Predatory Listening

I have a family that can sometimes thrive off of debate. They aren’t always great listeners, and sometimes, I can feel uneasy and uncomfortable during dinner conversations.  Occasionally, it feels like they are preparing arguments for what they want to say while you are talking, rather than listening to you.

It doesn’t feel good to preached to, talked over, or feel like the person you are talking to has an agenda before the conversation already starts. Have you ever had one of these conversations?

If so you may have been participating in what Oren Jay Sofer describes as predatory listening.

Almost all of us have experienced the technological form of this on Twitter, Facebook or other social networking sites. Others begin to debate with you without listening, seemingly desiring only to call you names and make you feel stupid or argue their point. You can feel set up, but in the face to face conversation, Sofer says it can take several forms.

Oren Jay Sofer, the author of “Say What You Mean” defines it as “listening with a narrow focus to find fault or confront someone; lying in wait for something to be offended by; deliberately trying to catch someone out; or listening only to gather evidence for a rebuttal.” 

He describes this as boiling down to the needs of the listeners trumping the essential values of understanding, connection, and relationship. Essentially egos  are getting in the way. If we practice mindful awareness of our intentions and values, we can get through being the victim or the perpetrator of this.

I’m not sure how I feel about this  phrase. I don’t know how much awareness most people who are doing it have. Much of it seems to be an unconscious pattern, and so I don’t know if I want to attribute these malicious motives to our communication. I think it occurs on a spectrum, with some having more awareness than others. Also, if you are going to try to find empathy and engage in strategies to connect with another person, calling them predatory doesn’t seem to be the best way to do that!

Have you been on the giving or receiving end of predatory listening? I know I have done both.

Listening is one of the most influential and transformative tools we have as human beings. It conveys our willingness to accept and know other people just the way they are and decrease others’ feelings of inadequacy and the sense that we all have deep down that we are unworthy and not enough. 

When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. ~ Brenda Ueland

Tips for Dealing with Predatory Listening

What should you do about predatory listening? Oren Jay Sofer has these excellent suggestions. If you find yourself in a situation where you are on the receiving end of a predatory listener, do not become aggressive and accuse the other person. They will become defensive.

It might help keep in mind that this other person has a human need for connection and belonging, or at least that’s what all spiritual traditions teach!

Whatever you are discussing, the encounter with a predatory listener is likely about their unmet need to be seen or heard and valued. If you can convey that, the experience can become less intense for you.

  • Share that you can see they are passionate about this idea, and it matters deeply to them.The goal is to help them understand you are listening to what they are  saying and you  can see how much this means to them. I know that communication can be difficult, but I want you to know that I’m here for you. Thank you for sharing your passion with me!
  • Drop the idea of conflict and ask them what they would like from you as far as understanding their perspective. Ask them calmly what they would like from you, and then really listen to their answer. It may be that all they need is for you to hear them out and understand where they’re coming from. Only by truly listening can we hope to resolve conflicts in a peaceful and amicable way.
  • Invite the other person to share more allow them to do so by listening and reflecting This shows that you are engaged in the conversation and interested in what they have to say.


  • Try to agree with something they share if you can. It can be difficult to find common ground with someone, especially if you have very different opinions. However, listening and trying to see things from their perspective can help you to find areas that you do agree on. This can be a starting point for further conversation and can help to build communication and understanding.It’s a small step, but it can make a big difference.


  • Listen for what matters to them. What does this person care about? Then reflect this to them in a positive way.


  • Resist the urge to criticize, attack or otherwise behave in a conflictual way.  During this process, it is also important to be mindful of your own body language and tone of voice. Remember that the goal is to reach a mutual understanding, not to score points or win an argument. With these guidelines in mind, you should be able to successfully navigate any conflict.


  • Don’t take it personally. In order to avoid taking things personally, it is important to try and see the situation from the other person’s perspective. Listening carefully and openly, without getting defensive, can go a long way towards diffusing a potentially tense situation.

  • When confronted with harmful speech, the best approach is to disengage in the most peaceful way possible and end the conversation. This doesn’t mean that you have to agree with what was said, or that you should remain silent in the face of bigotry or hatred. But it does mean listening to the other person, communicating clearly, and refrain from engaging in any kind of violence. By taking this approach, you can help to de-escalate the situation and prevent further harm.

In a world where we are bombarded with noise from every direction, it can be easy to forget the power of listening. Yet listening is one of the most influential and transformative tools we have as human beings. When we listen with intention and attention, we create resonance and connection. We convey our willingness to accept and know other people just the way they are. We decrease others’ feelings of inadequacy and the sense that we all have deep down that we are unworthy and not enough. In short, listening is a radical act of love. When we truly listen to someone, we open up the possibility for transformation – in ourselves and in the other person. So the next time you find yourself in a conversation, take a deep breath and offer the gift of your full attention. See what happens when you truly listen.

References for Predatory Listening


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