One way people can treat others poorly is by practicing dismissive listening rather than empathic listening. It is a very common behavior. It is so common, in fact, that many people don’t even realize that it’s not right. They may feel badly after someone treats them this way but not necessarily know why, because in addition to being so commonplace, it’s also very subtle.
Dismissive listening can be recognized easily if you know what to look for. Basically it is like the name says, it is when someone dismisses what you say. Some common dismissive phrases are:
- “Don’t be upset/sad/angry!”
- “The same thing happened to my friend! She was fine though.”
- “At least it’s not…<insert random bad thing here>”
- “Well it could be worse!”
- Any sort of toxic positivity phrase like, “cheer up!”, “Positive vibes only!” or “Think only happy thoughts!”
Dismissive phrases like these often try to shut down & even instill shame in the person talking to the dismissive person. They also are a sign of someone trying to fix another person rather than listen to what they have to say.
While narcissists clearly are pros at dismissive listening, not everyone who talks this way is a narcissist. Some people simply don’t realize how they are treating others is wrong.
I urge you to pay attention to how people treat you when you talk. If someone is quick to dismiss what you have to say, that is a red flag. They may not be a totally unsafe person, but they may not be comfortable with the subject matter & as a result, want to stop you from talking about it. Some people simply can’t handle talking about specific topics. While that is fine, dismissing you if you bring up a specific topic isn’t fine. The dismissive listening is a red flag that this topic isn’t a safe one to discuss with this person, so you should avoid it. It also could potentially be a sign the person is dysfunctional or even narcissistic. The way they behave otherwise will let you know what the case is.
I also want to urge you to pay attention to how you treat others when they are talking. If you catch yourself being dismissive to others once in a while, it happens. It’s normal, really. On a regular basis though, it’s not good. You can make changes though!
Remember that being a good listener means you want to hear what someone has to say, & you make that obvious. You make it clear you are willing to listen to them. You let the other person speak without interrupting. You don’t change the subject. You let them speak without judgment or criticism.
You also don’t need to offer advice unless the other person asks for it. Unasked for advice is just rude & presumptuous! Not to mention, many people just need to vent rather than advice.
Show empathy. Let the other person know you care by saying things like, “That sounds really hard.” “Can I do something to help you?” “I’m here for you.” & “I care.” Those little phrases will make a huge difference to someone in need of a comforting friend.
Body language can be important too. It sends subtle cues to the speaker that you are involved in this conversation. Touch their hand, look them in the eye, maybe offer a hug.
Dismissive listening may not be the worst thing a person can do to another, but it still needs to be avoided in order to have healthy, happy relationships.