How To Deal With A Defensive Employee

Defensive Employee

Dysfunctional/Defensive behavior is a persistent or out of the ordinary reaction that doesn’t fit the situation be it a feedback on performance, an update on task or explanation of any work done/not done. The examples of these reactions are:

  • Being rude to the supervisor and not getting the job assigned done.
  • Negative perception and attitude towards co-workers.
  • Being overly emotional.
  • Punctuality issues and absenteeism.
  • Highly emotional variable attitude
  • Uneven work performance.

Defensiveness is the root to all these behavioral issues. That is, a desire to protect one-self from situations perceived as threatening. The most common example of a defensive person is an individual who is aggressively defensive, attacking or criticizing others to deflect undue scrutiny on his/her self. And extremely defensive employees will exhibit passive-defensive behaviors, fluctuating between being easy going and brutally aggressive.

Reasons of Defensiveness

There could be thousand of underlying reasons to make a person behaves the way he/she does. It may be rooted in a personal problem. For example an employee experiencing a bad relationship with their spouse that has them feeling trapped might decide to act out at work, being overly critical or negative and over sensitive to coworkers, customers or their boss. Or an employee might be dealing with lingering self-esteem issues because of abuse, either current or from their past.

The way people react to these problems is dependent on the individual personality. There are those who become defensive and there are those of course who cope quite well with their circumstances and continue to behave and perform to expectations.

How to Deal with Them?

Once you have learned about the skills needed to manage these employees your nine to five life is no more a hell to be. So no pulling of your hair now! Just follow these techniques and you will be all good with them. The first step is to understand the personality. Your defensive person might be a shark (narcissist who needs his or her ego boosted constantly), the ostrich (who listens but puts his or her head in the sand), the mule (who is stubborn as), the bear (who growls back with data designed to discredit your argument), and the skunk (who sprays you with something nasty when you confront him). Whatever their breed, here’s how to deal with them:

  1. Describe the consequences in terms of deteriorating teamwork, lack of productivity or impact on the customer.
  2. Instead of saying: “you this” and “you that”. Talk in “I” statements. “I would like”, “I agree”, “it would be helpful for me if…”
  3. Communicate your concern and be specific about the behavior you are observing.
  4. Analyze your own behavior. Remember, “You can’t change someone else’s behavior, you can only change your own behavior,”
  5. If your co-worker or manager is defensive about the most minor of comments, then understand that they probably perceive your actions to be far bigger than they are.
  6. Ask the employee for their perspective on the situation. Ask them what might be causing or contributing to the situation.
  7. Describe the expected behavior and ask how the employee will change to meet expectations. Ask if there is anything that you can do as the supervisor to help (avoid committing to things you cannot deliver).
  8. Tell your boss or co-worker how the behavior affects your ability to work. If what you’re saying is being misinterpreted it’s not going to help either of you.
  9. Remember that you do need to deliver criticism to employees at times. If the person is defensive, think of a way to make him or her feel safer. Instead of saying: “this doesn’t work”, say “This is a great start. I want to build on it”.
  10. Deal with it now. The sooner the better.

Though its difficult to handle ‘problem employees’ and they cause serious impact on performance. Knowing how to handle these situations can make the supervisor more confident and reduce stress.

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