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Men & Self-Protection


This week, I want to address the topic of self-protection with a focus on men: how they think about their job identity and interact with others at work quite differently than women. It’s critical for self-awareness and social understanding that we know how our behavior impacts others by learning about all vantage points and experiences.


As an executive coach for 27 years, I’ve had the privilege of working closely with men in pursuit of leadership growth, team development, accelerated career potential, and personal effectiveness. Through this process, I have examined the “armor” — a.k.a. the habitual ways of thinking, listening, speaking, and doing — used to protect themselves as they navigate the sometimes treacherous, and often unpredictable, dynamics of work.

From a young age, they were taught to never show weakness or vulnerability. For generations, there was a lot of pressure from society to be the breadwinner and the provider, with success measured by status, money, and the accumulation of material things. This societal pressure, along with traditional gender norms, required men to be strong and self-sufficient, leading to protecting themselves and avoiding situations where they could potentially lose face, authority, or power.

While I empathize with this instinct to self-protect, I have also witnessed how constant “armoring up” keeps relationships feeling shallow, limits career opportunities, and sometimes leads to the very failure they were avoiding the whole time.

Allowing the Man Behind the Armor to Step Forward

The world has experienced a colossal change in the last 20 years. It has become one where more is expected at work and inside of relationships. This culture change asks for a new set of skills and a new mindset: one that requires vulnerability, authenticity, and emotional intelligence. The workplace is evolving with an emerging blend of masculine and feminine leadership, the need to collaborate, and the shedding of old hierarchical values. Intimate partnership and marriage are being examined and redefined as everyone is considering how to honor themselves and each other differently. Men are being invited to step outside of their comfort zone to show up in more open, less guarded ways.

Here are the most common ways I have noticed men self-protect:


Silence

Many men wear silence as armor, avoiding confrontation or expressing true feelings, concerns, or hard truths when it feels unsafe to do so.

Avoidance

This includes avoiding conflict, shutting down or repressing strong emotions instead of expressing them, and denying or withholding information to delay or completely avoid an uncomfortable situation where he feels he either can’t win, can't solve the problem, or can't make the other person “happy."

Deference

Notably, men have been trained through sports, clubs, and tribal male relationships to honor position and rank. In corporate environments, it is common and often politically appropriate to defer a decision to an executive, give credit to your boss, or allow someone with a “higher pay grade” to take on a resource battle. This can be both protective armor and an avoidance tactic.


Defending

Many men develop the urge to always be on the defensive at a young age due to repeated criticism of their emotions or behaviors. This can create a loop of criticism and defensiveness that persists into adulthood, leading to a constant need to protect the self from real or potential negative feedback or rejection.

Aggressiveness

This may show up when a man feels a need to assert his authority, actively attempt to control or prevent mistakes by others, and guard against any perceived threats.

It’s worth mentioning that these tactics and habits have worked for decades. It preserved your status and income, increased political capital, and often ensured people were rewarded for adhering to the cultural rules of your organization and industry. But today, the armor both women and men are using to protect themselves is most likely holding us back. As the world changes, so should all of our mindsets.

Letting your guard down can be a daunting process, but it takes courage to be more thoughtful, expressive, and vulnerable to build stronger relationships — and ultimately a better workplace.

If you missed last week’s blog and our free downloadable workbook, you can access it here:

If you would like to share this with a man in your life, please direct him to my blog on Medium.

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