Defensive Listening: 6 Ways To Overcome

Listening is an integral part of the communication process. We all are highly engrossed in the listening activity day in and day out. But very few of us have mastery of the art of listening. It means to be attentive towards the speaker and his message. 

Listening has deeper meanings than just collecting the information. It is receiving, analyzing, and interpreting the message correctly. There are many obstacles in the path of active listening. Many ineffective listening styles are harmful to the motive of communication. One of them is defensive listening. 

The essence of the message is lost if you are dealing with a defensive listener. It is crucial to understand what defensive listening is and how negatively it affects communication.

 1. What Is Defensive Listening?

defensive mode

Defensive listening is among the six unproductive listening styles. These ineffective listening styles are:

  • Pseudo-listening (listener indulges in superficial listening.)
  • stage hogging listening(in this listener finds own thoughts best)
  • defensive listening (listener bears an oversensitive side towards conversation and personalize comments)
  • selected listening (in this listener filters and keeps information according to personal need)
  • insulated listening( act as an insulator toward a few topics, or avoid conversation on selected topics.)
  • ambushing (listener engages in attentive listening and use information against the speaker)

It is a natural human instinct to be defensive whenever we encounter danger. This defensive mode can also take a toll on your conversation if you wrongly address a defensive listener.

Defensive listening is inefficient and harmful listening. The listener explicates a sensitive approach towards common remarks and bears a defensive attitude to generic statements.  

Often a person takes comments too personally and switches on the defensive mode. A person might feel offended by regular assertion. The listener can twist words and drive conversation to an angle where he can blame the speaker.

 For instance, while talking to your friend, you say, “I don’t discuss business because I don’t think people have good ideas.” If your friend is a defensive listener, he might think you are saying his ideas are not worthy.

 If a person picks on your words, evaluates, and molds the conversation in the wrong direction, you might be dealing with a defensive listener. In such situations, simple jokes or humor also works negatively.

Sigmund Fred came up with the concept of defensive listening. He contributed psychodynamics theory that grounds defensive listening.

Why A Person Goes On Defensive Mode?

insensitive listening

A person becomes defensive whenever he feels threatened by his surroundings. But in defensive listening, the listener is guided by his unguarded vulnerabilities and thoughts. Following their insecurities listener can be provoked and take on his defensive shield.

Following are a few “self-made” triggers of defensive listening:

  • Stress or irritation can lead to defensive listening as the person is not in the right frame of mind to interpret words correctly.
  • If the listener’s mind is preoccupied with self-doubt or insecurity, the person might take on his defensive shield.
  • There might be a more grave reason like any unfortunate experience or suppressed childhood emotions.
  • The listener might not be good at taking healthy humour and think of it as a sarcastic comment.

These things can affect the communication and social life of a person. People try to detach them from the defensive listener that causes drift in personal, professional, and social relations.

There is another reason that might trigger defensiveness in a person. Gibb formulated the term “defensive climate.” It is a study of behavior during communication, set in a “defensive climate” and “supportive climate.”

The defensive climate is categorized by: 

  • try to exert control over communication.
  • not at all being empathetic towards the speaker
  • Being “evaluative” instead of “understanding.”
  • Give preference to one’s viewpoint.

On the other side, the supportive climate has the following characteristics:

  • Being empathetic to the listener.
  • Try to locate the problem the speaker is going through.
  • Identify the underlying emotional status of the speaker.

A person can switch between supportive and defensive mode depending on his perception of the situation. In safe surroundings, a person usually functions and comprehends messages attentively. If surroundings are not contributory to the listener one can act defensively.

How Serious Be The Upshots of Defensive Listening?

Defensive listening has its consequences and can land you in trouble. From your personal to professional life, it can sway your connections. Chiefly we do not recognize we are in defensive mode while listening to others. Once you realize how harmful this type of listening is, you will never indulge in this again.

How it affects various domains of your life, let us see:

  1. Personal life 

People unknowingly transfer the shadow of their self-doubts to others. In personal life, this could happen with your spouse, children, or siblings. Defensive listeners find faults in others and play the blame game.  

Be an active listener for your child. To know how, click here

Conversations generally end up in fights, or the listener may bring in past events. Defensive listening has been the root cause of drift between many couples. 

 A general comment like “I think both partners should equally contribute to child care.” May trigger your spouse thinking that you’re commenting on his/her parenting skills. It could lead to a heated argument.

You might want to tell your sibling that his dress is not a good fit but, he may think you are indirectly pointing to his unfit body. It can make your sibling angry for days.

2. Professional life

defensive listening at work

We all work in different fields, some of our work in the highly competitive workplace. When we all have to meet deadlines so, communication becomes inseparable. Defensive listening could harm your career as well. A general statement by a colleague or your superior taken defensively can create endless conflict.

Being over-sensitive to the comments or sarcasm can make you furious that you might think of giving up your job.

A statement by your superior that “our company needs more, efficient people.” could be perceived as that “our company needs, more efficient people.” Do you notice the difference? Superior wants to hire more people but, the defensive listener takes it as a personal attack. In personalizing, statements can make you think your superior is not happy with your work.

How To Pacify A Defensive Listener?

pacify defensive listener

It can be hard to comfort someone who personalizes comments and leaves you baffled.

You need to account few things if you are dealing with a defensive listener.

  • Check your tone: it can aggravate the situation. Use a neutral tone and avoid compelling words as you must, you should, you did.
  • Do not use personal statements: avoid triggering the sensitive side of the listener by using phrases as “you always do this” or “you are responsible for this.”
  • Use more clear words: try to use simple words to avoid confusion. Like instead of saying it is high time you should join a gym, you can rephrase it “for a complete workout one can try the gym.”
  • Do not lose your temper: while talking to a defensive listener, a phase may come that you want to react in anger. But it is preferable to put on a smile and try to explain what you mean.

Be more attentive and less defensive at conversations.

The first thing to ace is to know yourself. Identify listening flaws and then work on them.

If you feel that your hidden and unguarded emotions and thoughts always drown you in defensive listening, then you can try out the following tips to be more attentive and less defensive:

1. Realization and acceptance: you have to realize and accept that you go on defensive mode. Be more attentive towards your thoughts, emotions, and insecurities.

2. Do not take things personally: if someone says anything in general, avoid giving it any personal angle. If you are in a group, a comment by anybody is not to be thought of as a personal target.

3. Think, rethink and then reply: impulsive reactions also lead to verbal spats. Take time to think about what the other person has said and then reply.

4. Talk to the person to clarify things: if you feel any comment is a personal attack, you can talk to the person and discuss things.

5. Replace reaction with understanding: the one thing you can always do is train your mind to follow the message and not respond quickly.

6. Give priority to relationships and not the content of the message: you can always have compassion while listening to the speaker.

You can assist your known to overcome this ineffective listening style. Remember it is not a day’s affair. It may take a long and can make you feel exhausted at times. If it does not work, you can seek the help of a counselor who can guide you with more ways to overcome this.

Defensive listening – An Inference

Defensive listening is an inadequate listening practice followed by many unknowingly. It can be better of by continuous efforts and deliberate approach. It can impact the professional stature of a person. It is better to find a person or counselor who can help you through defensive listening. Transforming defensive to active listening can curb many of your problems.

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Last Updated on by Arnab



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