Defense mechanisms. Talking and Listening

example of a of  a mock therapy session on “Defense mechanisms“. and a great job by the participants of this video.
Note that the lady on the right is using a passive method of conversion  called Active Reflective Listening

Active Reflective listening is

  • Focused on listening to another person who is in command of his/her speaking
  • ‘Active’ because the listener stays focused on what is presently heard in real time (here &now).
  • ‘Reflective’ because replies are meant to be minimal and passive.
  • Coersive response during active reflective listening allow the other speaker to explore or clarify what he has spoken.
  • responses are kept minimal,allowing the speaker to be free and control of his language.


Common Defense mechanisms.

Colloquially, defense mechanisms are the common responses, including thoughts and actions, (and perhaps attitudes) one experiences when he/she feels threatened, fatigued, unconfident, or insecure.
Usually they are useful, some can be replaced, or new ones can be learned. A key factor of understanding ones Defence mechanisms is being aware of them, as one experiences them.
Talking and listening is an excellent exercise.

A list of common defense mechanisms can be found at:


Responses for Better Listening Skills

Would you like to improve your listening and conversation skills?
Try working in a response or two starting with the following:

  • What I hear you saying is…
  • Sounds like….
  • You’re feeling….
  • You think…
  • From your perspective…..
  • What I’m hearing is that your saying...
  • It sounds like you value…
  • Could this be….
  • By that you mean…
  • It sounds like on one hand you feel_____ because you think______ and
    on the other hand you feel_______ because you think________.

Good listening is like data collecting. One lets go of bias and preconceptions, and refrain from making judgements and opinions. Responding, is clarifying and confirming  he/she is listening to what someone is saying to him.

To probe further into another is saying, try one of the following:

I’m wondering…

  • what you mean by…
  • what that means to you.
  • what have you thought of doing…
  • What have you tried before?
  • How do you usually make this kind of decision?
  • What would you like to see happen?
  • What do you think the consequences would be?
  • what scares you about…

Some years ago I took a class in “Active and Reflective Listening” for  volunteer work I was doing at the time. I use those skills, including the statements above  all the time, today — they are part of my way of conversing. I am a much better listener today.
If  use some of these in your conversations and  you can if you can  be a better listener.

Avoiding Roadblocks in Listening

“Reflective Listening” is using  effective active listening skills, that encourage orderly communication and allow one to listen as objectively and un-coercively as possible to another who is speaking.
Reflective listening above all   – is about listening–  , and giving passive responses and reflection for clarification and encouragement…. as covered in the previous post:Reflective Listening for improved communication

Often when one is listening he or she feel compelled to respond. Without realizing, one is introducing his opinion, experiences, advice and assertions. these “Roadblocks” are statements by a listener that impede the progress of  reflective  listening. Learning to avoid and abstain from “Roadblocks” as much as one can, will make a person a better listener.

Roadblocks to Reflective Listening

Advising or Recommending
What I would do is…”        “What I think you should do is...
Perhaps, you should...”  “Let me suggest….” “I wouldn’t do….
Some would argue it is better to allow  a person to be his or her own problem solver. Giving an advice may make someone depend on advice, have an excuse if the advice another gives didn’t work out, or they may spend more time debating whether its good advise or not, rather than problem solve themselves.

Warning, Preaching, or Directing
You must...”     “You had better...”     “If you don’t …. then..
Its your responsibility…” “you have to…
These statements can make someone feel guilty or obliged,  and don’t encourage or clarify communicating.

Psychoanalyzing or Diagnosing
Your problem is…”              “What’s wrong with you is…
You don’t mean that…”        “What you need is
While it might clarify a speakers motive,  it may sound threating or confusing. and if one is wrong, it  simply impedes communication.

Lecturing and Logic
Do you realize”           “The fact is..”               “yes, but...
Lecturing and using logic is a good idea if you are debating or trying to get your point across, not so good for being objective and open to  listening.

Judging good or bad, Criticizing or Approving
you are just lazy      ”  “thats a good thing to do
Statements like this can make people feel inferior or dependent on someones value judgment. these statements can also cut off communication.

Reassuring or Excusing
Don’t worry...”           “you’ll feel better when...”   “You’ll be fine…
Reassuring isn’t  so bad. We want to make people feel better immediately with some words or reassurance. However,  as an active listener, one will probably  notice    that using reflect listening  (“you are feeling”..) is more encouraging and empathetic.

Closed or leading questions
wouldn’t it be best if”       “Do you  dislike that person...“?
A leading question leads the speaker to answer a particular way. Although direct ,they can interfere with the objectivity and neutrality of listening.

that happened to me once..“,         “that reminds me...
lets discuss it later
Simply says that one is not interested in listening, right now.

