What Is Defensive Listening
Everyone has been in a situation where your innocent comments or words were taken negatively by others. A comment spoken with good intention can be taken otherwise when the listener applies defensive listening. Defensive listening is the perception of a person who can create wrong impressions from simple comments and from others. All of us have been guilty of defensive listening at some stage in our life. We are doing it unknowingly and without realising the damage that it might be causing to your relationship.
When a person perceives a simple comment as a personal attack on them, no matter how innocent it is. They then try to find faults by overanalyzing the interaction. Also, reinforcing that the person's statement was indeed a personal attack. Once they do that, they think that this type of interaction is an embarrassing or even rage-causing trigger and become upset. Usually, people who are sensitive may be hypersensitive to others, even if there are no intentions to insult them. They are more reactive, defensive and are also quick to take offence.
Defensive listening is when you are listening to your partner in a defensive way. Defensive listening means that you're hearing what your partner is saying through a defensive filter; as if everything they're saying is negative.
If you do not know what defensive listening is, it is absolutely possible that it is present in your life. It is usually seen when one of the partners feels being put down, ignored or criticized by the other partner. This person will then resort to shutting down and deflecting the conversation, which can result in a back-and-forth argument. The other partner will then become frustrated and continue to criticize, feeling unheard of or uncared for. A defence behaviour can be anything from changing the subject to ridiculing what was being said. A person’s response might even be physical, such as slamming doors or getting up and walking away from an argument.
Why Do We Become Defensive Listeners
Why do people do this? Defensive listening is one trait of poor listening skills which can cause any relationship to have problems. Can you imagine being married to someone who takes your usual talks and comments negatively? Ultimately causing fights and misunderstandings regularly.
Individuals who react defensively are usually due to a perceived threat. He/She might just be triggered by an innocent comment or even a joke, which acts as a trigger that then causes listening to become defensive. Then defensive listener clearly shows a poor way of listening and is only showing a difficult defensive behaviour in usual conversation.
If a person has poor communication skills and is showing signs of defensive behaviour, there are many possible reasons for this. It may be the result of mental, emotional, personality issues or disorders that have developed over the course of one's life.
An Example of Defensive Listening
An individual might comment something about work ethics and people who are lazy, which might just be an honest opinion or a statement about a workplace. However, for a defensive listener, this is a personal attack, it can cause rage and hate and possibly a fight. An individual, who is a defensive listener, will usually create twisted reasoning about all statements.
Mostly in couples, if one party is always on the defensive listening, there will always be misunderstandings and arguments. It is hard to keep a good relationship when one partner uses words against other, resulting in a toxic relationship.
Sarcastic humour is actually very difficult for people with defensive listening to understand. Defensive listeners are not able to see the irony or sarcasm of these jokes and will take them seriously no matter how great the person’s delivery is.
By defensive listening, you're treating your partner as your enemy, someone to take down and defeat, instead of seeing them as someone who lives alongside you and has a different set of experiences.
A while ago I read this book, which is to enhance your Active Listening: Improve Your Conversation Skills, Learn Effective Communication Techniques, Achieve Successful Relationships with 6 Essential Guidelines
Defensive Listening Becomes Endless Looop
While having a conversation with a defensive listener, it is easy to get defensive. For example, if he/ she responds defensively to an innocent comment, others would feel the need to defend themselves as well. This will further set off feelings of defensiveness in the defensive listeners. Then on it becomes a snowball effect back-and-forth defensiveness that is hard to break from.
How To Manage Defensive Listening
Communication, when one or both parties are defensive listeners or already upset, can be a real reason for both individuals to get defensive. It may become necessary to discontinue the conversation. It's a good idea to let the other person know your intention to step away from the dialogue for a while, or why you decided to take a walk around the block. It saves them from unnecessary confusion and allows things to stay smooth.
Pointing out someone's defensiveness is unlikely to help, so try saying “I'm sorry it seemed like I was saying that. Let me explain better.” If you can clear up the misunderstanding there and then, the argument shouldn't continue. Take time to consider the emotions of the defensive listener. It is important to respect their feelings and if they are uncomfortable with discussing the issue, stop the conversation for now.
