help others, and it feels like a relief when others help us. There’s something very powerful about knowing that everyone on the team has each others’ backs.

The idea of having another person’s back is an interesting one. It makes me think about that moment in a meeting when you have to choose whether to speak up or not. Have you ever been in this situation: you talked with your friend at work about a new idea. Your friend spoke up in a meeting about the new idea, and the boss shot it down. What do you do? For most of us, the survival instinct says don’t challenge the alpha. It’s not worth it to align ourselves with a sinking ship. But then, will your friend trust you? If you still think it’s a good idea, will you say so? It takes courage to speak up when you know the boss is against the idea in order to back up your friend. Really, it’s also backing up yourself and your ideas, but it’s also threatening a sense of survival and safety.

This is why I help teams create safe spaces to speak up. I don’t want anyone to feel like they will get shot down for speaking up. I want to help groups decide together whether an idea is worth following without making anyone feel stupid, or unsafe, or unworthy. For the project to be the focus, not the worth of the humans who have the ideas.That’s one reason I use LEGO® bricks in my workshops – it puts the focus on the ideas as modeled in LEGO®, rather than on the person who built it. People aren’t trying to solve people any more.

What do you look for in your teams?

Do Be Do Be Do

I’ve been thinking about my post regarding letting your freak flag fly, in relation to the rash of inappropriate behavior being reported between men and women. I don’t want people to misconstrue my post as condoning putting your hands where they don’t belong just because it’s part of who you believe yourself to be.

I think it’s very important to be true to yourself – and I think it’s very important to treat other people with respect. It’s not acceptable to do things that hurt other people or make them uncomfortable. But what happens when who you are makes other people uncomfortable?

Sometimes, just being who you are will affect others. Maybe you’re a big, tattooed, hair-dyed, biker type. No matter how respectful you are of others, people may not believe you are the accountant, or trust you with their money.

I personally like it when my preconceptions are turned upside down. I was at a bank once and discovered that the banker did Muay Thai kickboxing. Some people expect only the bank guards to know kickboxing, not the bankers themselves! But it was fun to me to learn something about what he did outside of work – and it explained the bruises.

Some people find it very upsetting to have their expectations turned upside down. It can be comforting to be able to predict the world around us. It can make us feel like we know the inside scoop on how the world works. So when someone comes along who doesn’t clearly look male or female, it throws us off. What we think we know, and count on to give us confidence and clarity, is suddenly wrong. It can feel like the rug has been pulled out from under our feet – or worse, that there’s no floor at all.

The trouble is that people don’t always cope with their own discomfort, they sometimes try to change others to fit their preferred mold. Someone is anxious about gay people? Then there better not be any gay people in their office, or bank, or wherever they go. If their banker shows up with signs of gender bending, they want to fight or flee.

In my opinion, this sort of discomfort is something that the person feeling it needs to cope with. The world will not always conform to your own desires, and learning how to be flexible is important.

The other sort of discomfort, where someone does something to someone else, is not acceptable. Having someone make suggestive comments to you, or touch you, or get between you and the exit, or threaten to hurt you, are all examples of someone making you uncomfortable through action, not through who they are. In these cases, it’s not the job of the person who is uncomfortable to just cope. It’s the job of the aggressor to treat others with respect.

Here’s a cheat sheet to help you understand the difference:

I’m uncomfortable because of:

Who you are ———- My problem

What you do ———— Your problem

Or, even more succinctly:

 Do – You, Be – Me

Hopefully this will help you the next time someone tells you that you are the one who needs to cope with his leering.