Defensive Behavior in Organizations: A Preliminary Model

Blake E. Ashforth, Raymond T. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

191 Scopus citations


The literature on organizational politics has focused on the proactive promotion of self-interests but has neglected the reactive defense of self-interests. Defensive behaviors are argued to: (1) avoid action, via over-conforming, passing the buck, playing dumb, depersonalizing, smoothing and stretching, and stalling, (2) avoid blame via buffing, playing safe, justifying, scapegoating, misrepresenting, and escalating commitment, and (3) avoid change via resisting change and protecting turf. Organizational antecedents of defensiveness include bureaucratic rationality and various stressors, and individual antecedents include insecurity and anxiety, emotional exhaustion, work alienation, self-monitoring, and low self-efficacy. The effects of defensiveness on the individual, recipients, and organization are discussed, and directions for future research are presented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)621-648
Number of pages28
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1990
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Social Sciences
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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