People who are poor listeners are generally not difficult to spot. They are often easily distracted, fail to focus on the present, offer plenty of free advice, minimize the feelings of others, and are quick to fill any silence with their own ideas.
Colleagues, co-workers, and even clients have labels for poor listeners. Have you seen these types in the workplace?
- Headhunter listener: this type of listener is looking to identify others in their tribe; that is to say, if your ideas align with theirs, or what they believe is “the truth.” While they may have good intentions, they are frequently looking for ways to restate their position, rather than listen.
- Negator: this type of listener believes everyone else is wrong. They create barriers, often hiding behind closed doors, lack of time, and other priorities. Resentful of others for their attempt at intrusion, they negate all ideas.
- Manipulator: perhaps the most cunning of poor listeners is the manipulator, who skillfully steers conversations to their desired outcome. Their questions are leading, slanted, or rhetorical, leaving others to wonder what just happened.
- Phila-buster: this type of listener is also known as a wind-bag. Any thinking they do is done externally, or out loud, and they use repetition or gas-lighting to try and prove their point.
- Fixer: the fixer listener is a people-pleaser, quick on the draw to offer solutions. They seek to impress, and often make recommendations before assistance is sought, or problems are fully identified.
- Faker: this type of listener is a great actor, who often uses pseudo-empathy to mask their disinterest or closed-mind.
When co-workers don’t listen at work, it can often feel like bad improv comedy. Have you experienced this? I have seen collaboration become impossible with one-sided conversations. Unfortunately, the stakes are much greater than a failed comedy skit, and the consequences far more reaching.
How Teams Can Listen Better with Improv
When this topic comes up with my coaching clients, we discuss how individuals and teams can practice the art of listening with a few techniques from improv comedy.
There is a game called Questions Only, where participants are challenged to move the dialog forward without hesitation, statements, or non-sequiturs, asking original questions only. Players take turns asking questions to each other, and the first person to say a statement is out.
Some versions of the game use scoring, but typically it is done with a group of four (or more), and when a mistake is made, another person steps in. The key to staying in the game is to listen well.
Poor listeners rarely move a dialog forward. Instead, they miss cues and opportunities. But great listeners focus on others, remain flexible, and listen carefully. They collaborate and support each other.
Listening well will help you strengthen relationships, increase your knowledge, make better decisions, and improve your creativity. It can make all the difference in your success. What do you think?
How are your skills in the art of listening? What tools or techniques do you use to improve your listening skills? Do you have more ideas on this topic? Would you like some help improving your listening skills? You can reach me here and on LinkedIn.