Let us not mince words: deep listening is a 21st century hack for productivity. We dedicate so much time on learning how to communicate, how to negotiate, what words to use to influence others, then we do not spend the equal amount of time on our inner skills. We simply do not know how to be an effective listener that goes beyond just nodding and establishing an eye contact. What does it mean to listen to people that it might trigger sustainable change in your management style?

Do you know that executives spend about 83% of their time o listening? * HBR claimed in 2017 that “On average, about one-quarter of CEOs’ days are spent alone, including sending emails. Another 10% is spent on personal matters, and 8% is spent traveling. The remainder (56%) is spent with at least one other person, which mostly involves meetings, most of which are planned ahead of time.”** so something between 56 to 83% leaders listen. Unfortunately, I have not heard yet about the research on the quality of this listening. There are so many articles on external distractions connected with technology. What about such inner distractions as biases, prejudices, inner clutter, fears and habitual interactions with people?

If you want to be an effective leader and get serious about your listening skills, start with evaluating what non-listening type you might incorporate from time to time.

Types of non-listeners

An aggressive non-listener.

This type just has so much experience and knowledge (usually gained at highly responsibilite and highly exposed positions) that they do not want to waste their precious time on listening to things they have already heard. Moreover, the ones that did not work in the past. An Aggressive Non-Listener has very limited trust in learning something new from the others, so he/she might pay attention to few people in the team who are stronger negotiators than they are or who gained the advantage and proved themselves in the past. But generally, this non-listener doesn’t value much other people’s opinions.  Remember, if you judge others as less smart than you, it can get in your way and you will stop listening to them.

Common belief: I know what you are going to say after a few first words.

Typical behavior: interrupting, snap and cynical comments, questions that lead to exposing somebody’s ignorance, excessive using lack-of-time excuses, body language that shows disrespect or indifference (no eye contact, extended looks away, turning into different direction than your conversationalist), might give short speeches instead of talking, sometimes could listen only to parts of a message that interest them and reject or ignore everything else.

Remedy: If you happen to suffer from this condition, try these:

  • Notice who you treat this way
  • Observe what topics make you feel superior to others
  • Switch on curiosity. Whenever you feel the urge to stop you conversationalist in the middle of the sentence, think “I am going to listen for all the things that make me curious in what he says” or “I wonder how she can surprise me here?”
  • Remember 5 minutes spent on curious listening can be more productive than 30 minutes of convincing somebody else that they are not right.

A distracted non-listener

This non-listener has a lot of going on right now. Deadline is pushing deadline and priorities resemble more the unpredictable wheel of fortune than something they can manage. What do they do instead of listening and being present? They are in their heads planning and forecasting.

Common belief: I am so busy that I cannot stop thinking about what I have to do.

Typical behavior: multitasking (e.g. talking to somebody and reading an email), their mind is wandering even if they are in a meeting; it is hard for them to keep track of what’s happening around;  they have difficulty keeping track of the flow of any conversation, they might hop from one topic to the next, they comments tend to be chaotic and not connected with the main subject;

Remedy: Once I heard “Wherever you are, be all there.” If you are this non-listener you are probably never fully present, not with the family, not in the meeting and not even at one-on-one. How to be all focused on one moment and time?

  • Write down all the task you need to fulfill.
  • Establish your own priorities, however, do not get attached to them too much. These are priorities for right now.
  • Switch on trust. Whenever you are at the meeting, remember that you have already noted down you tasks for today, so they are safe. You will not miss anything.
  • To be sure that you are here and know use paraphrasing: repeat what you have just heard with you own words. Start: “I want to be sure that I fully understand you. You just said… Have I missed anything?”

A creative non-listener

If you happen to be a Creative Non-Listener, it might be virtually impossible for you to carefully listen to others and appear creative at the same time. Because for this type, the creativity is being in their head and experiencing a non-stoppable performance of ideas, concepts and possibilities. It might happen that when they connect the dots in their heads, they instantly go from A to Z and this way discover completely new territory but at the same time they lose touch with the reality. The result? Your team will get lost in your ideas and stop using their own resourcefulness.

Common belief: I have so many great ideas.

