What Is Defensive Listening and How Destructive Can It Be?
Defensive listening in marriage is very problematic. Spouses should make it a priority to learn to calmly, fairly and respectfully communicate in marriage without defensive listening happening. What happens if defensive listening keeps happening? What happens is many many problems that could have easily been solved quickly, become problems that linger on continually.
To avoid this, don’t make being a defensive listener a habit. Instead of getting defensive, listen to understand, not to have a comeback.
By now, maybe you’re asking yourself, what defensive listening is. Instead of giving you an impersonal definition, how about I give you scenarios where one is being defensive while listening?
A friend of yours tells a joke, and doesn’t have the intention of being offensive either directly or indirectly, and somehow you personalize it and make it about you in a negative way. You feel insulted.
If that situation happened to you, then you are guilty of being a defensive listener. It had nothing to do with what was said, or how it was said, you were simply defensive listening.
Here’s another example of defensive listening. Your spouse tells you something that you have done wrong, and you take it as an attack on your entire character. Instead of hearing your spouse mention one thing, in one area that you couldn’t possibly stand to improve in, you take your spouse’s criticism as an attack on your entire being.
Here’s a thought, maybe sometimes, at least sometimes, criticism should be taken in a positive way. How do you take criticism positively? Use criticism as a sign that points to ways you can improve yourself and become a better person. That leads to much better results in your marriage than defensive listening does, trust me.
Here’s one more example of defensive listening. Your boss mentions areas of improvement that would make you a better employee, and instead of taking that positive critique, you hear how horrible of an employee you are.
I can give you man other examples, but at the end of the day, the model of defensive listening is the same. “Someone says something, and you don’t take what was said well. You take it as an attack or an insult.“
There are times where something is said, and it could have been said better. In those situations, one can understand why you would get defensive. However, for the sake of this article, we aren’t going to talk about those situations. We are going to talk about situations where you are the one wrong and got defensive unfairly, instead of simply listening.
What is Defensive Listening
Defensive listening can be defined(in my opinion) as someone negatively personalizing something that was said. Regardless of what was said, or how it was said, the point is, you (the hearer) takes offense to it.
Defensive listening happens in many types of situations. It is impossible to list them all. With that being said, for this article, I just want to focus on one context that defensive listening happens between spouses in a marriage.
By focusing on this context, we can get a better understanding of defensive listening, and hopefully, how to stop poorly listening and taking offense. (if you are the hearer) Or, how to deal with your spouse who is constantly defensive. (if you are the talker)
Underlying Causes of Defensive Listening
I have said this before, and I will say it again, the underlying cause of many problems in relationships is….. SIN! The world likes to call sin, imperfection. I believe it goes deeper than that, but we can interchange those words to keep it simple.
Sin isn’t a popular topic!
I don’t care though. Because it’s the truth. Sin and the effects of sin cause many problems. It isn’t a place that people want to start to diagnose their problems. However, I will not compromise what I believe to be the truth though. Especially, for popularity.
“Real problems need real solutions. And we can’t expect real change unless we’re REAL about what needs to change.”
And what often really needs to change is the US. Defensive listening is a byproduct of sin, which then leads to our relationships, but more specifically, communication in our relationships. Communication involves two parts, properly listening and properly talking. Right now, we are specifically talking about when sin causes listening to ‘miss the mark’(definition of sin) and go wrong.
See how simple, and logically that flows? It’s because it’s true. Denying something, simply means that you deny something. It doesn’t make it false. (I can deny that I water or food to survive, but that doesn’t make it true. That just means I denied it.”
The byproduct of sin? How?
Let me keep a deep concept, simple. It’s Adam and Eve’s fault.
Yup, their fault. They disobeyed God, and all of humanity shares the consequences of that. They were to first, to NOT do what God said to do. And if you DON’T do what the designer of the world and everything in it has said to do in life, then you’re not following the design for your life, the life He gave you.
In the words of Maya Angelou, “You don’t swim on a stove.” The stove is meant to be cooked on, not swam on.
God designed us to communicate a certain way. And He left us instructions on how to do so.
One spouse corrects the other, and the other gets defensive is the context we’ll be talking about here.
“Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days..” Proverbs 19:20
If God’s Word is placed before our personal feelings or thoughts, we have a better chance of dealing with our imperfections.
Understanding that verse, and consistently applying the wisdom, leads to less offense when your spouse corrects you.
Is it only the fact that you’re being corrected that causes the problem? I don’t think so.
Example of Correction: Quickly imagine you’re driving down an unknown road, at night, and road construction is going on. You’re texting on your phone, and you don’t see that there is a fork in the road. To the left, the road is blocked off and is leading to an unfinished bridge. If you go to the left, on that unfinished bridge, you would eventually run out of the bridge and plummet into the sea.
The construction worker yells at you to get your attention since you are distracted, texting on your phone, and corrects you to go to the right, to the safe detour.
