How to deal with a defensive employee or manager

Got a defensive employee, colleague or manager? That’s great news. 

It's great news because defensive people can be managed to bring the best out in them. Once you’ve learned the people skills needed to manage your defensive employee or boss, you’ll benefit for the rest of your working days.

So don’t tear your hair out. We’re about to make your time from nine to five a whole lot easier.

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:

Employee: Learn about assertive behaviour, it can help with difficult people. Being assertive is very different to being aggressive. Instead of saying: “you this” and “you that”. Talk in “I” statements. “I would like”, “I agree”, “it would be helpful for me if…”.

Manager: Find out what the issues are says Colin Mathieson, managing director at Alpha Recruitment. Does the staff member feel threatened, criticised, blocked or something else?

Employee: Analyse your own behaviour. Even if you feel the problem is your micromanaging boss’s, you might be able to build bridges by changing the way you behave. “You can’t change someone else’s behaviour, you can only change your own behaviour,” says Mathieson.

Manager: Talk to your employee about how the dynamics of the team work. Some people can’t see beyond themselves as individuals and don’t see where they fit in.

Employee: 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. 

Manager: If your employee thinks you've treated him or her badly it’s best to get it out in the open quickly.

If your employee thinks you've treated him or her badly it’s best to get it out in the open quickly.