Insensitive Listening

Insensitive listening is the act of hearing what other people say and what are their feelings, but ignore and neglect them. Listen but not care, or desire to support.

General Information

Insensitive listening is a term used in communication, psychology and was adopted in online as well. Insensitive listening refers to listeners that don't take into consideration what the speaker is saying or showing through nonverbal communication.

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Insensitive and poor listening can be damaging for both parts into the discussion because it can ruin relationships, contracts, deals, or even start conflicts if the situation is exaggerated.

In direct conversations and interpersonal communication, insensitive listening can easily be discovered. We can look at eye contact, body language and nonverbal communication elements to detect poor listening. But in digital marketing and social media, acknowledging insensitive listening is harder to achieve. We need to look at data, engagement rates, feedback, use brand monitoring and social listening for better understanding.

Types of Ineffective Listening

Adler and Proctor (2017)[1] details ineffective listening styles, which include:

  • pseudo-listening: giving the appearance of listening
  • stage hogging listening: turning conversation to oneself
  • selective listening: responding only to content of particular interest
  • insulated listening: ignoring or avoiding a topic
  • defensive listening: taking comments personally
  • ambushing: critical listening performed just to collect information for an attack
  • insensitive listening: taking comments at face value without understanding hidden meanings or nonverbal cues.

Elements in the Listening Process vs Insensitive Listening

Listening has more steps in the process and insensitive listening lacks a few of those steps.

  1. Hearing: Insensitive listening has a faced hearing step in the process. Insensitive listening happens when the listener fails to hear or might seem to be hearing, but different factors change the normal course of action.
  2. Attending: means paying attention of what's been said and listen to the speaker. Get into the conversation and focus the attention on the other people that talk.

~ Insensitive listening includes pseudo listening, or it might lack this step by ignoring the speaker's message, use it in a damaging form by having attacking the speaker or not reaching a conflict resolution.

  1. Understanding: happens when the listener makes sense of he/she hears.

~ Insensitive learning might not have this is the process at all.

  1. Responding: means giving feedback base don what did the speaker said.

~ The difference here compared with insensitive learning consists in the type of feedback given. Insensitive listening can lead to me more negative.

  1. Remembering: active listening gives us the ability to recall information based on a conversation, but with insensitive listening, we could forget or remember different information.

Reasons why insensitive listening happens

The reason why insensitive listening happens can't always fall into the listener's name. It can also happen because of the message shared by the speaker. Here are some reasons why insensitive listening happens:

  • lack of interest
  • preconceived ideas
  • lack of attention because the listener thinks of something else or has the mind elsewhere
  • affinity towards certain political, religious, race or similar topics
  • contradictive thoughts and opinions
  • hateful Tweets and social media posts or pictures published
  • violet videos
  • advertising and encouraging people to violet actions or similar
  • and many more that fall into the legal justice

Below is an example of an incentive and unacceptable Tweet from Mc Donalds. It is an explicitly political post from its official account. We might think that was Tweet from an angry employee with the desire to damage the brand's name, and that can turn into a serious PR disaster.


Relevance to Social Media

"What does it mean to listen to social media?" some might ask. Well, social media is about communicating in lots of formats and forms.

Brands use social media to communicate different information to their fans and followers. Of course, some messages might not get to the audience, might not touch them in any other way, and even might lose them along the way. That can happen because of the reasons named above, or other personal reasons, based on people's feelings, beliefs and so on.

It is important that brands appeal to their audience and try to keep their attention on the long term. Ask for their opinion and always look for data for a better understanding of likes and dislikes by comparing engagement rates for different posts and timelines.

Another important aspect is to start social listening and look after sentiment analysis to understand people's opinions and thoughts about the brand. If the sentiment analysis show lots of negative data it means that something is wrong and people are offended or upset about something the brand said or endorsed.

Social listening also helps address PR disasters before they get out of hand and turn into a crisis.

It is important to take the time and apologies for something we did. And the way to say that needs to be very well taken care of.

External Links


  1. P. Pedersen, P. Laucella, A. Geurin, E. Kian, Strategic Sport Communication, 2020, p132.