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Submitted by matthmic on


I have a direct report that gets very defensive whenever he is asked for clarification on something or just simply asking him a question. From the DISC model, he is an "I". Any suggestions on how to manage someone with defensive behavior?

pucciot's picture
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For lack of a better phrase, Act Stupid...

You may wish to consider asking the question in a different way.

Don't lie or patronize the Direct, but you might get a better response if you make it sound to his ears that he is educating you.

It might sound something like this :

"I'm sorry, Roger, I'm not sure I'm getting the big picture of what you are trying to get across.  Could you please take a moment to explain a little more to me ? "


"Roger, you are the expert in this situation.  You know all the details about thing you are working on.  I'd really like to understand better. I'm willing to take a little extra time, if you could just go over some of these details with me, Please ?  --- Thanks "


I've found that "defensiveness" is  his problem.  It all has to do with him.  He might be  insecure about something related to the question.

It is best _not to guess_ what he is insecure about.  You might guess wrong.

It is best to set him a little bit at ease by making it seem like he gets to control more of the conversation.  


That he is helping you -

- not -  he is answering to you.

 That's my thought.


jib88's picture

Focus on behavior, and give friendly feedback on that (with a smile!).  To me, "acting defensive" is a characterization, not really a behavior you can point to. You'd probably get a 'defensive' response if you gave him feedback on being defensive. Focus on the behavior - not answering questions, acting agitated when someone asks questions, etc. It's easier to give feedback on that and just say that it's not effective, discourages interaction, etc.

Pucciot's advice above is good if you're asking him questions. I still think you will need to address this with feedback though as I'm guessing your direct will exhibit similar behavior to others as well.



naraa's picture
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 I think Pucciot's advice is great!! I didn't like the act stupid term, but it caught my attention.  You can think of it as bring him to safety which is the technique explained in crucial conversations book, and which acting stupid can be one way of achieving that.

I agree with Jib that acting defensive is a characterization.  If you are getting the answers you want, don't make a big deal out of it.  Emphasize you just need more clarification and if you keep positive soon he will get that it is just a question. 

High I's can go around in circles on their answers from a high D's point of view.  That could be perceived as being defensive.  If that is the case you can ask and explain how you want the answer.  Bottom line up front type of answer.  One way of doing that is to coach them to deliver the message they want within the first 30 seconds, and then deliver all the rest of the explanation they would like to share.  That is a great skill any high I should master to be effective with high D's!