Collaboration – Hey, Would Ya Buzz Off? I am not Defensive!

defensive - not me!Continuing on our experiential book club journey to get better at Radical Collaboration this post explores the roots of our defensive behavioral patterns.

As covered in “Attitudes and Intentions” the first step toward not acting defensively is to become aware of when you are getting defensive. (See this post that covers Chapter 1 for key indicators / early warning signs of entering the Red Zone.) It’s critical to know when you’re in the Red Zone because:

  • Your thinking becomes rigid
  • You will be a lousy problem solver
  • You invite everyone else to get defensive, rigid, and ineffectual

The next step towards changing your defensive behaviors is to understand why you behave the way you do. Equipped with that understanding you can then create an action plan to help you restore a non-defensive, Green Zone stance anytime you become aware you are in the Red Zone.

The exercises in this post will help gain that awareness. Plan on two pomodori (about and hour) and dive in.

Meditate on the relationships, situations, and conflicts you’ve had in your life. Share on X

Pomodori #1: Archeology of Your Defensive Patterns

One’s default behaviors (good, bad, ugly) are created during significant events from their past. To help you discover the roots of your own defensiveness you need to explore the history of the conflicts and difficult relationships you’ve experienced.

Conflict Lifeline

Take the first few minutes of this pomodoro to meditate on the relationships, situations, and conflicts you’ve had in your life. Just let the thoughts arise, and float on by… like soap bubbles. Don’t yet try to grab ahold. Instead absorb the feelings of those experiences. Categories you might explore include:

Extended relatives


Then, whenever you are ready, start drawing. Use pictures, words, symbols, mindmaps. Make your sketch look any way you like. No one needs to see it but you.

When your timer rings, kick back for a well deserved break. Take 5 and appreciate yourself. Get up. Change your environment. Pour yourself a drink.

Pomodoro #2: Visualization

Start your timer, then take the first few minutes of this time block to reflect back on what you drew. Pick one or two really significant conflicts. What did “they” do? How did you respond? Explore:

  • What were you feeling emotionally? Were you aware of feeling scared, confused, ashamed, helpless, hopeless, humiliated, or full of dread?
  • What was happening in your body? Were you feeling expansion or contraction, a tight chest, shallow breathing, increased heartbeat, hot or cold, wanting to fight back or a sense of rubber legs or impending collapse, wanting to run, or stiff as in “scared stiff”? Was your vision or hearing altered in any way?
  • What were you thinking? Were you confused, trying to make sense of why this was happening to you or what you did to bring this on, or did you freeze with no thoughts at all? What do you remember thinking about yourself or about others? Were you taking the insult personally?
  • What was happening to your energy? Were you feeling aroused, activated, energized— or dead, zombified, numb, frozen? How long did the change in energy last? What happened afterward? Did you get help or fight back, or did you shut down?
  • What are you thinking and feeling now as you look back on this scene?
  • Have there been other similar situations or scenes in your past life? Look for repeating patterns or themes.

Then read through all of the events in your conflict lifeline and put a check mark by each sign of defensiveness in the chart below that you recognize you did. (And if you are aware of any defensive behaviors not listed, add them to the list.)

Box 2-11

When you have finished putting check marks by all signs that you know you’ve felt often through your history, go back over the list and circle the top three items you know so well because you used them just last week, or yesterday, or this morning.

If you have trouble finding those top three that apply to you, just circle #12 three times.

(If you’re feeling really adventurous, give your partner or a few colleagues a copy of the checklist and ask them to tick off the ones they see you demonstrate on a regular basis.)

Note your top three defensive behaviors from Pomodoro #2 – these are your early warning system. You’ll need these for next week.

Are you aware of when you are getting defensive? Share on X

Next week: Action Plan – Unhooking your defensive buttons…

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