Quit playing football at work.

I am all but sports illiterate. By all rights, I have no business making a sports analogy. And yet…. here I go! It’s just irresistible.

sketch of a football

I think I once heard that American football involves a bunch of big men in tights getting a ball from one end of a field to the other, right? And to do this, the team with the ball comes up with defensive strategies in order to guard against the other team taking the ball and carrying it to their side of the field. See, even I can get the basics!

Maybe I understand this because the pattern is all too familiar.

I know all about defensive strategies. Remember that whole thing about how the brain’s job is to keep you alive at all costs? Well in an era where the most dangerous thing most of us do is drive a car, the threats we perceive on a daily basis are more esoteric. Being ostracized is a big one, for example. Human animals cannot survive in the wilds of an office alone!

A sketch of someone being left out of a gorup

So we create our own defensive strategies when our poor unwitting officemates or staff give off even a whiff of a suggestion that we’re not smart enough, or on the ball, or whatever else they might think or say.

Everyone does this from time to time, but some of us do it all the time. The problem with these strategies is that they aren’t typically effective means of reaching our goals.

The best defensive strategy is teamwork.

There’s no way to stop yourself from being overly defensive if you’re not paying attention to your own behavior. Many of us aren’t, because it’s difficult to maintain a state of constant attention. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying! Mindfulness is almost always step one, but watch yourself. That first step is a doosie!

Once you’ve come to a place where you can consciously notice yourself having the urge to DEFEND YER BALL, try to remember what got you into that situation in the first place: the fear of being left out, of being thought less of by others, of failing them. One sure way to make friends with that feeling and honor it instead of struggling with it is to make space for it. Go ahead and give it a nod, but then go about the business of doing what needs to be done in that situation.

Usually this will involve exposing yourself to your coworkers in some way. Not THAT kind of exposing! Come on now!  No, I mean exposing yourself by either directly voicing your concerns or needs, or by engaging in the very activity that brought up your fears in the first place.

Oh boy, this can feel very awkward and uncomfortable! It’s the very opposite of what that ever helpful brain is urging you to do. But I promise you that the best way to get your ball where it needs to go is to thank that crafty brain you’ve got, and refocus your actions toward your goals. Regardless of the discomfort. What’s more, the moment you show those seemingly fanged co-workers your soft underbelly is the moment they are most likely to become cooperative instead of attacking. It’s amazing. Give it a try!

It’s not them, it’s us.

When the tables are turned and you’re dealing with someone at work who seems constantly on the defensive, it can be absolutely exhausting and infuriating. One way to get through it is to consider the situation from this angle. People only defend what’s most precious to them. The more precious it is, the more protective we get. Recall that when you yourself behave defensively, it’s because you’re afraid of something. So if this person is constantly defending, that means they are constantly afraid. That’s sad and difficult for them, no?

I’m not suggesting that you should try to solve whatever ails this person, but do try to treat them with a bit of grace. They’re locked in a mortal battle internally, and as you may know from experience, it’s hard to be at your best when you’re struggling inside.

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