Evaluating Your Own Defensive Attitudes & Behaviors:
A Map for Personal & Professional Growth

Based on the SELF (Self-Evaluation Learning Formula) personality measurement process developed by Sharon Strand Ellison

Introduction

In many self-measurement systems, people answers questions which force choices that ultimately put them in one category or another, defining what is often referred to as the person’s “style”of interaction. While the goals are to help people understand their own basic patterns and those of others (who may have different styles) better, too often people take the "style label" to heart and see the charactistics that showed up strongest in the test as their inherent nature. A classic example would be when one person says, “I’m analytical” and the other says, “I’m emotional." The label can becomes a reason to justify one's behavior rather than working to achieve greater balance.

The self-measurement forms can also be misleading, because the person who is identified as analytical may not have stronger analytical skills than the person who is identified as emotional. In fact, the person identified as emotional may have stronger analytical skills. The analytical person may simply pick choices on the test by preference for analysis over emotional responsiveness. Likewise the emotional person may simply choose emotional responses over analytical ones in circumstances presented in the test. Thus, one person can function at very high levels of competency in areas that don't show up as his or her style.

I have created SELF, a Self-Evaluation Learning Formula that gives each person a picture of the system of interactions between their various defensive and non-defensive attitudes and behaviors. It measures the strengths and weaknesses of many characteristics so that key patterns, often previously hidden, emerge. (See Exercise X, Examples)

While the exercises here for looking at your defensive and non-defensive attitudes and behaviors is not the SELF Workbook, you'll be able to evaluate some of your own strengths and weaknesses and determine some of what draws one or another out. All the information is about characteristics and patterns that can be changed—tempered or strengthened—in ways that build your character and integrity. These exercises can give you a guide for personal and professional growth.


Defensive Attitudes & Behaviors Exercises

The following exercises are designed to help you understand your own defensive and non-defensive patterns, how they interact and play out with different people and in different circumstances. You may even think of other ways to evaluate the patterns that are not listed here.

You can repeat the analysis of your defensive and non-defensive patterns periodically, perhaps once a year or more often if you want to measure changes you are making.

You can do any or all of these exercises alone or with one or more other people. If you do the exercises with others, you can (a) each do your own first (which I recommend) and then (b) compare and contrast your results and give each other feedback. Before comparing and contrasting, you can also do a second step, which is for each person to go through the same process and score the other person. Then, when you compare and contrast, you can see how your own view of yourselves compares with the other(s)' view. If you are considering doing the process with one or more people, it is advisable to read through all the exercises first before making a decision.

Doing the process jointly requires a commitment to each other's best interest, without any effort to help the other person change, or to be critical of how any one person scores her/himself or the other(s).


Selecting Your Strongest & Weakest Defensive Responses

One: Print out the Defensive and Non-Defensive Word Lists.

Two: Choose which of the two lists you wish to work with first.

Exercise One

Note from Sharon: I think it can be more instructive to work with our defensive characteristics before working with the non-defensive ones. However, when I work with groups doing the SELF Workshop, people often say that it can be a little depressing to look at the composite of their typical defensive reactions. Once they do the non-defensive part, they bounce back, often with enhanced awareness of their own positive characteristics. This is all to say that a realistic look at our patterns of defensiveness can "bring us down," and looking at the positive non-defensive patterns of reaction can "bring us up." I'll give the instructions for doing the defensive patterns first, but if you prefer, you can simply reverse the order.

Three — Option 1: Pick the three characteristics you believe are your strongest defensive reactions. "Strongest" can mean frequency of reaction and/or intensity. You can use your own judgment and intuition regarding which ones are strongest. Mark those three in the "5" column. You can color the whole line in, from 1 -5, or you can just put an X in the 5 column. I think you get a better visual if you color the whole row in with pen or colored marking pens.

Three — Option 2: Pick all of the characteristics you would say describe your strong defensive reactions. This is what people do when do the SELF program. It takes longer, but gives you a clearer picture of your patterns. As in option one, mark each one with an X in the 5 box or color the whole row in from 1-5.

Exercise Two

Four: Repeat the process in Step Three, using the same option you used previously. This time select the defensive responses you believe are your weakest ones, either in strength of reaction and/or frequency.


Analyzing Your Data

All of the exercises below are optional. You can also do one or two now and come back and do others later.

If you prefer, you can also switch now and identify your strongest and weakest non-defensive attitudes and behaviors and then do the exercise that compares and contrasts your defensive and non-defensive patterns.


