Full, balanced, adult conversations include disagreement. Yet there’s a fine line, as too much disagreement can spill into an explosive cycle of ‘defend/attack’.

Sharing a true story of an Exec who planned the revenge attack for 6-weeks, here red10 ‘s Kirsten Campbell explains how to spot it and act differently.

We Need Disagreement

We all know that disagreeing is needed for full, balanced, adult conversations and meetings.

But did you know that Disagreement is one of Rackham’s 11 observable BlueGreenRed Communicating Behaviours that can be reliably spotted and measured?

And did you know that when Disagreeing is used too much in general, or is measurably high between particular individuals, that it runs the risk of spilling over into Defend/Attack ?

Defend/Attack: One of Rackham’s 11 observable Blue-Green-Red Communicating Behaviours

A Reminder of the Definitions

Disagreeing : a behaviour which involves a conscious and direct difference of opinion, or criticism of another person’s expressed ideas or information statements and includes some reasons for the difference.

Blue behaviours are good and needed but can be overused.

Defend/Attack : a behaviour which attacks another person, or defensively strengthens an individual’s own position. Usually involving value judgements, they often contain emotional overtones.
Red behaviours are not useful.

In short, Disagreeing is about the topic and defend/attack is when we get off the topic and it becomes personal.

A Typical Example of When Disagreement Turns Into Defend/Attack

Kate: I don’t see it like that, I think we have lots of options. Disagreeing
Dan: Where is your evidence, as I am not seeing any other option that this one? Seeking information
Kate: Well open your eyes, we are surrounded by them. Attack 
Dan: There’s nothing wrong with my eyes Defend
Dan: I think your ears are the real problem here! Attack 

And watch it explode!

When Defend/Attack behaviour ignites it is like a downward spiral that seems to take off and takes on a life of its own, often it is unexpected and impacts significantly.

When it occurs, it’s safe to say we have moved out of professional adult behaviour. At worst It can leave long lasting damage between individuals and at least unnecessary awkwardness for the other parties involved in the conversation.

Biding Their Time for Six Weeks

During one of my earliest experiences it the board room I observed one senior Exec Defend/Attack and verbally go for the jugular of another Exec, who in response defended but did not attack , I was impressed to see this restraint.

However, what I wasn’t expecting was that it became obvious at the next board meeting 6 WEEKS LATER that the attacked Exec had just been biding their time and that was when they came back with their attack.

Talk about seriously unhelpful behaviour!

The Good News and Tips

The good news is that of all the 11 communicating behaviours that we measure, Defend/Attack is the least occurring of all.

Most of us seem to intuitively get where the line is.

However, if you are ever in doubt about whether you are in danger of taking the low road, ask yourself this:

Is my point disagreeing with the topic or am I making this personal?

We don’t usually regret taking the high road.

And the perfect antidote? It’s Testing Understanding – article coming shortly.