defensive behavior in the workplace

How to handle defensive behavior in the workplace? 5 proven tips for managers

All of us have experienced defensiveness at some point in our lives. Whether we’re feeling overwhelmed or insulted, defensive behavior is simply how our brain reacts in difficult situations. But while defensive behavior in the workplace can be frustrating for employees and managers alike, it’s not always easy to deal with. That’s where these five tips come in – helping you understand why people act defensively, providing ideas on how to identify defensive behavior, and providing steps for effectively managing defensiveness. So whether you’re a manager trying to prevent defensiveness from turning into conflict, or an employee looking for ways to handle difficult conversations without acting defensively, let this blog help!

Defining Defensive Behavior In The Workplace

When employees exhibit defensive behavior, it can be difficult for managers to handle the situation effectively. Defining defensive behavior can be tricky, but it’s essential to do so in order to understand the different methods of defense better. In addition, defensive behavior can also be classified according to its purpose. The main reasons for defensive behavior are emotions, tenure, power, prestige, and self-preservation.

Understanding why employees act defensively is key in managing the situation effectively. Emotions can range from slight irritation to deep resentment. Knowing what triggers an employee’s defensiveness is essential in understanding the patterns of defensive behavior, which can help managers address the issue more effectively. Additionally, setting boundaries and clear expectations will help prevent the development of defensive behavior in the first place. It’s important to remember that defining defensive behavior is difficult, but it’s necessary to manage it effectively.

Types of Defensive Behavior at Work

The world of work can be challenging, and employees can get defensive in various ways. Managers can create a more productive work environment by being proactive and understanding how employees can defend themselves. There are five types of defensive behavior:

  • Projection: Employees may project their own problems or emotions onto others in order to avoid being held accountable. Employees may ascribe negative qualities to someone else for them to feel better about a situation. They can often do this out of habit or because it’s easier than admitting fault.
  • Intellectualization: Employees may try to rationalize or explain their behavior to avoid taking responsibility. They may devise elaborate excuses for why they did something wrong or how someone else is responsible. It can be a way of trying to hide from accountability and escape punishment.
  • Denial: Employees may refuse to accept responsibility for their actions, even when proof exists that they are at fault. They may claim that nothing happened or that the other person exaggerates the situation. Denial can be a way of defending oneself from guilt, embarrassment, and shame.
  • Idealization: Employees may idealize or exaggerate their own abilities and positive qualities to feel better about themselves. They may see themselves as perfect, even when they don’t meet those standards. This can lead them to take credit for things that are rightfully someone else’s responsibility, or it can cause them to overlook negative behaviors on their behalf.
  • Blame allocation: Employees may try to shift the blame onto someone else to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. They may say that the other person is at fault, or they may assign different levels of responsibility based on who is present and whom they are trying to protect. This can create confusion, conflict, and frustration among coworkers.
Each affects the individual’s emotional state and ability to function in the workplace. These five types of defensive behavior are not mutually exclusive – an employee might exhibit some combination of them in different situations. At times, they might be playing the victim card to get out of the situation. You can read more about dealing with an employee always playing the victim card here. Managers need to be aware of these behaviors, so they can address them effectively before they get out of hand. If you’re ever struggling to manage defensive behavior in the workplace, these five proven tips will help you out.

Why Do People Have Defensive Behavior At Work?

There are times when people act defensively in the workplace – and there’s nothing wrong with that. People may have defensive behavior in the workplace because of insecurity or anxiety. Some factors contributing to this behavior include stress, working in a pressure-filled environment, and unfair treatment at work.

Some people use defensive behavior as a coping mechanism. By taking charge and asserting themselves, they can feel better about themselves. In turn, this may help them to remain calm and productive in stressful situations. Others may see defending themselves as their job – even if it means frequently coming across as arrogant or entitled. At times, defensive behavior is a symptom of narcissism.

Whatever the reason behind it, defensive behavior can negatively affect both the individual and their team members. When employees avoid taking ownership of their actions or behaving aggressively towards others, things start to break down quickly. This often leads to tension and conflict among coworkers, which is counterproductive in terms of both work productivity and morale.

How Does Defensiveness at Work Harm The Environment?

Defensiveness in the workplace can be frustrating and counterproductive. It can have a detrimental impact on the productivity of your team. The team dynamics and morale are crushed due to tension and conflict. Studies have shown that people who often resort to defensive behavior are usually afflicted by mental fatigue. Effectively, they will be less helpful and engaging. Instead, they will become more disruptive and problematic to the environment. Further, the unyielding nature of a defensive person is a major hurdle in collaboration and teamwork. Resultantly, productivity suffers in the presence of defensive behavior.

