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.
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.
References for Predatory Listening
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