What Are Some Examples of Defensive Listening?

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One example of defensive listening is to hear a general statement and to personalize it. When a friend says, “I’m not a big fan of people who are fake,” a defensive listener may infer that the friend is indirectly calling the defensive listener fake. Personalizing impersonal statements is a very common form of defensive listening.

Defensive listeners tend to struggle with sarcastic humor as well, because they may assume that the speaker is putting them down in spite of the humor. While this is sometimes the case with sarcasm, it isn’t always true. A colleague might joke, “John can stay and work on Saturday because it’s not like he has anything else happening today.” The speaker’s sarcasm may stem from the fact that John has a family and is known to be quite busy. However, a defensive listener may miss the sarcasm and begin defending the fact that he does have a busy weekend.

A person with strong anxieties and insecurities is more likely to react badly when listening defensively. A spouse may say, “I’ve got a few other things to do, and then I’ll get to that,” in response to a request to complete a task. A defensive listener may view the delay as a lack of caring or interest in helping.