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Building Up the Walls Against Adaptability (a.k.a. Defense Mechanism)

Wednesday, March 2, 2022
Author: Business Consultants, Inc.

Building Up the Walls Against Adaptability (a.k.a. Defense Mechanism)

Fiona had just finished the eeting she was supposed to with Larry. As her manager for the past year she knew ahead what this was all about. As usual, Larry had "improvement ideas", she told herself in a sarcastic tone. This time, Larry proposed changing the process. "Now, Larry, I understand you have some brilliant ideas. Yet, don't you think it is a bit revolutionary to change how things have been going for the past five years?", Fiona recalled in her head how she replied to Larry's suggestions. The meeting with Larry went on for almost ninety minutes. Larry did submit lots of good ideas, Fiona admitted to herself.

However, she couldn't get herself to accept any of those ideas. Fiona however didn't feel. This was not the first meeting with a team member where she refuses the ideas. In the beginning, she used to refuse even the discussion of such improvement thoughts. Now, she had to agree to do the meetings as her boss told her she was not listening well to team members and that she was brushing their ideas away without even discussing them. Therefore, she has trained herself to do the meeting, discuss the thoughts, and refuse the ideas in the end. A longer path, yet, leads to the same result.

However, this time, Larry hinted that she needs to rethink her flexibility. He told her “Fiona, holding on to the status quo will not lead to good results. The whole team agrees to this, even profit margins. You need to rethink your reasons for holding on to the old and current ways". The words took her by surprise. Why was she holding on to her ways? Why was she so defensive? She sat there and thought to herself...

What are Defensive Mechanisms?1

Defenses are the unconscious processes people employ to prevent themselves from experiencing unpleasant sentiments about themselves. They are only used when the unfavorable feelings about oneself are unconscious, by definition. However, this is only a momentary comfort because the bad feelings return whenever no defenses are in place.

How do Defensive Mechanisms Work?

Defense mechanisms are used to reduce unpleasant feelings, such as fear, and anxiety. However, as highlighted earlier, the feelings of relief are temporary. Yet, when we face a situation that we interpret as a lack of competence, significance, or likeability, our defenses emerge to protect us. That protection is what negatively affects our productivity. We assume a defensive stance, refuse the situation, and protect our ego and feelings that we presume are at stake. For example, when Larry proposed some changes to the system within the above case, Fiona refused. To the observer, and even to herself, it seems she's protecting the process, the flow of work, and quality. However, if Fiona took a deeper look into herself, her defenses would look back at her loud and clear.

"Just as a flaw in a lens distorts what is seen, so unresolved issues in my life distort the way I view the world"
- Will Schutz

Fiona is scared. Her defenses protect her from the fear she feels when she thinks she is incompetent. Fiona thinks she's incompetent because she didn't think of the ideas her team proposes first. She has been a manager for five years. Therefore, she has expectations that she needs to think of everything herself, come up with all the solutions and the new ideas herself. Hence, whenever a team member offers an idea, she turns it down instantly. Her defenses are working to protect her against those feelings of incompetence. However, they do not allow her to listen to various perspectives, improve her business, solve problems, and communicate with her team.

The more this cycle continues, the more her team distances themselves, the more the communication further breaks down, and the more her feelings of incompetence are assured as she receives comments from her boss regarding her management style. Hence, her defensiveness protects her instantly, yet, in the long run, it does ruin her competence and makes her illusions about being incompetent to life.

Therefore, it appears Fiona has a problem with being flexible and adapting to new ideas. Yet, the real problem is with her defensive mechanisms. This is what needs further probing.

Where do We Go from Here?

"The more self-aware I am, the more accurately I perceive others. When I am defensive, I am unable to see what is happening accurately and my effectiveness decreases."
- Will Schutz

The Human element offers us the Perpetual Accuracy Approach through:

The One Percent Rule

The one percent rule applies to various situations. Whether they are personal ones: someone giving you feedback about yourself that you disagree with, or when someone highlights a different approach, you might suppose they are attacking your ways of working or thinking.

When you're in a difficult position where someone is telling you something about yourself or your perspective that you think isn't true, Use the One Percent Rule: stop and think, "What if only one percent of what the other person is saying is true?" What would it be, exactly?

What does this mean in terms of your role in creating the scenario in which you now find yourself?

The One Percent Rule enables you to listen and learn more about yourself than if you entirely disregard what you hear.

As you can see, the One percent Rule works on activating your unconscious. As we mentioned earlier, when we are defensive, our unconscious is numb. It's in a state of not knowing. Therefore, when we stop and think and ask ourselves the above questions, we are bringing the unconscious into consciousness and allowing ourselves to draw from it as it gets further information into our awareness.

Working on defensive mechanisms is mainly about drilling down into our unconsciousness. It's the work of enhancing our self awareness and knowing more about those deep down thoughts and feelings.


1The Human Element, Part One, Cornerstone Participant Guide, BCon (Business Consultants, Inc)


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