You learned to listen before you were born. Listening was the first skill you ever developed, long before you learned to breathe or speak.

So why are so many people so bad at listening? Because listening comes naturally, whereas we’ve had to be taught to speak. We confuse effort with importance.

The cost of not listening for managers and executives is significant especially as you try to bring about change and impact inside your organisation. The lost potential is massive and the frustration it creates brings chaos, confusion and conflict in the workplace.

The four listening types described in Deep Listening – Impact Beyond Words addresses the imbalance and promotes change through understanding.

Poor listening is individual and situational.

Poor listening habits are a function of who you are speaking to as much as the nature of the dialogue. When we are not conscious of practicing deep listening, we all fall into one of four types. These listening habits are not productive for you nor the person you are in dialogue with.

The challenge to being an effective listener and productive leader is twofold:  When you are speaking you need to be conscious that your speaking style matches your target’s listening style. Conversely, as a leader you need to assist the speaker through displaying deeper listening.

As leaders, we understand that our colleagues, managers, stakeholders and customers don’t just want you to ‘watch them speak’, they want to be understood and they want to be heard.

With that understanding we can hone in on listening capabilities and consequences. See if you can think of people who listen in each of the four ways listed below when you are speaking. You might also notice which one of these types you have been guilty of perpetrating when being spoken to.

1. The Lost Listener

You are in your mind rather than in the conversation. As a lost listener you are so absorbed with your own self-talk that you don’t create enough space in your mind for any analytical grip on what is actually being said. You are so busy thinking about your last thought and your next thought that you can’t focus on the discussion – on what’s actually being said (or not said). You are lost before you even turn up to the discussion.

Speakers generally wonder why they have bothered speaking with you at all. They can feel powerless.

2. The Shrewd Listener

You are too busy trying to solve the issue before listening to what they’re actually offering. This is often the affliction of a quick mind. You are so brilliant that you think you can fix the issue you are discussing before they have explained it. Not only are you so brilliant at fixing the issue they are explaining, you are anticipating (and fixing) 3-4 issues you think you should be discussing.

You are shrewd enough to wait patiently and not interrupt, yet you are not present or involved in the dialogue. You are so far into the future that you have forgotten about the dialogue happening in the present.

Speakers in this scenario often feel like they’ve opened a can of worms and may be inclined to hold things back or not give you all the details. They can feel incompetent.

3. The Interrupting Listener

You are so focused on finding a solution that you finish their sentences for them because you feel they are moving too slowly. Interrupting Listeners listen with the intent of solving rather than an intent of listening curiously and completely. You interrupt and interject before they can give you a full story.

This can go either way for the speaker. Some will simply consider it completely rude and pull out of the discourse. Others will feel harried because although you are (kind of) listening, they can’t completely communicate their thoughts. They’ll usually end up just agreeing with whatever you suggest. Whether they believe it’s right or wrong or cognisant of the full details – that you just talked over.  

4. The Dramatic Listener

You love drama and you explore, or over-explore, every element of the discussion. Rather than help the speaker progress toward making their point, you get stuck in understanding all the historical events, patterns and minutiae that have led to the discussion.

You’re likely an astute conversationalist and enjoy engaging in discussions. However, you are so engrossed in the drama that you miss important details as you’re not focused on the purpose of your speaker’s communication.

This type of dialogue can be distracting and/or frustrating for the speaker. Your well-meaning albeit constant questions can be off-point and time-consuming in business.

Do you notice yourself or someone you know in these four habits of poor listeners?

As leaders, we play a dual role in listening. We need to be conscious of how we listen and adapt to the dialogue we are participating in. If we create a space to both listen and hear, the result is greater trust, better communication. This brings with it a transformational impact.

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Oscar Trimboli, leadership, management, improvement, listeningOscar is the head of coaching for The Marketing Academy Australia and author of “Breakthroughs – How to confront assumptions”  and “Deep Listening – How to have an impact beyond words”. 

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