Understanding the reasoning behind certain actions – why people act as they do – can help you deal effectively with people when they seem completely irrational to you. All behavior is designed to satisfy some need, and even unproductive behavior in the workplace usually arises from some unmet, internal personal need.
The satisfaction of psychological needs is just as important as physical needs but frequently more difficult. People usually first try to satisfy needs by direct action. They work hard to appear successful, exercise to look stronger and more confident, or read books to increase knowledge. For most, the direct approach works. Some individuals, however, grew up with or have life experiences that expand many unsatisfied needs that they now feel generally inferior, guilty, or unworthy. A direct approach is usually only temporary and insufficient. As a result, people with low self-esteem build defenses.
As a manager, CEO, or supervisor learning to recognize defenses will help you refer people for help to find alternative ways to satisfy their needs. As you direct employees to resources for addressing their problems, you not only help them improve their quality of life, but you also prevent defensive behavior in the workplace.
Some of the most common defenses are easy to recognize. Recognizing these defensive behaviors helps you know how to best respond:
Aggression - An aggressive person strikes out in an attempt – often subconscious – to destroy the source of frustration. Aggression is a sign of inner fear – not bravery. Because in our society an actual physical release of hostility is generally unacceptable behavior, people may resort instead to gossip, slander, or ridicule as a means of venting hostility in a more socially acceptable fashion. Regard any new surge in aggressive behavior or attitudes as a warning of underlying problems. Use the “tell me about it” method; confront the behavior or negative attitudes.
Daydreaming - In spite of adequate training and above average ability, some people persist in escaping from the drab world of reality into a dream world where life is a bed of roses. Team members who persistently daydream rather than work are exhibiting behavior more characteristic of adolescence than of adulthood. You can often cure daydreaming by helping individuals learn to set short-term goals and gradually establish a pattern of success.
Repression - This protects the self-image by rejecting thoughts that are unpleasant or would cause guilt or shame. Some repression may be positive, but an overdose results in intense fears and debilitating feelings of inferiority. Some repressed experiences produce feelings of guilt expressed through self-criticism – or even an apparent desire to provoke punishment. Help team members exhibiting excess guilt, inferiority, or negativism to begin believing in themselves more. Give praise for specific successes whenever possible.
Rationalization – This is someone who explains failure by making excuses. Why is production down? The raw materials were bad. Why they were not promoted? It was strictly favoritism! Rationalization is an attempt to boost the self-image by “lying to oneself.” People who rationalize must learn to admit their faults and overcome them. A good system of feedback – both positive and corrective – helps to establish a climate in which team members feel secure enough to acknowledge weaknesses and to develop a plan for growth.
Compartmentalization – This is a way of controlling anxiety and guilt feelings by separating contradictory ideas in the conscious mind. Employees who firmly believe it is wrong to steal might use compartmentalization to justify carrying off company property to make up for salaries they believe are too low. Reasoning with people who compartmentalize is a waste of time and energy. But appealing to their emotions will bolster their egos and more likely nurture a commitment to desired behavior.
Understanding and identifying these behaviors will help you become sensitive to defensiveness and turn it into cooperation in the workplace.
Remember, the best predictor of future performance is present in the ways and means that they addressed a similar situation in their work environment in the past. Understanding your own behavior and the behavioral style of your employees will allow you to not only recognize some of these defensive actions earlier, but maybe just prevent the incident before it even occurs.
For more information on our courses and workshops that allow you to use behavioral styles to your advantage as a manager or employee, please call us at 609.390.2830.
Innovative Leadership of the Delaware Valley, LLC offers the Everything DiSC® Management Workshop designed to help managers realize the impact of their personal behavioral style on the people you work with. This Workshop teaches participants about their behavioral strengths and challenges as managers and how to adapt to meet the needs of the people they manage – making everyone more productive and effective.