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The Cost of Defensiveness

March 16, 2011

How much does defensiveness cost?  How much does it take out of your
budget at work?  How much is it, costs and all, tolerated in your organization?

Besides defensiveness being a source of frustration for others, you might
be surprised, maybe even shocked, if I told you that I believe most
organizations would experience less of a loss if they had an increase
in internal theft of 10%, than 10% in defensiveness.

defensive to change

Does defensiveness really cost that much?  What if we all had a meter
that monitored our defensiveness with others and we had to pay for
the cost incurred… what would that cost look like?  A dollar a minute,
$10/minute, sometimes $1k/minute, if you’re high up in an
organization it looks like $1m or more/minute.

Can we really afford it?  Although sometimes it’s easy to point the
finger at management when it comes to assessing the cost impact of
defensiveness, defensiveness can exist at all levels of the organization.
It exerts its cost at the top and the bottom, at the decision making
and at the implementing phase.

What does defensivess look like?  It may feel frustrating or comforting,
based upon whether you are on the receiving or giving end.  I encounter
defensiveness a lot in organizations.   You may as well, if you’re responsible
for improving processes and projects.   To me it regularly looks like a
blocking function, that reduces the ability to get things done. To be
defensive is to block, not integrate new data points; to stop listening to
feedback, to block what’s uncomfortable or that which we don’t want to hear.

I run into it partly because I’m involved in presenting and deploying new
management tools and processes as part of ManagePro.  It happened
this last week.  Gourville’s research at Harvard, predicts that
people I present to, will have the tendency to over-rate the current
tools and processes they use by a 300% factor, in the process of
defending why they should stick with the status quo and the costs of
doing business in a manner that’s comfortable for them.  He also predicts
that the presenter of new ideas and processes will have the tendency
to over-rate the value and ease of the new solution by 300% if they”re
not careful.

In the situation I was in, status quo means managing by email,
meetings and paper and pencil. There’s lots of unnecessary costs
incurred with those legacy tools.  I’ve seen it run into the millions on a
given day.  Were the people who were defending, and staying with their
defended position, blocking moving ahead… costing the company money?
You bet.  Stealing?… interesting way to look at it.  Might make
everyone have a different level of tolerance for defensiveness.

Defensiveness can look like a lot of things; blocking innovation,
over-valuing the past, the current, and what’s comfortable, even
exaggerating the value and benefit of change.  In every situation
it looks like two things to me, no three:

1. It looks like a departure from being realistic and to the extent
others are prompting for more realism, not listening and arguing
with those voicing that perspective, and in so doing, blocking progress
and plugging up the works.

2. It looks very expensive.  I’ve worked with two multi-billion dollar
companies recently.  Both have people in high positions, making
defensive choices that block progress with very large, but obscured,

3. It looks undiscussable. Most organizations don’t talk about it.
In fact I’ve never run into an organization that talks about it or has any
idea of how much the tolerance for defensiveness costs their profit margin
each year.  It’s not addressed, not measured, very costly and pervasive
in many organizations.  Interestingly, making defensiveness discussable,
and directly addressing the costs, though obscure, is often the important
first step in lowering the impact and prevalence in the work place.

Bottom Line:

Defensiveness is very expensive and an all-to-often pervasive trait in the
work place.  Gourville has even quantatized the effect of defensiveness
as it relates to the introduction or blocking of new software tools.   If
we had any idea of the cost involved, if we really saw it as stealing,
I don’t think we would be nearly so tolerant of it.  Making it open for
discussion and beginning to track the cost of it are two important steps
for reducing its impact at work and the ability to get more done.

10 Comments. Leave new

Forex Auto Trader
April 5, 2011 3:37 pm

This has been a very interesting read about The Cost of Defensiveness and, more important to me and an organization, what is Defensiveness. It seems to me that it is much like the butterfly effect and once not stopped on time the The Cost of Defensiveness and the Defensiveness of a person itself can be very destructive indeed. Leave alone the social aspects of it, nobody goes to work or, nobody owns a business rather to be social. It is the The Cost of Defensiveness which matters and, a lot of organizations probably do not know they are dealing with it. Great post. Thanks a million.

Tips and Tricks for Going to Court
April 11, 2011 2:22 am

There has become a great raising awareness for any confidence with a healthy work setting all around every specialized group. You will find occasions when a business features several business units along with a few workers below. Absence of organization along with organization frequently is out there between the personnel which often influence their particular unique performance and in return echo about the total efficiency of the corporation in the process. You will discover pursuits and also games that happen to be often planned in the typical program of company staff members. They are directed at getting a much better understanding as well as societal associations as well as functional synchronizing. These are generally all group adventures that may call for some persons to react collectively and even guide the other person to win in the tournament. You will find a lot of games that happen to be a significant part of the staff developing exercises. There are actually searching games like a treasure hunt. There are signs which can be provided on the time frame you possibly can synchronize and win the prize earning. These are generally many of the projects which will enhance a possibility to recognise and perform with each other. There is certainly a relevance that is realized in group work in these activities.


This is really a nice and informative report, specially to those starting their business.

Richard Carlos
September 2, 2011 8:09 am

I found this article to be thought provoking and can see where you are coming from.I can understand why people can be defensive in business, because taking risks takes a special type of person. However, I do think you ought to explain what you mean by defensiveness in business a little more clearly by giving specific scenarios in which it might occur.


Thanks for the comment, I agree, it would be better to give some illustrations. In a general sense, defensiveness is always some form of protection, which limits the ability to collobarate or dialogue directly. It’s a with-holding of information or assistance or simply presence in service of protecting an agency, an agenda or a person.


These descriptions sound a in a way like similar reasons which contribute to buyer resistance. It may not be a direct correlation, but I have witnessed first hand the drawbacks that buyer resistance can have on the progress of a business and consequently, on an entire industry. There are other factors of buyer resistance on the business level, but I think that defensiveness on the part of why some company decision makers refrain from trying new technology or innovative products or services.


I have seen defensiveness in the work place before from a supervisor of mine that just was not interested in hearing any ideas from his employees on how to do something better or easier. He was one of those “old dog cases which caused a lot of strife between him and his boss because she was young and innovative and always looking for the cost effective way to do things. I think he thought if things changed to much he wouldn’t be able to keep up and he would lose his job so he was very defensive when it came to change of any kind.


I found this subject very interesting because I believe I was guilty of being defensive while I was working as an employee and it cost me in terms of productivity, possibility for advancement, limited my cohesion with co workers and ultimately lead to me getting fired. My defensive attitude stemmed more from my not wanting to work for anyone, but having to do so, as well as an overall reluctance to interact more openly with coworkers because I was introverted by nature at that point in my life. From an efficiency standpoint, I was reluctant to communicate when I needed help completing a task which delayed its completion.


I appreciate how you give us such interesting information. This content is really awesome and I appreciate you for writing a fantastic article for many people. Thanks


Defensiveness can be a killer in today’s business world. If employees are defensive to the point of thinking they have job security because they don’t share what is going on with other employees this is only going to hurt the company’s production in the long run. You can’t be a team on keep secrets because you think it will save your job.


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