How to Listen Without Getting Defensive

by | Jun 1, 2024 | Healthy Relationships, Inner Work, Nonviolent Communication

Have you ever wished that you could listen without getting defensive, reactive or triggered by the other person or the conversation?

While our “defensiveness” can sometimes be a healthy form of self-care and self-protection, especially if we are at risk of harm, it can also close us off from our hearts, our tenderness and the possibility for a deeper or meaningful connection with others.  Flooded with fears, we are often unwilling to speak from the vulnerable, open and authentic part of ourselves that could actually shift and de-escalate conflicts.

It can be very challenging to listen from our hearts when we slip into the defensive part of ourselves; the part deeply entrenched in “right and wrong” thinking and always scanning for potential threats.

From this dualistic, moralistic mental frame, we tend to be more focused on protecting ourselves and advocating for our needs, than in deeply connecting with another person.

Stuck in this shame and blame mindset, we hear everything as a potential criticism, judgment or threat, and often respond by wanting to prove our goodness, to advocate for our good intentions.  Unfortunately, as we do this, we often miss opportunities to deeply connect with and understand what the other person is trying to say, and get stuck in power struggles and arguments.

So what do we do?

How can we listen without getting defensive?

Let’s start by consciously harnessing and strengthening two of our most valuable internal resources:  our intention and our attention.

Listen without Getting Defensive: Intention and Attention


Begin by setting a general intention to stay present, regulated, conscious and choiceful in the conversation.  The more conscious we are of these intentions, the easier it will be to work with our fears, instead of letting them take the lead.  Next, set a more specific intention to listen for connection instead of listening for correction.  When we set a clear intention to connect with the other person and to deeply understand what is arising in the situation, we can stay more relaxed in the face of information that disturbs us or that we disagree with.


Next, use your attention strategically and choicefully throughout the conversation.  Make a commitment to shift your attention away from judgments, critiques, rightness, evaluations and strategies, and to instead use the conversation as a practice in tuning into your ability to witness and observes all that arises, including both people’s feelings and both people’s underlying needs, values and interests.

Keep your attention on “What would help?” and “Where do we agree?” instead of on “What/who is wrong?” and “How can I change it/them?”  By training your attention to amplify the data and information that will actually help you connect with the heart of what’s “up” for each person, you’ll notice that you start to see new options for moving forward together and will find yourself less reactive because you experience yourself as less afraid.

If you find yourself wanting to listen without getting defensive, and step outside of the power struggle inherent in right/wrong thinking and wanting to really connect with those around you, this week’s podcast is for you! I share two powerful internal shifts that you can make to get out of “What is Wrong?” and into “What Will Help?”

We dive more deeply into the two internal resources necessary to listen without getting defensive on this week’s podcast. We discuss:

  • 1:20  I’m defensive and I jump to conclusions in conversations with my partner.  How do I stop?
  • 3:22  How to focus on our 2 internal listening resources
  • 4:28  Tips for listening deeply
  • 9:02  Surfacing universal human needs
  • 14:12  How “right” and “wrong” block our ability to listen from our heart
  • 15:58  Unlearning domination programming
  • 22:11  The price of disowning anger

Want to read more?  You can get my formula for overcoming defensiveness here. 

How do you struggle with defesniveness?  I’d love to know.  Leave a comment below.


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