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Emotional Intelligence

Developing Emotional Intelligence: Examples of Defensive Behavior

Individuals who are emotionally intelligent on a more ‘balanced’ or ‘rounded’ basis, tend not only to be more aware of their feelings but look to act upon them or channel them in a way that is appropriate to the circumstances. In fact, it can be said that they take full accountability for their own behavior without seeking in any way to make excuses or blame other people, when the consequences of their actions are seen to be unacceptable (or people respond in adverse or negative ways). Put simply, such individuals monitor their reactions and adapt or ‘engineer’ them as far as possible to ensure that their responses are reasonable in as many situations as possible.

This ability to manage our emotions can often boil down to dealing with our feelings of defensiveness when encountering some situations. These defensive behaviors can be recognized verbally as well as non-verbally. Non-verbal defensive behavior can have both passive and aggressive forms. The passive form typically involves crossed arms and/or legs (closed posture), rolling the eyes, shaking the head, frowning, flushed face, refusing to speak, fidgeting, turning away, looking away and walking away. The aggressive form may involve slamming doors, leaning forward and glaring, pounding a fist, or throwing something. Verbal defensiveness can be demonstrated by: attacking back, denying, explaining, raising voice tone, interrupting, dominating, repeating, swearing, arguing, rationalizing, and justifying.

In general, when people become defensive there are a number of steps they go through. They first approach the situation from their own perspective, whether or not they feel threatened or falsely accused. They then communicate this perception in a verbal and/or non-verbal manner. People can respond defensively in a number of different ways. This can be:

  • passively: to become quiet and/or withdrawn
  • aggressively: verbally or physically attack or judge and blame another person
  • assertively: establish clear boundaries and express what is wanted or needed

The last of these is the emotionally intelligent response of course and it is to this that we should aspire.

The featured video clip is a short excerpt from the ReadyToManage, Rapid Skill Builder eLearning program, Emotional Intelligence: An RSB eLearning Course.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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