IMAGINE you have an inner defence lawyer ready to defend yourself from the world of people making demands on you. This character protects you from challenges to your stability, even if those challenges could help you grow. To do this, your inner lawyer uses what psychologists call “ego defence mechanisms”.

People use such mechanisms to protect their position, particularly if they are fearful or uncertain about the security or consequences of change.

Moving yourself or your people towards more profitable productivity requires changes that are often met with these psychological barriers challenging the need to do things differently.

Being aware of barriers — such as the use of defence mechanisms — helps you to overcome them. Seeking answers to questions increase awareness. Among the many ego defence mechanisms that people use, three are denial, rationalisation and intellectualisation.

1. Denial

This is simply convincing yourself that a problem does not exist. This defers the pain of the problem to a later time when the problem might end up being much worse.

Procrastination is a form of denial designed to give immediate certainty by succeeding at an irrelevant and probably simpler task than the one that should be done. The problem with denial is that it takes a “wake-up call” for you to notice that you are in denial.

2. Rationalisation

This is where you create a very logical and believable reason to explain a negative occurrence or outcome rather than the real reason.

Blaming the victim or favouritism for missing a promotion opportunity might be a rationalisation that defends your own poor performance. Only when you begin to increase your awareness of your own contribution to inefficiency can you come up with new solutions.

3. Intellectualisation

This is where you remove yourself from the emotion of a situation and focus on the facts and the processes instead. Doctors portrayed on television shows exemplify this.

Intellectualisation occurs when you defend ineffective actions to satisfy your need for certainty and control. This results in you maintaining your position, thereby not changing your actions, and subsequently not changing the result. You are neither more profitable nor any more productive.

Making changes

If you really want to increase productivity by 20 per cent, first tell your staff your goal and the reason behind it. Then, help them pinpoint the areas that they can reduce wasted time to help achieve this goal.

There are several tools and techniques that you can help them use. Note their reactions or resistance, if any, especially when they tell you it cannot be done. This is where it may be time to provide some honest feedback.

Also, identify the processes that can eliminate a further 10 per cent of wasted time. Ask: “Why are we doing this?”

The answer “because we always have” is not a good enough reason. But even this answer stems from your need for certainty and stability.

Admitting that you are wrong, ineffective or unproductive creates uncertainty and instability, and this affects your self-esteem. This is because we crave acceptance by others. People’s primary fears are that they are not good enough and will not be loved and accepted by those around them.

That is why many people continually chase the external material possessions to justify themselves, even if it means going into debt so others think better of them. They are primarily dissatisfied with their performance and their anxieties due to their fear of exposure. And they deflect this by blaming others, or conspiring circumstances, that have impeded their progress.

Often they do this unconsciously. Awareness brings it to their conscious attention. Confrontation can be temporarily painful, enough so that avoidance is often attractive.

Notice your inner lawyers springing into defensive action the next time you receive negative feedback about your performance. Retrain your mechanism. Ask a question and listen to the answers.

Finally, consider that your customers also want certainty, stability and connection. Customer service success is linked to fulfilling these needs.

If customers cannot contact you easily, their certainty diminishes and they feel disconnected. They get angry until you pay attention and listen, or until they leave. Sales increase when you communicate with customers. Frustrated customers buy less.

From time to time, get a fresh perspective of your team’s productivity, which can offer solutions that can significantly increase profitable productivity.