Become a better listener

Defensiveness rears its ugly head when we are tired or feeling overwhelmed. Assume plays a big part in the problem. You assume that he meant, “JKL”, but he didn’t mean that at all. You assume she meant, “DEF”, but she didn’t mean that at all. As we all have learned assume makes an ass out of you (u) and me.

One person makes a statement or comment and the fight is on. Most of the time it is unintentional. There are times when it is intentional and that is a whole other article. We are going to look at the unintentional statements or comments this time.

Who are you more like in this story?

Once upon a time, there was a couple, Sarah and John, who had been together for several years. They were usually loving and understanding with each other, but like any couple, they faced challenges from time to time.

One particular week, both Sarah and John had been overwhelmed with work and personal commitments, leaving them emotionally and physically exhausted. They barely had any time to connect or relax, and this took a toll on their relationship.

One evening, after a long and draining day, Sarah arrived home feeling utterly exhausted. She longed for some peace and quiet, hoping to unwind and recharge. John, on the other hand, had also had a demanding day and was feeling no better.

As Sarah entered the house, she immediately noticed that John seemed agitated. Hoping to engage in a calm conversation, she asked how his day went. However, John, tired and overwhelmed, misunderstood her tone as accusatory and defensive.

Sensing hostility where there was none, John defensively replied, “It was a terrible day, all right? Just like every other day lately! I don’t need you to remind me of that!” Sarah, taken aback by his response, felt hurt and confused as she didn’t mean any harm with her question.

Feeling her own exhaustion kicking in, Sarah’s emotions went haywire, and instead of responding calmly, she mirrored John’s defensiveness. “Oh, so now I can’t even ask about your day without you snapping at me? I’m exhausted too, you know!” she exclaimed.

The conversation quickly turned into a heated exchange of frustrations and misunderstandings. Both Sarah and John’s exhaustion clouded their judgment, causing them to misread each other’s intentions and statements.

Realizing the escalating situation, Sarah took a deep breath and decided to break the cycle. She managed to find the strength to say, “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to come across that way. I’m just really tired, and I thought we could share our struggles and support each other.” John, noticing Sarah’s vulnerability, softened and replied, “I’m sorry too. I misinterpreted your question, and I know we’re both feeling drained.”

They sat down together, allowing their exhaustion to be acknowledged. Both Sarah and John understood that it was their mutual tiredness and stress that had led to the misunderstanding. They realized it was essential to give each other space to decompress and be patient during challenging times.

From that day forward, Sarah and John made a commitment to communicate openly about their exhaustion levels and provide each other with the understanding and support they needed. They recognized the importance of approaching conversations with empathy, especially when both parties were drained.

Over time, as Sarah and John prioritized rest and relaxation, they found that their misunderstandings became fewer and farther between. They learned to be more patient with themselves and each other, ultimately strengthening their bond. The story of their exhaustion-induced misunderstanding became a valuable lesson in the power of empathy and self-care within a relationship.

Who did you most relate to?

Everything was pretty spot on until you reached the paragraph that began with “Realizing the escalating situation, …” You know as well as I know that Sarah did not take a deep breath and decide to break the cycle and John did not settle down or try to understand what was really going on. The things in those last four paragraphs are what we need to learn and work on to be more effective communicators.

Why do people become defensive?

People become defensive for various reasons, and it is a natural human response when they feel attacked, criticized, or feel the need to protect themselves or their beliefs. Some common reasons why people become defensive include:

  1. Self-preservation: When people feel their self-esteem or sense of self is being threatened, they may become defensive as a way to protect themselves from harm or emotional pain.
  2. Fear of judgment or rejection: People may fear being judged negatively by others or being rejected, so they become defensive to shield themselves from potential harm.
  3. Protecting beliefs and values: When someone’s beliefs, values, or opinions are challenged, they may become defensive in an attempt to uphold and defend their personal ideas or identity.
  4. Lack of trust: If there is a lack of trust or a history of feeling attacked in a particular relationship or situation, individuals may become defensive as a way to safeguard themselves from further harm or hurt.
  5. Misunderstood intentions: Sometimes people misinterpret or misjudge the intentions of others, leading them to become defensive even if the intention was not to attack or criticize.
  6. Emotional triggers: Certain topics or issues can trigger emotional responses in individuals, leading them to become defensive as a way to manage or cope with these strong emotions.

