Work your Way to Work with Bad Listeners

Quite often our colleagues, be it our superiors or juniors, show signs of being bad listeners. When you find that there is always a communication gap with that one particular person, you know it is not you who cannot communicate, but that person who lacks listening skills. The outcome can be quite unpleasant. Apart from glitches in the work, you might start developing a personal dislike toward this person and your relationship starts to get sour.  There are ways in which such delicate situations can be handled delicately too. You need to strategize or adjust your communication style to this person in such a way that he/she has makes an effort to listen to you.

Start by setting the tone or context of what you are going to talk about. Give them a heads up about the significance of the message. Something like: “What I am about to discuss with you is of grave importance and it will require your full co-operation”.  You can also put the onus on them by saying what you expect from them after the talk for eg, “Each of you needs to come up with at least 2 marketing strategies for this product”-so when they know they are expected to contribute they will listen to you. With tactics like these, the conversation ceases to be one-sided and engages the other person in critical thinking, which requires them to listen.

Some bad listeners may be inclined to visual forms of communication. So perhaps, writing would help you get your message through to them. You can ask the person what medium of communication he/she is comfortable with, this flexibility is a win-win situation for both.  

Take a moment, to think about what kind of a listener you are. Reflect on how you approach professional conversations –are you a good communicator? Maybe you can improve your speaking skills which could provoke your colleague, to listen. Many times it’s not what you say, it is how you say it. Do you intimidate your listener, with a stern tone or overwhelming information? Storytelling could make a huge difference. Especially for people who are visual, with stories you can take them to different world-the conversation becomes, creative and informative at the same time!

Sometimes more than naturally lacking the skill to listen, an employee may have a lot on his/her plate. These responsibilities can act as overbearing distractions and cause the person to not listen intently. As a helpful colleague, you could probably make the effort of sharing their load. ‘Looks like you have a lot on your plate, do you want me to reduce the burden so that you can be fully present in our meeting or even something like, ‘Do you need me to reschedule the meeting so that we can meet when you are stress-free and focused? These gestures, of course, made with genuineness, will go a long away. The employee will be ascertained about his significance in the meeting and will make an effort to listen.

You can propose or design a framework of the communication culture in your organisation during meetings. Things like, “be open to different ideas and perspective”, “all opinions are important, please make sure everyone gets a chance to voice theirs”. Such propositions will create a supporting work environment and will get people to participate more!

A successful dialogue or conversation is the responsibility of the speaker and the listener. It is easy to blame the listener, but if, the speaker too takes responsibility and modifies his approach, it will not only result in a successful conversation but also in a strong relationship.

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