If you're listening defensively, there is a high chance that the other person might need to guide you back on track. Your high level of awareness could be misinterpreted as anger or manipulation. If the other person doesn't want to lead you back on your own power, it's probably not worth continuing the conversation if you have been triggered into defensive listening already.
The first step to becoming a better listener is to be self-aware. If you know when you're feeling defensive and work hard to understand why then your relationships and collaborations will be more peaceful and productive. Instead of automatically reacting to what someone says, think about the effect it might have. Watch for triggers and become self-aware.
When you're listening defensively, how do you slow down enough to see the statement from another point of view? Firstly, stop and take a deep breath. Do this often enough & it'll calm you down enough to respond instead of reacting to triggers. If you can not slow down, take a break and clear your head, then come back to the issue. Speaking bluntly isn't always polite, but now's not the time for diplomacy. Focus on what triggered the argument and what was meant by it.
It's important to understand that becoming defensive can make listening more difficult. In order for a conversation to progress, it's imperative that you identify any type of defensiveness as early as possible. Doing so creates some distance from those thoughts and also gives you back control.
Once you become aware of its presence, make intentional choices to work around it and kick it out of the conversation. There can be few ways to do it, for example, find something to agree with within the context of the conversation and progress talk on that. Another way of managing during such a conversation is to ask more questions about the triggering topic and seek clarification without being defensive. Stay aware and be accountable for your part in the conversation, state differences without tone.
Listen to understand, not to disagree. Usually, people listen to respond, not to understand the other person. Listen for your partner's pain and their perspective, don't spend your time just trying to figure out what's right or wrong with them
More On Managing It
Enhance your non-defensive communication. Don't Be So Defensive: Taking the War Out of Our Words With Powerful Non-Defensive Communication
Pseudo-facts are an emotional intelligence shortcoming caused by a combination of a raised hormone state and a lack of mental clarity. A Pseudo-Fact is when we assume our feelings as facts and take them as part of reality. We store emotional memories more vividly, and because of that, they can be highly inaccurate. Memory becomes stronger and more vivid in a personal sense, and what we amount to recall may not necessarily be what we originally experienced. At all costs, avoid falling into this trap.
Our detailed recollection of events we experienced may be subject to change over time, but the impact and strong feelings that we had while it happened to stay with us for a lifetime. That means our emotional memories of an event will be better, more accurate reflections of what actually happened. It's easy for us to remember the feeling of something rather than its details.
When dealing with a defensive listener, remember that there are always two points of view. There are two different experiences and two different realities. These realities are influenced by emotions – you can not disregard your partner's experiences. You should validate their experience because it's authentic to them. But validation doesn't mean you're giving up your stance or admitting your experience isn't valid – it just means that you agree with them. You can acknowledge their point of view without abandoning your opinion, too.
To communicate effectively with a defensive listener, understanding their motives is important. Putting yourself in their shoes for a moment might give you the right perspective to understand and empathize with them. A key way to improve communication is through transparency and feedback. It's not always possible to get past these reactions, but you can try to avoid them if they get in your way of communication. No one has a ‘perfect' filter and people might offend or bother you anyways.
When you work on your defensive listening, it often improves your communication skills. This is because communication is an important aspect in any relationship and if you don't work to improve it this could damage your relationship.
Try reading this book if you have some time “The Lost Art of Listening, Second Edition: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships“
Avoid following in your conversation;
Well, you always….
No, that's not what happened….
Why don't you ever….
Well, what about the time when….
You're forgetting that….
Every time we take a chance and get out of our safety zone, we increase the chance that they'll be receptive. If you get that one person into your life who wants the same things you do, it can actually change things completely. Choosing to be right instead of being in the relationship is a big compromise with your relationship.
You want to be able to bounce back from conflict in a healthy way, and you can create a stronger bond while doing so if you know how to spot defensive listening and pivot away from it. If you sense the other person is starting to take things personally. You can avoid an argument by changing the topic or exploring what might be underlying their defensive behaviour. Don't let conflict lead to a fight. You can do it if you manage yourself out of defensive listening.