Would you be offended that the worker corrected you and saved your life? Probably not. If anything, someone may still feel that the worker yelling at them was wrong regardless of the situation. *cough cough* “fool.”
What was the point of that example? To show that not all correction is bad. And to show that poorly reacting to being corrected by your spouse isn’t always based on the fact that you’re getting corrected.
Let’s go beyond the correction.
“ One of our troubles is we are not willing to humble ourselves. We are not willing to give up our opinions as to how things should be done.”
– Mordecai Ham
Pride is the cause of many sins, many problems, and specifically many communication problems.
Pride will say, “They shouldn’t have talked to me like that.” When they said absolutely nothing wrong.
Pride will say, “I’m right, and you’re so wrong, I don’t have to hear your side.” That attitude leaves no opportunity for you to be wrong.
Pride leads to defensive listening because you’re fixed on YOUR way of seeing things. After all, your way of seeing things is “correct” right? The thought never even occurs to most prideful people that their view is wrong, flawed, imperfect, or simply put, the cause of their defensive listening. Or the cause of other communication problems.
We diagnosed the cause on a basic level, so what are some solutions? Here’s a list of TO-DO’s that I won’t provide a context for. You know your situation. See where these fit. Apply these suggestions to your thoughts, emotions, conversations, and life:
Study scripture’s teachings on how we should speak, and how we should talk.
Listen twice as much in a conversation that involves you feeling offended.
Don’t be quick to say the first thing that comes to mind.
Understand that your feelings, regardless of how strong they are, may be wrong.
Your logic can be wrong.
Stop assuming you are automatically right because…..
Trust the person is not just trying to offend you.
Silence is often better than your immediate reactions.
Have more than one person that you love and trust told you about this flaw? Yes? Consider it.
What are the positives you can take away?
If you are offended, go over three different respectful ways you can respond.
Everyone can’t always be out to get you.
Constructive criticism is great. Start emotionally believing that.
Learn to see every opportunity as an opportunity to better yourself.
Saying I’m wrong doesn’t make you weak.
If you feel offended by what you hear, as the person to rephrase it.
Saying, “I don’t like how you’re talking to me,” is okay sometimes.
Truly listening means you listen to understand, not to reply.
If you reply, without truly understanding, you are being defensive.
Looking for a fault in what is said, usually comes from a place of pride.
A wise person knows their strengths and weaknesses.
Unless someone drastically disrespects what you believe, relax, laugh, and live.
Not everyone sees things as you will. Give them a chance to understand.
You’re not perfect, neither are others, have Grace and understanding.
This article primarily assumed that the person listening defensively was wrong, and the other person was right. Let me give you some quick tips when the defensive listener actually has a reason to be defensive. (I don’t mean a reason to be disrespectful, just a reason to at least feel defensive.) When the other person was rude, condescending, etc. In those situations, normally, a person feels justified in their retaliation regardless of being labeled a defensive listener. That conviction is wrong of course and leads to bad conversations.
So what do you?
1.) Stay calm. Think over what was done. Take yourself away from the situation if possible. Maybe it isn’t possible to remove yourself from the situation, though right? In that case, learn to control your tone, facial expression, and body language. Don’t make it controversial despite their lack of tact. Either you control you or they control you.
2.) Ask questions to understand. Not everyone will know what offends you. Not everyone will see situations like you see situations. Asking questions will help you understand why that person said what they said. Maybe they retaliated from something they thought you did wrong to them. The whole thing may be one whole misunderstanding.
3.) Change how you took what they said. A lot of the times, it isn’t what is said, it is HOW it is said. A lot of the times it isn’t how it is said, it is HOW you take it. So, change how you take it. I have heard many clever techniques that people have recommended. Picture the person offending you talking in a funny voice. Picture them looking like a cartoon. Find what works for you. I assume that people just don’t know me. Because, although I know I am not perfect, God made me a pretty likable guy. If someone doesn’t like me, then there is something wrong with that person. That’s how I have often viewed it. (with wisdom, of course. Sometimes I’m just not being likable at that moment for whatever reason.)
4.) Learn to understand that sometimes what someone says has nothing to do with you. I know this isn’t easy because that person is directly talking to you at the moment, and you feel offended. However, sometimes someone may be looking to take what they are going through on you because it’s convenient. It doesn’t make it right, but the fact that happens is true. They may have been made at the person before you and wasn’t able to say what they wanted to say and, here you come. While they are still emotionally dealing with what just happened. Understanding that this happens to us all, should lead you to be understanding with that one person.
5.) Learn to weigh the pros and cons of responding to that person. Start asking YOURSELF questions. Is this someone you are around and talk to regularly? If it’s not, then why bother? Do you think something you say one time, in one instance, can deeply change the mindset they had that made them form those words to you? In other words, sometimes the cause of their words comes from a flawed mindset. Mindsets usually don’t change instantly. If this is someone you don’t see regularly. Is it worth the effort? Do you care about the person? If this is someone you have to consistently be around, and you care, then I understand your investment.