It’s important to note that defensiveness can hinder effective communication and understanding, so it is often beneficial to approach conversations with empathy, respect, and an open mind to reduce defensiveness and encourage constructive dialogue.

How you can diffuse defensiveness and keep the conversation from spiraling out of control

  1. Choose your words carefully: Use non-judgmental and non-confrontational language when expressing your thoughts or concerns. Avoid accusatory language that might trigger defensiveness in the other person.
  2. Be empathetic: Try to understand the emotions and perspectives of the person you are communicating with. Show empathy by acknowledging their feelings and concerns, which can help create a more receptive environment. You don’t have to agree with them, but you do need to understand them.
  3. Use “I” statements: Instead of making generalizations or criticizing the other person, focus on expressing your own feelings and thoughts using statements like “I feel” or “I think.” This helps to avoid a defensive reaction since it doesn’t put blame directly on them.
  4. Active listening: Show genuine interest in what the other person is saying. Give them your full attention, maintain eye contact, and make clarifying statements or ask open-ended questions to demonstrate understanding. This can help the person feel heard and valued, reducing defensiveness.
  5. Avoid personal attacks: Stick to the issue at hand and avoid attacking or criticizing the person directly. Focus on discussing the problem or situation without resorting to personal insults or negative language.
  6. Find common ground: Look for areas of agreement or common interests to create a sense of collaboration. By finding shared goals or values, you can shift the conversation to a more cooperative and less defensive tone.
  7. Take breaks if necessary: If the conversation becomes heated or unproductive, it’s okay to take a break and revisit the discussion later when both parties are calmer and more open to dialogue.

Remember, diffusing defensiveness requires patience, understanding, and a willingness to listen and find common ground. It may not work in every situation, but employing these strategies can help create a more constructive and open conversation.

How to become more open-minded

Having an open mind is a valuable quality that can help you grow personally and improve your relationships with others. Here are some steps you can take to develop a more open mind:

  1. Embrace curiosity: Be curious about different perspectives, ideas, cultures, and experiences. Instead of dismissing or judging something, approach it with curiosity and a desire to understand.
  2. Practice empathy: Put yourself in others’ shoes and try to understand their point of view. This can help you become more tolerant and accepting of different opinions, beliefs, and lifestyles.
  3. Challenge your assumptions: Question your own biases and beliefs. Reflect upon why you hold certain opinions and be open to the possibility that they may be based on limited information or personal experiences.
  4. Seek out diverse perspectives: Surround yourself with people who have different backgrounds, thoughts, and beliefs. Engage in discussions with them and be open to learning from their experiences.
  5. Explore new ideas and experiences: Read books, watch documentaries, listen to podcasts, or attend events that expose you to new ideas and perspectives. Step out of your comfort zone and try new activities that push you to think differently.
  6. Stay open to learning: Cultivate a growth mindset and see every experience as an opportunity to learn and grow. Be willing to admit when you’re wrong and adjust your thinking accordingly.
  7. Practice active listening: Focus on fully understanding what others are saying rather than just waiting for your turn to speak. Ask questions and engage in meaningful conversations to gain different insights.
  8. Let go of judgment: Avoid jumping to conclusions or making assumptions about people or situations. Instead, approach them with an open and non-judgmental mindset.
  9. Embrace uncertainty: Realize that there is often more than one way to approach a situation or solve a problem. Be comfortable with ambiguity and be open to exploring different possibilities.
  10. Be patient with yourself: Developing an open mind is a continuous process. It takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself and celebrate small progress along the way.

Becoming more open-minded doesn’t mean you get rid of all of your beliefs; it means learning why you believe what you believe. Challenging your beliefs, thoughts, and feelings is a good thing. You learn what you value. You can actually learn what you believe and not what someone else told you to believe. You may have been taught things that are not true. Challenge your biases. Learning and growing is a good thing. Being able to change your mind is a good thing.