Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Four Defense Mechanisms We Use

I'm currently taking a class on building effective ministry teams at Rockbridge Seminary, and this week we're looking at building collaboration and trust. Handling disagreement well is a crucial factor for effective teams, both at work and in ministry settings.

Herrington, Bonem and Furr have written an excellent book called "Leading Congregational Change" In the chapter on Enabling Team Learning they discuss 'defensive routines' which "keep the team from fully and openly exploring an issue." They give four of the most common as:
  1. The logical put-down - a strongly analytical person may imply that everyone would see if their way if only they could just think clearly and logically.
  2. Passionate discourse - when a persuader uses force of personality and persistence to convince the group to accept his point.
  3. Peace-keeping - a conflict avoider tries to keep the group from expressing honest (and sometimes passionate) differences of opinion.
  4. Hurt-feelings - a silent person refuses to acknowledge hurt feelings, and shuts down, disengaging from the dialogue.
These defensive routines undermine the team's ability to work together effectively and to learn. Effective leaders work with the team to identify these routines, and help people modify counter-productive behavior. They also model more effective behavior and keep the dialogue alive when others try to curtail it, or derail it.

As I thought about this lesson, the Bible verse on not letting the sun go down on your anger came to mind (Eph 4:26). Looking at the context of this verse, the whole chapter 4 is so applicable to these defensive routines, and team effectiveness. The theme of the chapter is unity in the body of Christ. The same unity we sometimes confuse with artificial harmony, a mere absence of visible conflict. We're called to be humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love (4:2), making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. BUT (vs 7) each one of us is different, with different gifts, for different purposes. Different service in service of the same One, for the purpose of building up the body until that day when we all reach unity in the faith and in knowledge of the Son. As we do this, speaking the truth in love (vs 15) we grow up. Therefore (vs 25) each of us must put off falsehood, speak truthfully, and in our anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. How often do we let conflicts fester sometimes? Days, months, years?

The passage continues, Ephesians 4:29 - "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it might benefit those who listen." If that verse were applied consistently we would not see much of these defensive routines. Steamrolling by persuasion isn't according to the needs of others. A logical put-down may be speaking the truth but not in love. Shutting down in anger ignores verse 26 to address hurt and anger without delay. Peacekeeping is strong on love but weak on truth, and weak on allowing the body to be built up.

It's fairly easy to spot defensive routines when other people use them? Sad to say, I know I use all four from time to time. How about you, what defensive routine do you use?

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