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Be Open, Not Defensive in Your Career

Have you ever joined a company, only to find out that the environment was not at all what you expected? Being in a new role is hard enough, but in a combative company culture, it can feel like shots are constantly being fired at you while you're juggling a learning curve and overwhelming expectations.

Be Open, Not Defensive in Your Career

Sometimes things get tense. You may even want to throw your resume back up on a job board and get out of town as fast as you can. But what if there is something vital you can take away from the experience? I’m not condoning toxic cultures or offensive confrontations. I’m simply saying that even though you can’t control how someone approaches you, you can control two things: how you respond and what you take away from the situation.

I remember being a new manager, preparing for a tense meeting about one of my team members. Going in, I knew that the delivery would be harsh and potentially offensive. I sat at my desk staring at a blank page in my notepad, readying my mind and attitude to receive feedback and apply it to my struggle as a new manager in a difficult situation. On the top of the page, I wrote B.O.N.D. (Be Open, Not Defensive) and then took a deep breath before heading in.

The meeting was everything I had dreaded, from direct questioning of my abilities to passive-aggressive insinuations. The difference was that I was prepared for it. I had decided that I would not explain, reason, excuse, or defend. I would be open and learn. Every time I felt those walls of defense go up, I reminded myself to look past the delivery into the message. I walked away from that meeting with new insight, inspiration and better equipped to handle the situation. In an unexpected twist, I also planted a small seed of rapport with the other person.

In truth, the delivery WAS off and I had every right to be offended. But honestly, the message was solid if I dug through the delivery into the meaning. Had I been defensive, I would have missed a growth opportunity. I would have continued to struggle with an ongoing personnel issue, which I was able to resolve after walking away from the meeting with new ideas. I had to set aside the feeling that I had something to prove and shift my mindset towards recognizing that I had something to learn. 

Throughout your career, you will encounter opportunities to grow in a variety of forms. Take advantage of every one of them, even if the delivery is not ideal. While someone’s delivery is beyond your scope of control, you can control your response. Sometimes, if you shift your focus to what is being said to you, not on how it is being said, you will discover little nuggets of wisdom hidden in the weeds that will make you better, stronger, and more prepared for what lies ahead. Be open, not defensive – in the end, it’s totally worth it.

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