Defensiveness – what can this reveal?

Many of you know, I love the New York Times column, The Corner Office, with Adam Bryant.  A few weeks ago, Bob Brennan, of Iron Mountain, an information technology company, was interviewed. The title caught my eye, and the content stirred an opinion I had been forming over the past few years.

The key point I want to share in this post, from the many excellent points from the column, comes from a direct quotation from Bob in answer to Adam’s question of why ask introspective and emotionally delving questions when he hires people:

” The biggest organizational challenge I’ve seen in small, medium and large companies is this issue of defensiveness. I’m mowing your grass, and maybe I’m making you defensive through my line of inquiry, or because what I’m doing overlaps with what you do. It creates defensiveness in the system, and it’s a natural reptilian kind of response. That defensiveness is what over-amps corporate cultures. So you try to get defensiveness out of the system so that people are focused on achieving, learning and bonding. And that doesn’t mean that we have to go out to dinner, or go bowling. The point is, can I really take an interest in you, and you in me, because it’s meant to drive out the defensiveness that’s part of so many conversations. People want to achieve. People want to learn. Generally, people are driven to do pretty constructive things. People really want to bond, but there can be so many defense mechanisms in a corporate environment. So I try to break that down as we’re bringing people into the corporation, so that they feel they’re in a safe environment.”

The focus of this interview discussed the importance  of surfacing authenticity, purity of intention, and the desire for life-long learning.

I agree with Bob Brennan 100%. What I know from my own experience is that when folks get defensive, for whatever reason; communication is compromised, learning is stalled, and relationships are strained. There is a stark difference between passion and creating a culture which breeds defensiveness. I actually think this article may be one of my favorites of 2010 from The Corner Office. Worth a read  – and I really hope you will comment.