Exercise One

Look at each strong response and determine which ones are passive and which ones are agressive. Some people discover that their strongest defensive attitudes and behaviors are all aggressive or all passive. Others find they have an interesting mix of passive and aggressive. The information may surprise you, even if you had a general idea of the results you might get.


Examples: As a key to the strength of certain patterns, look for clusters that reinforce each other. If you have several that reinforce each other, such as Demanding, Dominating, and Demeaning, then you have information that may mean you have a drive to control others. Add Revenge to it, and you may also have a desire to hurt people who try to resist your control.

Aggression can't be measured simply by how overtly aggressive your defensive reactions are. If your strongest reaction is Withdrawal, it might be in a cluster with Witholding, and Sullen, which can be an effort to control others, but through passive means. On the other hand, Withdraw might be more akin to Escape if it is attached to characteristics like Hiding and Indirect.

Observe Carefully: The more pieces of the puzzle you have, the more clearly you can see your own patterns because even Withdrawal, Hiding, and Indirect,could total up to Manipulative instead of Escape, so some careful effort is needed to think through the meaning of the patterns you see.

A Note from Sharon: I been surprised sometimes when I've thought a pattern meant one thing, then began to understand other motives I had been unconcious of or in denial about.


Excercises 2, 3, and 4 can be done separately at different times, or together as a unit.

Exercise Two

Part 1: You can rank your strongest defensive modes by scoring the most frequent with +1, the second most frequent with +2, and the third most frequent with +3.

Part 2: Analyze whether they are passive, agressive or a mix.

Part 3: Ask yourself questions such as, "Do I have a value system that prompts me to use one or more of these defensive modes? Do I see them as just part of my 'personality'? Do they seem effective in some way, perhaps for protecting me or getting what I need/want?"


Examples:

Value System Rationale: I get harsh when people aren't honest because I don't like dishonesty.

Personality Rationale: I'm just a spontaneous person, so I guess I blow up once in a while, but I get over it quickly.

Protection and/or Needs Rationale: If you don't demand what you need, you just won't get it. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.


Part 4: You can then decide which one you'd like to work on first. It may be the strongest one, but it might be number 2 or 3 that seems to you to make the most sense.

One key in this exercise is simply to name and then begin to observe the defensive reaction you picked. Being especially conscious of a particular reaction can help you more clearly see the impact it is having on you and on others, which provides a strong foundation for change; in fact, it may begin to happen almost without effort. On another note, it can still be quite a bit of work, I've found, to get rid of my "favorite," or shall I say my most "automatic" defensive reactions.

Part 5: If you have someone you'd feel comfortable asking for help, you can find ways that person can cue you or bring it to your attention when they see that reaction in you. It's important that they don't take on the role of getting you to stop; rather, they just act as a second observer.


Exercise Three

This exercise has only three parts because you don't use these defenses.

Part 1: Go through the same process with the defensive characteristics you are least likely to use, and rank them, -1, -2, and -3 with 1 being the least used.

Part 2: Analyze whether they are passive, agressive or a mix.

Part 3: Ask yourself questions such as, "Do I have a value system that prevents me from using any of these? Do they just seem ineffective to me? Do they not fit with my 'personality'" ?


Examples:

Value System Rationale: I would never be vindictive, it's against my values.

Personality Rationale: I'm not always totally direct and honest because I don't want to hurt people's feelings.

Protection and/or Needs Rationale: I withdraw from conflict because I'm not willing to get into an argument; it's not productive.


Exercise Four

Compare your +1 to your –1; your +2 to –2 and your +3 to –3 and see what insights you gain. Look for pairs that seem to fit logically. Look also for pairs that seem contradictory.


Examples: A pair that seems logical might be +1 Demanding and -1 Withdrawal because, at least on the surface, someone who is demanding might seem unlikely to be withdrawn.

If you have +1 Demanding and -1 Dominating, that might seem a little more contradictory because one might expect a demanding person to be somewhat dominating. What it might mean is that your demanding characteristics come more from impatience than from a need to control others. Much can be learned by comparing and contrasting your most- and least-used defenses.


Selecting Your Strongest & Weakest Non-Defensive Responses

Repeat some or all of Exercises 1-4, the ones you did for selection and analysis of your defensive attitudes and behaviors. Simply go back and do the same steps, only this time focus on the Non-Defensive Attitudes and Behaviors Word List.

In this case, if you are strong on characteristics such as Respect and Accomodation, but weaker on Honesty and Directness, then you may find some weakness with regard to being assertive hidden in your non-defensive patterns.

As you do this exercise, it is important to be honest with yourself about your strengths, so you can honor them and gain confidence from them.


