How to overcome defensiveness at work?

Imagine something bad happened at work. Someone messed up and now the whole team suffers. Morale is low since everyone in the team got reprimanded and they feel that it is not their fault and it is someone else’s fault.

Suppose you are the manager in-charge and you are given the mandate to fix things. What kind of questions will you ask to solve the issues at work?

Do bear in mind that the quality of questions you ask will determine the quality of answers you get.

For most people, they will tend to ask diagnostic questions like:

  1. What happened?
  2. Who is involved?
  3. Who did it?
  4. What lead to this?
  5. How can we prevent this from happening?

The issue with asking these questions above is that you could find people in the team blaming each other, making statements like “Well, this person shouldn’t have done this” or “Its all because of this person…” in fact, someone could say, “if only they listened to me…” In most situations, it can degenerate and result in people getting defensive or upset with each other.

What if the language patterns change?

What if you could solve the issue without making people defensive? What if you could also get team members to feel empowered in co-creating solutions with you? Will it help the team move forward to fix issues without blaming someone? Would that be useful to you?

Here is where being solution focused comes in. In the numerous programs that we have trained people in, we teach our participants to ask a different set of questions and be able to solve the issue at hand.

  1. What would you have preferred instead?
  2. Suppose we had what you wanted, what difference will it make to you? What will you notice will happen to the team?
  3. On a scale of 1-10, where do you think we are right now?
  4. What does one level higher look like to you?
  5. What do we need to do right now to move to there?

Not surprising, when you start asking the 2nd set of questions, you will notice that people don’t get defensive, they actually participate in solution building and not lay blame.

In fact, we tried this with professionals and leaders and the results are the same. They all come out with a sense of clarity and that issues are solved really fast in an encouraging way. They become solution focused and not problem focused. This is important to teams of people to help them take quick action steps to move things forward, rather than get stuck in certain situations.

It is my strongest conviction that individuals in the team must be solution focused in their interaction with each other.