Why We Refuse To Listen When We’re Stressed Out


“You just don’t get it!” 

“I’m not looking for your opinion…”

Kreeg je weleens dergelijke reacties toen je eigenlijk alleen maar behulpzaam wilde zijn?

Stress maakt ons vaak defensief; een reactie die we bij anderen snel herkennen, maar bij onszelf moeilijker zien. 

Jezelf afsluiten voor feedback of anders gezegd ‘weigeren te luisteren’ is een manier waarop defensiviteit zich manifesteert. En dat kan behoorlijk wat negatieve gevolgen hebben als je het niet op tijd opmerkt. Wanneer je meer gefocust bent op het beschermen van je ego. 

Op die momenten ben je zo opgeslokt door het vermijden van feedback, dat je niet alleen belangrijke informatie mist maar ook kansen laat liggen om je te ontwikkelen.

Laten we dit eens uitdiepen.

When Stress Takes Over: Defensiveness and Refusing To Listen 

There are many ways we can react to feeling threatened, insecure, or anxious. We might become distrustful, pick fights, or even burst out laughing involuntarily.  

A very common reaction is to enter “defensiveness mode,” which can significantly impact our ability to listen effectively. 

We might start:

  • Tuning out of or withdrawing from conversations.
  • Interrupting or talking over our conversation partners.
  • Dismissing their ideas or rejecting their feedback.
  • Becoming argumentative or combative.

These behaviors can all have a detrimental impact on our interactions, as they limit our ability to learn from others, make better decisions, and ultimately, to grow. 

If you’ve ever tried talking to someone who isn’t truly listening, or isn’t receptive to feedback, you’ll also know that it can feel unpleasant. 

That said, it’s not just feedback that might make us shut ourselves off from others when we are under stress. It could also be down to:

  • Cognitive Overload: It’s harder to focus on listening when we’re mentally overwhelmed
  • Fatigue: Stress can cause both mental and physical fatigue, which can impair an individual’s ability to maintain focus and actively listen.
  • Being preoccupied: We may simply be wrapped up in our thoughts, which makes it harder to fully listen
  • Self-preservation: Shutting ourselves off can also be an attempt to protect ourselves from anticipated further stress or emotional discomfort.
  • Perceived Lack of Control: Especially if we feel that that listening to others won’t change the outcome we’re struggling to influence.

I included “Refusing To Listen” in my  Coachkaarten because it can lead to missed opportunities, strained relationships, and difficulties collaborating. However, it’s easily fixed with the right mindset shifts.

These next three tips should be perfect for anyone who’s sometimes guilty of being closed to others’ perspectives. 

3 Ways To Tune Back In

Here are three tips to help you deal with situations where you or someone else is refusing to listen and it is affecting your communication and wellbeing:

1. Be Humble

Accepting your shortcomings, acknowledging others’ strengths and achievements, and opening  yourself up to learning from others is an incredible way to start managing this stress reaction. 

Rather than defending their own perspectives, humble people are more focused on listening to outside perspectives. It means:

  • Growing your self-awareness. This can help you feel less uncomfortable admitting your mistakes or lack of knowledge.
  • Schedule regular check-ins with others. Ask your colleagues, boss, or peers for their thoughts on your performance or behavior, and be willing to implement their feedback.
  • Create your own support network. Find others who can help, motivate, and guide you when you need it; this will help you stay on track.
  • Listen actively. Try concentrating on how your conversation partners see things while they talk. Paraphrase, summarise, ask questions, and show your interest.
  • Give genuine compliments. Try to recognize and praise others where that credit is due. Be genuine!
  • Set personal humility goals: A few examples might include owning up to your mistakes or giving others credit where it is due. 
  • Find role models: Who practices humility well? Watch how they act, communicate, and handle setbacks. Learn from them and practice what they do right.

2. Adopt a Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is a concept introduced by psychologist Carol Dweck (@link), and describes the belief that “most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point.” 

Fostering a growth mindset doesn’t just help you become more receptive to feedback and others’ opinions, it also helps you develop your resilience. The following tips may just help you view others’ input as opportunities to grow and learn, rather than a threat to your ego: 

  • Set yourself some personal goals: What would you like to be better at? How would you like to grow? Establish realistic goals using a framework like SMART, if it helps. 
  • Embrace challenges: Try viewing them as growth opportunities rather than fearing failure.
  • Replace negative self-talk: Start noticing your inner dialogue and replacing self-defeating thoughts (like “I’m terrible at this”) with positive, growth-oriented affirmations like “I’m going to get better with practice.”)
  • Celebrate your wins: Regularly monitor your progress. Reward yourself for your hard work and commitment to growth!
  • Learn from your mistakes: This is a great way to adapt your behavior and do better next time!
  • Seek others’ feedback: Be proactive about asking colleagues, peers, and others for their thoughts on how you can improve. These are all great opportunities to do just that!
  • Embrace a learner’s mindset: Ask questions, be curious, and try new things. Exactly the opposite of refusing to listen!

3. Reflect On Your Values

Reflecting on your values is another great way to open yourself up to others’ perspectives. 

Succinctly, it’s about considering the ways that being closed-minded or unreceptive is preventing you from living in alignment with your principles.

The goal here is to move closer toward more authentic and “valued” living.” Not only can it improve your relationships, but it will also help you grow as a person.

Try these steps:

  • List your core values (e.g., respect, compassion, integrity, or perseverance)
  • Using this list as a guide, consider how your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors align with these values
  • Try to think of times when you might have allowed closed-mindedness or defensiveness to prevent you from acting in a way that aligns with these values and the impact this had
  • Come up with practical ways to prioritize your values even when you’re tempted to protect your ego. Setting personal goals and practicing empathy are two great examples.
  • Regular check-ins will help you keep tabs on your progress toward more value-aligned living and adapt your strategy as needed.

Nicolien Dellensen

Nicolien Dellensen, Senior Consultant and behavioral specialist and creator and owner of the ’Sphere of Influence 360º’ a comprehensive concept and (360) online tool about interactive dynamics.

Cover e-book Sphere of Influence 360º Team Kit with purple color bacjground and magenta colored text

Free Team Kit E-book

Sign up for our newsletter and improve your team’s potential with the exercises in our free Team Kit e-book.