Comparing and Contrasting Defensive & Non-Defensive Patterns

Once you have completed at least the first exercise and/or as many others as you like, then compare and contrast your defensive and non-defensive attitudes and behaviors in four ways.

Exercise Five

Compare and contrast your strongest defensive attitudes and behaviors to your strongest non-defensive attitudes and behaviors. This can often lead to surprises.


Example: For example, being Demanding might your strongest defensive characteristic and Compassionate your strongest non-defensive characteristic. This explains why peope sometimes label someone as a very “compassionate person" sometimes and as a very "demanding person" other times. Is only one of the labels true? If both are true, how do being compassionate and demanding interact in your relationship patterns? If you look at such patterns, the relationship between defensive and non-defensive aspects can offer many insights. One possible one is that being demanding and compassionate may both be related in some way to being very proactive.


Exercise Six

Compare and contrast your weakest defensive attitudes and behaviors to your weakest non-defensive attitudes and behaviors. More surprises.


Example: You might not be Vindictive, but you might also not be Forgiving. They are different, but to not forgive may, in some circumstances, be a form of vindictiveness.


Exercise Seven

Compare and contrast your strongest defensive attitudes and behaviors to your weakest non-defensive attitudes and behaviors. Also very interesting.


Example: You might find you are very Demanding, but weak on being Timely. Now you have information about a double standard. When you need something, you are demanding, and when others need something, you are not quickly forthcoming.


Exercise Eight

Compare and contrast your strongest non-defensive attitudes and behaviors to your weakest defensive attitudes and behaviors. This one can show ways in which


Example: You might not be Vindictive, but you might also not be Forgiving. They are different, but to not forgive may, in some circumstances, be a form of vindictiveness.


Comparing and Contrasting Your Defensive & Non-Defensive Patterns to Another Person's Patterns

Exercise Nine

Think about each of your strongest defenses in the context of various relationships. Do you use all of them equally with everyone or do you use some more, less, or not at all with certain people? What do the differences mean in terms of the various types of relationships?

You might choose one or more of the following:

• Your boss or manager, or any person above you in the workplace hierarchy
• A co-worker or peer
• Someone you supervise
• Your own intimate partner
• Each of your children
• Various friends
• Your father, mother, or other parent figure
• Anyone else who is significant in your life.


Examples: You might find you are more critical with one of your children than with another and possibility more withdrawn from another one. You might be a little more superior in your attitude with one friend and a more closed with another. Perhaps you get more sullen with one of your own parents and are argumentative with the other..


Exercises 10 is a natural follow-up to Exercise 9. Exercise 9 can be done without doing Exercise 10, but exercise 10 does not work well without doing 9 first.

Exercise Ten

Pick one of the people you identified in Exercise 5 and compare the defensive reaction(s) you use with that person with the one(s) you see her/him use with you — or even with someone else, if it is something that impacts you negatively. There are several options for doing this:

Option 1: Review the Defensive Attitudes and Behaviors Word List and pick the top 1, 2, or 3 behaviors of the other person that bother you the most.

Option 2: If you are working hard on an important, but difficult, relationship, you might want to do the whole process for that person that you have done for yourself. Again, the goal would need to be to work toward constructive change rather than proving how "bad" the other person is, or you'll only intensify any power struggles.

Option 3: If you and the another person would like to do the process together, as a means to a better relationship, you can each do your own process and then (a) discuss the results, comparing and contrasting and perhaps giving each other some feedback, or (b) each do your own process and then do the same for the other person, so when you compare and contrast, you have very specific imformation with regard to how you each see yourselves as compared to how you each see the other.


Examples: You might see acting Superior as your strongest defense and your partner, for example, might see being Controlling as your strongest defense. Then you can look at the relationsihp, if any, between your superiority and the impact that might make other people feel controlled.

On the other hand, your partner might see her/himself as being Bored and you might see her/him as Self-Absorbed and therefore simply not involved unless the focus of attenton is on her/him. Now your partner can examine the relationship that might exist between her/his boredom and too much focus on self.


Conclusion

The goal in this process, as mentioned in the introduction, is to gain greater skill and insight into the defensive and non-defensive patterns that determine the strength of our own character and the quality of our relationships, as well as our capacity for continued emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth — so our capacity for being responsive to others, doing our work with great competence, and being stimulated to think more expansively are integrated with our value systems. Understanding our patterns can be a springboard for exponential growth — quantum leaps to new ways of being.


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Powerful Non-Defensive Communication is a trademarked name. © 1994-2016 Sharon Strand Ellison

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