Don’t get so defensive!

In the last blog, I already mentioned ‘red’ and ‘green’, our batteries and our barometer.

‘From red to green’ has really become my ‘thing’ (have you noticed by any chance? ;-D) and I often talk about it. It seems to be something universal. People can relate and … they want to work on it.

Let me share with you one of my ‘sources’, which confirmed what I was already thinking myself.

In one of the trainings I give as a subcontractor in a big international organisation, we mention the TedTalk from Jim Tamm.

He starts with a study about chickens: red zone chickens and green zone chickens.

Green zone chickens are the collaborative chickens: they get along well, they are nice to each other, there are no star performers in the group.

In the red zone group, there are some star performers (laying more eggs), but they are also more aggressive, and they are causing damage: to the environment and to each other.

They wanted to find out if it was possible to breed collaborative instincts into chickens, and if so, what would be the impact of that on their egg production?

The two groups of chickens were followed for a year (=5 generations) and this was the result:

The green zone chickens were healthy and productive. And the production of eggs increased by 260% that year!

The red zone chickens were either dead (more than half of them had been pecked to death by their colleagues…), or in very bad shape…

 Jim Tamm made the link with people and organisations…

He had been a judge for 25 years and he had noticed that people often behaved ‘red’.
Conflicts escalated, people were not collaborating, mostly because they didn’t have the right tools to do so.
He did a lot of research and started to teach, and he realised that ‘nothing will help you become more effective at resolving conflict and building collaboration more than better managing your own defensiveness.

What is his premise?

‘When we get defensive, we are not defending ourselves from another person. We are defending ourselves from fears inside of us that we don’t want to feel.’


And what are these fears?

‘Fears about our own significance, our competence and our likeability.’

This was quite the eye-opener for me.

Just imagine:
You’ve just given a presentation at work, and somebody asks you a question.

When you are calm and confident, you will answer the question and that’s it.

But what if you were already a bit nervous. It might be possible that you are afraid (deep inside, it often happens at a subconscious level and very fast) that they won’t think you are smart enough, or that you are not the right fit for the job. This might trigger you and you will get defensive!

Can you relate?

Defensive is ‘red’ and when we react in a ‘red’ way, we are not at our best behaviour… We are in the action-reaction mode… and our defensive behaviour will also trigger their defensive behaviour…  And before we know it, we have a conflict.

What can we do about this? Jim describes some steps and I add some extra tips:

  • Acknowledge to yourself that you are getting defensive. Personally, I think mindfulness can help to become more aware of your thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
  • Do whatever you can to slow down your physiology (=go back to green) – breathing techniques can help, moving around (if possible). We’ve discussed this before, and I’ll definitely come back to this.
  • Pay attention to your self-talk – often it’s our own thoughts that cause all the stress and make things worse. Have you already done the free training ‘Don’t believe everything you think!’. It gives you the tools do deal with this.
  • Create an action step that is directly related to whatever your sign of defensiveness is – if you tend to raise your voice, try and keep it low… – I know, self-management is going to be key here!
  • Start over: you will probably need this again…


What do you think? Interesting?

When I first saw the video, it confirmed a couple of things, and I became even more aware.

I recognize my ‘red behaviour’ more quickly and I try to

  • Go back to green
  • Understand why I’m so triggered (which fear do I not want to feel?) and … can I work on this in order not to be so easily triggered in the future?

I will definitely come back to this. If you have more questions, do let me know. It helps me to create more content.

If this is something you also want to get better at, make sure you are signed up for my tips and tricks.