I took a training course in active and reflective listening skills some years ago, and like most people, I found it difficult not to use  these “Roadblocks”. while listening in a conversation. It just seem natural to talk of my experiences … and t sometimes that does  makes for good casual conversation.
However  when listening is  important, its ok to say nothing. If  one is compelled to say something, why not use reflecting and open ended question that are part of  listening skills . Sometimes what one abstains from saying is as important as what he or she  says.

This list of  “roadblocks ” are based on the work of Thomas Gordon‘s P.E.T. and L.E.T.

reflective listening for improved communication

If  one wishes to be a good observer of facts ,one withholds judgments,  interferes as little as possible with data, and summarizes what he observes. One must do the same when he or she is listening to what others are saying. One can do this with “Reflective Listening“.

the purpose of  “Reflective  Listening” is to :

  • listen  fully, clarify understand what another person saying.
  • build trust and  a repore with other people.
  • Improve communication
  • Increase  personal  empathy and relatedness

Active Reflective listening:

  1. Use Good Listening Skills.
  2. Withhold judgment while listening
  3. Listen Closely To What is being said, and How something is said.
  4. Pay attention to nonverbal cues: gestures, voice inflections.
  5. Respond to What you hear, and Nothing else.
    • Reflect and Listen
    • Affirm Feeling and Values when express
    • Explore and Encourage a speaker to share
    • Avoid listening “Road blocks “
  6. Summarize
  7. Continue to listen.

Reflecting and Listening

Reflecting tells the person who you are listening to that you understand them, and allows you to passively challenge statements for clarity.

  • I hear you saying………..
  • Sounds like……………….
  • You believe………………….
  • you are confident that….
  • Could it be that……
  • You think that…….
  • Correct me if I, Wrong , but i hear……….
  • From your perspective…………
  • I’m picking up………..
  • The part I understand is…..
  • It Seems as though…………
  • By that you mean…..

Statements, that start like this are known as “Tentafiers” and they avoid introducing any opinion, advice, or talk of your experience. Remember: this is about  better listening  and listening objectively.

Speaker: Its my brother. He borrowed th car again without asking.  He never shows up on time.  Never helps me when I ask for his help. and now he is asking to borrow money again.

Listener: “It sounds to me, that you believe your brother is taking advantage of you”..

Affirming Feeling and Values

Sometimes people talk to get things “off their chest”, or the just need someone to talk to. They may not notice how they are feeling as they talk. Pointing out feelings and values when you here them, challenges the speaker to experience them, more directly as they communicate.
It also tells the speaker “Hey! I know how you Feel” and “I want to know how you are feeling”.

  • You are Feeling……..
  • You Feel……..
  • I hear you saying that,   part of you feels….. and part of you feels….
  • It Sounds  like you really value……

Its  helpful to have  Strong “Emotional Grammar” and Empathy in answering these Tentafiers.
The good news is mastering  Listening helps to improve ones Emotional Grammar and Empathy.
Some Feeling Words:
You are Feeling…….

Angry ,  Unsure ,  Excited ,  Apprehensive ,  Joyful ,  Happy
Suspicious ,  Sad ,  Curious ,  Helpless ,  Cheated ,  Confident ,
Overloaded ,  Stressed, abandoned , Conflicted  , In-love ,  disrespected …

(A   downloadable list of Feeling words can be found  {click Here})

Speaker:“I just got a raise at work and my vacation plans were approved!  I made record time on my drive home! I’m on a roll!

listener: “you’re feeling ecstatic!”

Explore and Encourage.

One doesn’t want to intrude on a speaker when he/she is active – reflectively listening, but we may want to encourage the speaker to clarify what they or saying or talk more specifically about a subject.

I am Wondering….

  • ….what that means to you.
  • ….How you’re feelings about…..

Questions that encourage clarification and specification, that don’t lead the speakers to conclusions , are called “Opened ended  questions“.

  • Can you Tell me more about…?
  • What does that mean to you?
  • What would you like to see happen?
  • What are some of your Options?
  • Could you give me some examples?
  • How did you come to this conclusion?
  • What worked before?
  • Have you felt this way before?
  • Which concern seems most important right now?

It is Recommended that “Open ended Questions” are be used sparingly after reflecting and listening for a while.

Listening “Road Blocks”

Road blocks are statements one tries to avoid as they are nonconstructive to listening.One  don’t wish to interject our opinions, experiences, and advice  while listening.
I will cover road-blocks in the next post.


* ” I’d like to take a moment to summarize so i am clear about…

  • your concerns…”
  • what your feeling…..”
  • what you’ve told me….”

* ” Lets recap the Ground we covered.”

Summarizing is a good way to  express that you’ve been attentive in listening and that you clearly understand the major points the speaker expressed.

In Conclusion

Active Reflective Listening was developed  from the work of Carl Rogers Client Centered Therapy. Reflective Listening is  used professionally by  Law enforcement, EMT, who need to listen to people for facts quickly, business people with clients, etc. It can be use personally to improve oneself and relatedness to friends and family.
After all, most people like “Good Listeners”.