Defensiveness at work can often foreshadow more significant problems. Some common defensive behaviors include controlling the conversation, changing the subject, or avoiding eye contact. When these modes of communication become entrenched in an employee’s behavior, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to open up and share their thoughts freely with their manager – something which is essential for effective communication throughout the workplace.

What Do Defensive Managers Look Like?

When defensive managers step into the role, it can negatively affect their team and employees. How defensive managers react to criticism or challenges can unintentionally create a climate of defensiveness. This means that employees are more likely to be defensive when interacting with them, and they may start to avoid any discussion or interaction, which could lead to confrontation. As a result, the team will become less productive as communication breaks down. Defensive management also harms employee morale – it’s difficult for people who feel like they’re constantly on guard emotionally and physically too! The bottom line is that when defensive managers take.

The Five Steps to Managing Defensive Behavior At Work

Managing defensive behavior can be tricky, but with the right approach, it can be manageable.

Understand the signs and reasons

There might be times when people act defensively in response to criticism or feedback. However, if you’re not patient, the situation could turn into a negative one that neither of you will enjoy. The best way to deal with defensive people is by understanding and attempting to understand their points of view. Defensiveness might also be caused by feeling overwhelmed, threatened, or unsupported at work. In such cases, it can be helpful to take some time off for rest and recovery so that the individual can return with fresh eyes and ideas to resolve the conflict constructively.

Use communication as a tool

When it comes to dealing with employees who display defensive behavior, understanding the signs is essential. If you can identify them early on and take corrective action before things get out of hand, you will likely defuse the situation more quickly and without any negative fallout. While dealing with defensive behavior in the workplace, it is essential to remember that you should fall into the same behavior patterns yourself. It would be best if you remembered not to reply to a defensive team member in the same tone they used.

One way to communicate with employees that won’t make them defensive is by rewarding good behavior instead of punishing bad behavior – this will help encourage positive proclamations from the individual in question. In addition, communication is vital when it comes to managing defensive employees; let them know what your expectations are as well as why they’re necessary. Be clear about the consequences should they fail to meet these standards and avoid reacting defensively – trusting your employee’s ability to work through their frustration constructively may result in a smoother relationship overall.

You can look at our assertive communication toolkit to learn more about it.

Understand Communication Preferences

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to how to deal with defensive behavior in the workplace. However, understanding an employee’s communication preferences can help managers take steps that will avoid confrontation altogether. For example, defensive people tend to react aggressively when they feel attacked or threatened. They might become inaccessible or stay silent instead of engaging with other team members. In such cases, it is best not to try and reason with them; positive reinforcement, such as praises, may be more effective in breaking the defensive behavior pattern.

Allow The Employee To Process Their Behavior

When employees display defensive behavior, it can be challenging for managers to handle the situation effectively. Sometimes, the employees might do so in the heat of emotions without realizing it. In such a situation, it is crucial to give the person the space they need – time to process their feelings safely and productively. Secondly, ensure that you communicate calmly and rationally instead of resorting to sarcasm or insults. Third, let them know their attitude is unacceptable, and fourth, provide constructive feedback to help them improve their skills. Lastly: keep an open mind towards change- even if it initially seems complicated!

See some examples of positive feedback that employers can give here!

Don’t Point Out Defensive Behavior Directly

In the heat of the moment, it can be challenging to think straight. Dealing with difficult people is hard. This is when defensiveness kicks in, and things quickly spiral out of control. Don’t try and fix the person’s behavior – this will only make them defensive and more entrenched in their position. In most cases, staying in the background is better and letting them talk first. Often, they will open up once they feel safe enough to do so. If defensiveness persists after following these steps, consider taking appropriate measures such as counseling or firing the employee. You can also help them seek outside help. By understanding why they react this way, you can perhaps help bring about a change for the better in future interactions with them.


Managers face a constant battle against defensive behavior in the workplace. This behavior can range from passive-aggressive comments to outright resistance to authority. All in all, it is essential to remember that everyone has feelings and needs time to process them. Handling defensive behavior calmly and rationally will go a long way in maintaining positive relationships within the workplace.

In conclusion, it is essential to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to managing defensive behavior. It takes different approaches for different people, and sometimes it can be challenging to know when the best course of action is to confront or ignore the behavior. However, with a bit of patience and understanding, you’ll be able to manage this type of behavior in the workplace successfully.

Get the free problem-solving toolkit to deal with troublesome situations as a manager.

An extensive guide for managers to develop the right mindset and approach toward challenging situations.

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