how to be a bad listener

How to be a Bad Listener (Part 2)

Last week we hit on the fun topic of  “how to be a bad listener“.  As I said, there are plenty of resources on how to be a good listener.  But after reading “The Listening Life” by Adam S. McHugh, I was intrigued by his list on how to be a bad listener.  Many of this hit close to home.  Sometimes because I have been guilty of them.  Other times because I have been the “victim” of them

The author gives twelve examples of bad listeners.  Last week we talked about the “topper” (or “one-upper”), the “sleight of hand”, the “inspector”, the “reroute”, the “password” and perhaps the worst, the “projector”.  This week we’ll look at the second half of his list and learn more about how to be a bad listener.

The Interrogator

In this case, the listener fires an unending barrage of questions.  While questions are great and a wonderful way to engage and show interest.  If the person feels like they should be sitting in a plain room with a bright light over their head, it’s probably not the type of interest we want.

As a business coach, I am trained to ask questions.  Asking good questions is the secret sauce of being a good coach. But I have to be careful.  If all I do is ask questions, it can start to seem like an inquisition instead of just being inquisitive.

Self-diagnosis tip:  If you ask three questions in a row, that’s being inquisitive.  If you ask five in a row, you are extremely inquisitive.  If you ask ten questions in a row, then you might as well put a bright light over the table and go at it.

My advice to those who are curious and like to ask questions, pepper in some stories and examples to break up the questioning.

The Hijack

This is perhaps the bluntest bad listening skill of all.  In this case, the listener doesn’t hide their intention at all.  They just say, I’m not interested in what you want to talk about, here’s what I want to say.

In last week’s blog, I gave advice to the person practicing “sleight of hand”, to do just this in certain situations.  But also remember that I advised you to do it politely and after the other person had been given plenty of time to talk about their subject.  If you have been patient and given them plenty of time, then you can politely hijack the conversation.

Self-Diagnosis:  This one is fairly obvious.  If you go into a conversation with an agenda and are unwilling to talk about anything but your agenda, then you have hijacked the conversation.

I do recognize that there are times when you must hijack the conversation.  Disciplinary conversations are a good example.  If you are about the fire a person, starting off with some chit chat and letting them lead the conversation is bad form.

The Mechanic

Okay, guys, this is for you.   Well, in reality, women are guilty of it too.  But cultural norms and traditions blame men for this at a much higher rate.  What is it?  The mechanic is essentially listening so they can fix the other person’s problem.

But isn’t that why the person is sharing in the first place?  Maybe.  But until you know for sure, you should not try to solve their problem.  After 32 years of marriage, I know this to be true.

Self-Diagnosis:  One obvious clue is if you are anxious to jump in so you can tell them the solution.   If that’s your inclination, stop.  Take a breath.  Another clue is that you offer a solution and the person seems upset, offended or disagreeable.

So how should you handle it?  If you are in a situation where you do have some advice, ask them if it’s okay to share.  For example, say something like “you know, I had to deal with a similar situation a few years ago, would you like to know what I learned from it?”.  9 out of 10 times, the person is going to say yes.  But by asking permission, you give them the power to make that decision for themselves.

The Bone of Contention

The bone of contention is listening carefully so they can pick a fight or pick apart your entire premise.  You get to recognize these people pretty quickly and soon they become someone on your “avoid at all costs” list.

It’s interesting that people who fall into this category often feel like they are doing you a favor.  They use terms like “I’m just playing devil’s advocate here…”.  They think that by taking a contrarian view to your perspective they are doing you a favor.  Now, there are times when this is helpful.  And, in fact, I sometimes ask people to shoot holes in my idea.  But this person doesn’t wait for you to ask, they just take it on themselves to be the naysayer.

Self-diagnosis:  Do people avoid meeting with you?  That’s one good sign.  Do people caveat their statements first to try and keep you from shooting holes in it?  That’s the second sign.  Do you like arguing?  That’s the trifecta.  If you want to be a valued confidant to your network, you cannot be this person.

The Deflector

This is the person who does not want to hear anything critical related to them or their actions.  Anything that sounds like, smells like or even hints at being a criticism will find itself pushed right back at them.

It’s March Madness here in Kentucky and around America, and there’s not much more exciting than an outstanding defensive effort to reject someone’s shot.  But this type of deflection isn’t exciting or beneficial.

Self-Diagnosis: Do you quickly defend yourself before listening to what the other person has to say?  If you feel your blood pressure rising and the desire to defend yourself startts before they have made their point, then you may be a deflector.  If you want to improve this area (and you should), ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand their point of view.  Only after you have a complete and thorough understanding should you begin to defend your position (assuming it’s defensible).

The Boomerang

And finally, we have “the boomerang”.  This is the person who asks you the question that they really want you to ask them.  If their business is great, they want you to ask about that.  SO what do they do?  They ask how your business is going.  THen, once you give your answer, they proceed to talk about how their business is going.  In his book, McHugh gives this example:

 Let’s say they had a great weekend and they want to tell you about it.  And no matter what your answer to the question is, they bounce it back to telling their story.  Example:  “How was your weekend?”.  You respond, “Well, my son fell and broke his arm and my dad went into the hospital.  It looks like he’s going to have heart surgery tomorrow”.  Them: “Oh, that’s rough.  Well I had a great round of golf.  And made my first hole-in-one!   You wouldn’t believe it, but. ……”

Self-diagnosis:  If you want to talk about a specific topic (your business, your weekend, etc.), be authentic and just tell them you want to share what happened.  We would rather you just be real (even if you are bragging), than to attempt to manipulate the conversation onto your preferred topic.

Learning from the list

So there is the list of 12 tricks on “how to be a bad listener”.  Have you learned anything?  Have you seen yourself in any of these personas?  If we are honest with ourselves, we certainly have seen ourselves in a few of these (hopefully not most or all of them).

Do you suffer from being a bad listener?  Or do you have a bad listener in your office?  Give me a shout and we can discuss possible solutions for you and your team.