Typical behavior: interrupting, chaotic speech, changing topics, connecting ideas that are difficult to follow, enthusiasm, energy and optimism, might spent too much time in the future, superficial discussion over important topics, hyperactivity that might make the rest of the team quiet and withdrawn.

Remedy: Because there are so many benefits to being creative, people does not learn how to be a receiving part of a discussion. However, it seems that this skill makes leaders particularly good at developing next generations of managers. If you want to move your leadership to the next level, learn how to encourage others’ creativity.   

  • Embrace the silence.
  • Focus on forming insightful questions that naturally continue the conversation
  • Switch on note taking. Write down the things you find interesting in what others bring up at the meeting. If you cannot take notes at the time, listen with the intention to highlight what you liked about others’ input at the end of the discussion.
  • Leave your ideas to be expressed at the end or at all if they have already been said.

A defensive non-listener

A Defensive Non-Listener feels attacked or endangered because they hear a general statement and personalize it. This underlying impression takes its toll while listening to others. For example, they might take innocent comments about the project as personal attacks on their managing skills. Such listening creates impressions of insecurity and a lack of confidence. Sometimes, however, they might behave like a cross-examining attorney, namely they will be listening very carefully just to collect information that can be used against the other person.

Common belief: They are going to hurt me/attack me/expose me.

Typical behavior: defensiveness, excuses, ‘yes, but’ game, taking jokes or sarcastic comments personally, personalizing impersonal statements, avoiding certain topics, blaming game.

Remedy: Because being a Defensive Non-Listener is pretty common in a stressful period or in the company where it is important to find the culprit, it might be a good idea to implement a few ways of dealing with it.

  • Whenever you spot you have started to behave as a Defensive Non-Listener, slow down and take deep breaths to self-soothe.
  • Do not interrupt.
  • Gather feedback about the topic that seems to trigger you.
  • Switch on comparing to standards. Do not assign personal meaning to what others say. Instead focus on standards that need to be met.
  • Ask for specifics around the standards.
  • Find something to agree with.
  • Think what actions need to be done to have a positive outcome next time.

An intrusive non-listener

An Intrusive Non-listener gives an unsolicited advice whenever they can and, however, they have good intentions with these comments in private life, as in professional one, they just do more harm than good. You might believe that with limited time you have at work, it is natural to provide your people with quick answers. Besides, you probably have the feeling that it strengthens your authority. Quite the opposite. Too much advice makes your people more dependent on you, reduces their initiative and, let’s face it, annoys those who want to develop.

Common belief: I can help you. Only I know how.

Typical behavior: too much monitoring, so called saving-time strategies, too much instruction giving and control comparing to too little delegating, treating experienced employees as beginners, reducing independence, leaving too little space for people to take ownership.

Remedy: If this listening type sounds familiar:

  • Refresh the concept of situational leadership, which is an adaptive leadership style that was described by Ken Blanchard. Firstly, evaluate your team members in terms of their maturity and choose the leadership style that best fits their goals and circumstances. Some of them might be absolute beginners, adepts, independent workers or experts. Depending on it use instructions, delegation, or coaching as your tools.
  • Switch on humility. Humble leaders give their people chance to share their views, spark creativity in others, encourage more ownership by giving the team a voice in decision making process.
  • Use storytelling instead of advice giving, for example, say: “Your situation reminds me of the moment when I/person X…. What I did then was…. What’s in it for you?”***

After evaluation

It might happen that you will recognize more than one style in listening. Or that one of them is used by you more often that you would like to. Don’t worry.

Susan A. David said “At work, especially when things get intense, we too often fall back on our old stories about who we believe ourselves to be.” I couldn’t agree more. That’s why whenever I work with leaders, I show them my concept of personal development.

It reminds an atom diagram.

There is our center, the core basic self. Whenever we learn new things, whenever we try and adopt new behaviors, we move further from the core. Too much of stress, chaos, or intense experiences the gravitation pulls us back to our basic patterns.

In that view development is about how fast we recognize that we got back to the core and how fast we dust ourselves up and try again to do our best.

* According to Oscar Trimboli during the podcast “The Modern Manager” episode 42.


*** https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/veiled-advice-hallway-coaching-part-4-inga-bieli%C5%84ska-pcc-ma/


Photo by Antenna on Unsplash
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