BLUF: What recommendations to you have for being approachable when people ask questions? Alternatively, what behaviors do you find defensive when asking someone questions?

Situation: I've been told by a coworker that I am not approachable when she asks questions, and that I am defensive. I haven't necessarily received this feedback from others. The coworker with the feedback is a High D/C mix; so am I. I am not sure what I am doing that is causing her to provide that feedback, and in the interest in having a good relationship, I would like to figure this out. She believes that providing the feedback that I'm defensive is enough (I've asked what behavior I did that cause her to think that).

I don't have a trusted peer or boss that I can ask for observation and feedback. I am hoping that there are some tips for being approachable OR behaviors that are found defensive so that I can figure out for myself what I'm doing.

techmgr's picture

Suggestions from a fellow high D/C. This has been a struggle for me as well. Put aside the specific "defensive" comment. Start focusing on your specific behaviors, the mechanics of what you do and say, when someone approaches you. I can easily forget to smile, and I think my default facial expression is puzzlement, which people read as a look of "what's your problem". So I came up with a formulaic routine that's easy to memorize. Whether it is in person or on video chat or the phone. No matter if it's a peer, or someone a step below me, a direct, etc. I do the same thing every time.

1) I sit up, or stand, square and open up my body to face them.

2) I smile really big.

3) If they start by asking me "how are you?" I immediately say "Great! Thanks!" 

4) Then I ask "what can I do for you!?!"

This is a formula that puts me in receptive mode, and signals to others that I'm really listening. This takes care of my voice, my words, my body language, my facial expression. And it takes away all the awkwardness. I hate being interrupted, but I don't want them to know that. I know it sounds goofy, like I'm overdoing it. But I'm an introvert, and very reserved. I have to really punch it up a notch at work. I get really good responses from people when I follow this formula. And when I don't do this, I know right away that I messed up, and at least I can catch myself quickly with an apology and reset the conversation. Hope this helps, Jeanne 

slpenney's picture

I love this method - I use it too.  This particular person sits next to me and bounces questions over all day long.  I do use this with others; maybe I should try it the next time she ping pongs questions over to me and see if it works here too.  I've gotten out of the habit of using it with her because of our physical proximity.  Maybe that was a mistake.

jasminer's picture

Can you give a couple of examples of what questions she asks and what your answers are? The above advice is really good if your body language is in fact the problem, but there might be issues with the words you use as well. Maybe you're using the 'but' too much, or the answers you give are too direct and come off as abrasive. Maybe you're getting to the point too quickly and she wants you to elaborate and explain things more.

slpenney's picture

It is likely body language.  Here's the type of questions I got recently that caused her to say it:

  • Do you think that people know what they need to prepare for the meeting?  (Yes, the action items list that they are expected to review their area of the program and bring the procedures that met the requirements expected.)
  • What are you expecting the result to be?  (I expect that some people are going to have procedures and others won't.  I'm okay with that because the last item is a gap analysis and action plan to address it.)
  • Did you consider X action instead of Y?

Based on conversation with her, I know she is trying to "help" this project where we over lap, and that she doesn't understand the action items assigned to her.  When she asked about it, I felt that I was answering the question, but not defensively.

This is a peer, not a boss.  I haven't asked for any of this feedback and she is trying to "help out" by providing it.  I'm the admin on a program that has vague requirements, ergo frustrating; I've met with the participants individually to review expectations, albeit a while ago.

jasminer's picture

Then I think the body language assessment is fair, especially if you were engaging in other behaviours before that were working.

To give some context, I'm a high S/C and so when I ask someone a question, I'm usually looking for more discussion, reasons, context, justifications, etc. So if someone who communicates more directly gives a shorter answer, it can come across as an attempt to shut down a discussion. Which reads as defensive, like it's something you aren't willing to talk about. Sometimes it makes me feel like they're saying: 'Question answered, you can go away now.' I also get this feeling if I'm never asked to provide any input. If they give their answer but don't provide me the opportunity to contribute.

For the first question, if I were asked it, I would have probably added something like: 'Is there anything you think people might be missing?'

For the second question, maybe she was seeking more specific detail/instructions that weren't provided? You say the requirements are vague, that makes people like me uncomfortable. She could have been making an attempt to hammer out details with you so that she is more clear on the goals.

For the last question, I don't know what your response was, she again might have been seeking opportunity to provide input. If your answer was simply 'Yes I considered it, here are reasons A, B, C why it won't work/isn't important/whatever else could've been said', that again feels like an attempt to shut down discussion. To change that, I would add something like 'What were your considerations for X instead of Y?' Maybe she had reasons to consider it that you didn't think of, and she wanted the opportunity to discuss those with you.

I could be totally wrong because I have no idea how this peer communicates typically. This is just how things can come across to someone like me who is not as direct or assertive like a high D/C.

jasminer's picture

An addendum, I totally misread your OP and didn't catch that your coworker is in fact a high D/C as well. So not much of what I said is likely to apply. Ah well. Something to think about, anyway, at least with other people.

slpenney's picture

Actually, your post helped me see that I was communicating in our "normal" method, and she had shifted into her C/S role which she feels she should do in the group at times (for various reasons that I'm aware of, but not stating.)

There are some department structure issues at play here too.  She isn't the boss, but frequently assumes responsibilities.  This was a situation where she was doing that and I hadn't picked-up on it to adjust my responses.  It definitely something I can do in the future.

jasminer's picture

Oh good! I'm glad :) Keep us updated, I hope you can find a way to adjust that will ease the tension.

slpenney's picture

Helpful, thank you!  There's definitely some ways that I can adjust my answers.

I definitely use "Yes, I considered it, and here are the reasons."  I also get feedback from this person that I am not decisive when I use a format like "What where your considerations?" (it's a little catch-22, I fully realize.)  I had not thought about the "Yes, I considered it" as defensive because I meant it to show that I was decisive.

This is a peer that I can point out her contradictions when that happens.  I find her very challenging to work with, and a growth opportunity for myself.

techmgr's picture

I haven't been as successful here as with improving my initial greeting. Ive gotten better by practicing the guidance in the MT cast about not disagreeing. I've eliminated the word 'but' for example. Keep smiling. Say words like "ok" or "right". Try to eliminate the responses that you know aren't the best. I think it's ok to not always have the right answer and to just say, let me think about that, or to ask that you continue the conversation later because you are busy, if you feel that the moment is about to be lost. Exude respect for her opinion in your voice, face, body language. Say "thanks" a lot. I do think some people view anything other than full agreement with them on the spot as being defensive. It's possible that nothing you say is going to work really well when it comes to conversations with her. The goal can be to have better discussions. And see if over time you can improve the relationship. Did I already say to smile a lot?

dana's picture

Replying to upvoting this comment - you need to smile *a lot*. If you are D/C and you think you are smiling a lot? You are probably smiling 10% as much as you need to be smiling. And remember to smile with your eyes. Act like you REALLY like your coworkers. Act like their questions are the BEST part of your day. Be like a labrador retriever. For a high D/C that might get you to 50% :)

slpenney's picture

Hi, all,


Thank you again for the feedback and suggestions.  The relationship definitely has been better lately (or at minimum, my perception of it is that it has been better.)