How to Address an Issue without Causing Defensiveness

pe0076760As a manager, it’s inevitable that you’ll need to address behavioural issues in your team.  Through coaching people all around the globe, I’ve noticed that this is one of the biggest challenges and reluctancies of managers when it comes to managing their team. You know that team member who says something inappropriate in a meeting or acts inappropriately at times, and when you don’t address it, it ultimately becomes a thorn in your side and your team’s.One of the biggest challenges in addressing an issue is that it causes defensiveness in people because we are naturally inclined to justify our actions. I’d like to give you a formula for reducing the amount of defensiveness that occurs when addressing an issue with a staff member.

Here is the formula:

1. Understand that their intention is positive. Through the study of human behaviour, we’ve come to understand that all behaviour is from a positive intention space. For example, it may simply be their positive intention to protect their own identity or self-worth that has caused them to do something negative.

2. Separate behaviour from intention. The more you separate behaviour from intention, the less defensive an individual will be.

3. Here is a script for addressing it:

“Hi Jack, the other day in our meeting, you mentioned something to Jenny and I’m wondering if you can help me understand where you’re coming from. I know that your intention was good, and I need your help to understand what message you were delivering?”

Use this script to address an issue with a staff member. It will enable you to address their behaviour, rather than their intention, enabling behaviourial change.




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  • Gair Bethley
    Posted at 01:19h, 07 May Reply

    Great script, Colin. The key to being successful in this scenario is for the leader/manager/supervisor to be of the mindset that they must take the initiative and not lose the opportunity for behaviour changing conversations (it’s all to easy to let things slide – “Oh, someone else will say something – eventually” (but no one will!). As is widely known, you won’t change someone’s behavious unless you modify your own (which simply means doing something about it – positively!)

    • Colin Boyd
      Posted at 08:51h, 08 May Reply

      Thanks, Gair. Really value your thoughts.

  • Christie McLennan
    Posted at 01:29h, 07 May Reply

    Hi Colin, thanks for your message about addressing issues without causing defensiveness. I really related to it in terms of my r’ship with my partner. There has been an amount of defensiveness but now I’m thinking that I am at cause of that and that I can change it from my end. Thank you!

    • Colin Boyd
      Posted at 09:19h, 08 May Reply

      Thanks for your feedback, Christie. Hope you get your desired results!

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