Defensiveness is a form of self-protection—a personal counterthreat strategy to offload feelings of exposure, embarrassed, or hurt. Oftentimes, people get triggered as a result of past critical leadership or trauma.  

If we pay attention to our habits and feedback, we can self-manage and show up in a way that supports our  relationships rather than harm them.

Here are three common ways we self-defend:  

1. The Counterattack is seen as score-keeping, deflecting or blaming. “Oh yeah! Well what about you?”

2. Righteous indignation is motivated by the need to point out the injustice of a situation. “This just isn’t fair!”

3. Victimhood is the focus on one’s internalized sense of helplessness. “Why is this ALWAYS happening to me?” 

If you catch yourself using one of these responses repeatedly, this may be a development opportunity. Here’s how you might turn this around: 

  • Pay attention to what you think you heard
  • When in doubt, ask for clarification 
  • In the absence of information, pause on the stories you might make up
  • Ask for feedback


Tiny tweaks to your attention and response can go a long way toward putting the magic back into our work relationships.