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    Reactive Listening: Listening to refute, not to understand

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    Louise Hay
    @louisehay
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    Have you ever talked to a person and, although using a huge amount of arguments, did you feel like you were talking to a wall? Even if you tried to explain your reasons and understand his in order to reach an agreement, you probably had the feeling that he did not understand you or did not want to understand you.

    It is not that your arguments have become incomprehensible, it is likely that the dialogue did not progress because the communication channel was interrupted - or never established - because your interlocutor did not really intend to understand but only refute.



    Reactive listening: first me, then me and finally always me

    Epictetus said that "there is therefore a certain expertise, as well as in speaking as well as in listening". Everyone can hear, but few can listen.

    Active listening is a relatively rare skill because it doesn't just involve listening to what the other person is saying, but paying attention to the underlying feelings and emotions. To do this, it is essential to get out of our self-centered position and assume an empathic posture, managing to put ourselves in the shoes of the other to understand his message well.

    Active listening also includes a genuine interest in the person and their message. This does not mean that we agree with his ideas, but that we are interested in understanding them. This is why it is synonymous with respect and openness to dialogue.

    Unfortunately, in an increasingly narcissistic society many people fail to develop active listening. Instead of listening to their interlocutor to understand his ideas and feelings, they simply listen to his arguments to refute them, as if it were a duel.

    Reactive listening, as I call this type of communication, is hiding behind one's own points of view, so it ends up becoming an obstacle to dialogue. It implies a reaction to the ideas of the interlocutor from an egocentric point of view, applying one's own criteria, without the intention of reaching a mutually beneficial agreement.



    The person who puts into practice a reactive listening limits himself to reacting pushed by his own emotions, beliefs and ideas, without taking into account those of his interlocutor. In this way it is not possible to create the shared space necessary for understanding, so a deaf dialogue ends up.

    How to know if a person has activated reactive listening?

    1. The person does not take into account what the interlocutor says. If he listens to his arguments, it is only to refute them.

    2. He does not pay due interest to the words of his interlocutor, demonstrating an almost total lack of empathy.

    3. He is only interested in conveying his message by closing himself on any subject that goes against his ideas.

    What does reactive listening hide?

    Many people practice reactive listening because they want to put their arguments to work, no matter how or at what price. Basically, they are not interested in the ideas or reasons you can offer them because their main goal is to impose their reasons, to make their vision prevail.

    These people do not seek dialogue, rather they start a battle that they want to win at all costs. They don't take dialogue as an opportunity to grow but as a duel. Therefore, they are likely to perceive your arguments as a threat, simply because they don't match theirs, so they feel they have to defend themselves.

    This implies that they will ignore any glimpses of truth that may contain your message and which may help them change their mind, broaden their perspective or enrich their point of view, because they are only looking for possible contradictions, inaccuracies or hesitations to fight back.


    Of course, we can all practice reactive listening from time to time, especially when we feel they are attacking our ego and we get defensive, but taking it as a communication style implies little self-confidence.


    A mature, assertive and self-confident person does not feel the need to impose his arguments, but is open to dialogue and receptive to different points of view that can enrich his vision of the world or help him better understand who is in front of him. Therefore, at heart, reactive listening is the expression of a fragile ego or a profound personal insecurity.

    Martin Luther King said that "your truth will increase to the extent that you know how to hear the truth of others". The person who closes the doors to the ideas of others runs the risk of getting stuck in an increasingly limited vision of the world, of life and of himself.

    The 3 steps to disable reactive listening

    Talking to a person who listens responsively is unnerving. You are likely to try different paths / topics and each crashes into the wall of misunderstanding. This is very frustrating. In these cases, for the dialogue to proceed, it is necessary to deactivate that listening mode.

    First of all, you have to start from the fact that all communications contain a certain degree of dispersion since between what you think and what your interlocutor understands there is the sea, as shown in the image below. That's why you need to make sure your message arrives as clear as possible.

    1. Establish a common starting point. Continuing to present arguments, indefinitely, will not help. You have to go back to the beginning and establish a new starting point that you both agree on. In a relationship, that starting point could be that you both love each other. In a business relationship, the starting point might be that both of you need to solve the problem or complete the project.


    That shared truth will allow you, on the one hand, to reduce the psychological distance that had been created and, on the other, to establish a precedent of agreement that predisposes positively to dialogue, making sure that you both look in the same direction, although everyone sees something. of different. And this is already a big step forward.


    2. Let your guard down. There is nothing worse for understanding than feeling attached. Therefore, you need to make sure that the interlocutor feels relatively comfortable. Use a soft, calm tone of voice. There is no need to fret. Let him know that you understand his arguments and position, that your goal is to reach an agreement that you both feel comfortable with, not to impose your point of view.

    If you can get your interlocutor to tear down the walls they built, you may not immediately reach an agreement, but at least your arguments are likely to break through and change their mind later. To do this, instead of "attacking" his ideas or feelings, it would be advisable to talk about how you feel and how the situation affects you. Instead of accusing, talk about yourself. Showing yourself vulnerable is usually the most powerful tool for deactivating reactive listening and activating active listening.

    3. Take advantage of every deal, however small. At first glance it seems like a contradiction, but the only way to get a person to understand and accept your arguments is to understand and accept theirs. Reactive listening is fought with active listening. If you activate reactive listening, you will only enter into a dialogue for the deaf.

    Listen to the arguments of your interlocutor, not with the intention of refuting them but to look for points in common, however small, and use them as bricks to create a common discourse. Incorporate your ideas into his to progress little by little. Understanding is not achieved by going directly from disagreement to agreement, but with small steps based on common ideas or feelings. Whenever you highlight those points of contact, you break the barriers between "me" and "you", creating a shared communication space that facilitates understanding.

    Finally, if you see that understanding is impossible at that moment, you better postpone the conversation. Do not argue with an idiot or with a person who, at that moment, has closed himself off so much that he cannot progress in the dialogue. Remember that sometimes it is better to maintain inner peace than to be right.

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