Why MANY smart people defend themselves aggressively

The question: Have you seen any of your smart people defending them or their actions aggressively?

The BIG question: Have YOU defended yourself or your actions aggressively?

I was recently at a pitch session where one of the founders gave a sub-optimal pitch and got sub-optimal ratings for his pitch. His first reaction – the judges don’t know the space well enough to judge him. In other words, he was right and the judges were wrong. The person really believed in what he said. Really that belief was a bigger problem for me. The moment you defend and believe that you are right you close any avenues of improving yourself. If you are right, then what else is there to change, right?

I see this all this phenomenon all the time and I have been guilty myself several times.

Why do you think this happens – why do MANY smart people defend themselves aggressively for their own detriment?

Reflect on your own case if you are guilty of this crime.

Here are some reasons (in no particular order) and I am sure you can add a few more:

1. You want to avoid short-term pain: You need to defend arises only when there is an opposing point of view. You feel compelled to defend because, in your mind, not defending is to agree that your point of view was wrong. Admitting to that will immediately introduce short-term pain that you want to avoid BADLY.

2. You cringe on future pain associated with change: You are smart and you can see ten steps ahead. Not defending would also mean that you are required to “change” your viewpoints in the near future. That is pain waiting in the wings for you. You want to avoid the future pain so your best defense is to defend your point of view.

3. You want to “win” that game: Sometimes this becomes a game and being smart, you want to “win” that game. You end up trying to win even at the expense of actually “losing” it in the long run.

4. You (unnecessarily) make it personal: What they are opposing is your point of view. For whatever reason, the line between you and your point of view blurs and you make it personal. Once you make it personal, it goes downhill very fast in your mind first and then it goes downhill in reality.

5. You start focusing on the messenger: This is similar to #4 (where you thought the focus was on “you”) but here you start focusing on whether the messenger is qualified to give that message (opposing point of view). Your judgment on the message quality gets colored by your assessment of the competence and credibility of the messenger to send that message.

Now, how do you get out of this?

It is a two-step process:

1. Acknowledge: If you or someone you know can relate to this, the first step is to acknowledge that you (or they) are in a trap.

2. Stop taking yourself seriously: Checking your ego at the door is a (very) good thing