Learning is a challenging and complex business, it’s:
· An experience of identity
· Happens on the edge of not knowing
· Can be uncomfortable
Everything that has happened in your learners lives (their acquired frame of reference) right up until they come into your learning program has shaped what kind of learners they are. Whether they are open and up for the challenge. Or whether learning sends them into a spiral of insecurity and self-doubt resulting in a defensive learning style.
Defensiveness is defined as being overly sensitive to or reacting very strongly to perceived criticism. http://www.yourdictionary.com/defensiveness
Defensiveness is about self-protection – against threat, harm, embarrassment, ridicule, exposure. Protecting us from real or perceived threats is our brains’ most primal reason for being. It comes from deep within our lizard brain. The problem is that defensiveness also means it is highly unlikely that you can take in another point of view = not much learning is going to happen.
The walls of defensiveness need come down. And while the learner is the only person who can do this we, as learning facilitators, can help our defensive learners to:
· Feel safe
· Understand what this learning gig is all about
· Recognise their defensive triggers
· Improve their learning flow
· Develop their mindfulness so they can name what they are feeling and exercise ‘free won’t’ (I can feel in a particular way and choose not to pay it any attention)
What is Mindfulness?
The standard way to explain mindfulness seems to be to talk about intentional, accepting and non-judgement focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment.
That’s all well and good but what does it look like?
I like the following explanation from Dr Jeffrey M. Schwartz & Josephine Thomson, MCC (‘Mindfulness, The Brain and Business’, http://www.slideshare.net/mattrule/mindfulness-the-brain-and-business)
· An activity
· A state of mind (while it eventually can become a way of being and a state of mind, it does not start out that way. You can’t just be ‘in the zone’ without effort)
· Awareness (what is happening right now)
· Focus (consciously directing your attention)
· Acceptance (you are not your brain)
Three links to find out more about Mindfulness:
You are not your brain, Dr Jeffrey M. Schwartz & Josephine Thomson MCC. http://www.slideshare.net/mattrule/the-4-steps-slides
Your Brain At work, David Rock. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-brain-work/200910/the-neuroscience-mindfulness
One moment meditation. http://youtu.be/F6eFFCi12v8
Frank called the other day to ask if I wanted to be a part of a small leadership think tank he was putting together. His organisation had been reviewing their leadership culture to look at what’s working well and what could be done better. Frank wanted to bring together a group of disparate people both from inside and outside the organisation to generate fresh insights and thinking.
Defensiveness is an aspect of his organisaitions culture that Frank’s leadership team have been working on for a couple of years now. While they have made progress, it continues to take up too much cultural space - what else can they do to build more trust and reduce defensiveness both horizontally and vertically?
At the Think Tank, Frank brought a copy of an email he had sent to his people thanking them for a great year and ending with the rallying cry ‘lets take it up a notch next year!’ While I thought it was a well-intentioned email it did leave me with a question: what does ‘take it up a notch’ mean? I wondered how the people would interpret this? Would it just seem like more management weasel words like ‘work smarter not harder’?
So I asked Frank – ‘what does ‘take it up notch mean?’ Frank looked surprised, he explained: 'it was just meant to encourage people to do even better next year…he didn’t go into the detail in the email because he didn’t want the email to be too long – most of the readers would understand what he meant'.
Straight away one of Franks colleagues, Dave (another manager), jumped in to reassure Frank: ‘Mate, I really liked your email, I thought it was really well written and I knew exactly what you meant’.
Frank then looked at me with a degree of relief in his eyes: ‘Dave understood the email, I think the email was fine: take it up a notch just means take it up a notch. Nothing wrong with saying that and as we get into the year the managers will work with their teams to work out how they are going to take it up a notch’.
Sensing that in Frank’s mind the conversation had ended; I couldn’t just let it go. I was interested that no-one was interested in the question itself; instead the focus was on Frank avoiding criticism by justifying himself, which was very ably supported by his colleague Dave.
So I asked Frank if he was being defensive? A timely question I thought as we had just been talking about the defensive culture of his organisation :)
Frank looked stunned! ‘No he wasn’t being defensive he was simply explaining why he wrote the email the way he did’.
Giving and receiving constructive feedback is a tricky business. I probably should have asked Frank if I could give him some feedback rather than just asking the question unannounced. It might have helped him be more open to the question. Having said that we all need to get better at receiving constructive feedback without becoming defensive. Don’t make excuses. Don’t justify. Just accept the feedback when it comes and in the spirit that is intended. You can work out what to do with it later.
When people give feedback they’re sharing their view of the world. It might give you a valuable insight; then again, it might not. But if you aren’t able to accept constructive feedback with an open mind you’ll never know.
Behaving in a way that shows that you feel people are criticizing you
Very anxious to challenge or avoid criticism.
"he was very defensive about that side of his life"
Synonyms:self-justifying, oversensitive, thin-skinned, easily offended, prickly, neurotic; uptight, twitchy
Really excited to be preparing for a PRISM Brain Mapping session I’ll be running next week with a group of professional problem solvers who want to become a great problem solving team.
So we're going to: