It seems to me that in an interaction which causes one to react defensively, there is almost always an equal option to take the interaction differently with a different outcome.
For example, I got an e-mail from a parent explaining that her daughter had tried to install some software in order to play a game and it hadn't worked. They would like for the game to work and is there anything I could do? I told her to hit the help desk and I was sure she could get assistance. Unfortunately, she hit the help desk at a particularly busy time and was sent away because the game isn't a priority when people can't get work done. The mom wrote me back and described the situation. Understandably, there was some frustration on the side of the help desk and the feeling that the mom was perhaps tattling to me. I talked to the mom later, and it turned out that she wrote me only so I would know that the daughter had tried to seek help, since she hadn't gotten the game to work. In other words, the mom was feeling a little defensive that the daughter might get in trouble if she didn't tell me what happened.
I was thinking about this last night because of an interaction at a meeting I went to.
One person presented some things in Scheme, which started the age old discussion about what language to teach first. J offered the opinion that Scheme is perhaps not an ideal first language - yes, it does offer some advantages, but it has some disadvantages, too. I heard him mention that Scheme isn't used outside academia and thought that was a significant part of his point - we should focus on languages that are used in the real world.
Well, it is funny what happens when someone hits a sensitive spot, isn't it? So I ranted a little bit about teaching kids how to think and learn rather than preparing them for the working world. Whereupon someone else responded that he didn't think anyone in the room was saying that. Which had not been my understanding at all. So I stopped and thought about it and tried hard to listen more clearly.
It is inevitable to filter what we see and hear through our own experience. (My experience last night: heading to a meeting with parents right after this meeting, which made me nervous about being beat up about my curricular choices.) But it is really, really important to hear what people are trying to say and not what you think they're saying.