What Kind of a Listener Are You? (Part 2)

Last week I identified six different types of listeners that you may encounter and what you might do to help improve the listening experience with them. On the other hand, if you discovered that you tend to listen in a certain way, hopefully you can begin to recognize how others may perceive your behavior. Increasing awareness of your listening behavior will allow you to make some changes if you discover that your listening is less than effective.

Here are some additional types of listeners that you may recognize and some suggestions for dealing with them.

7. The Faker is the type of listener who appears to be totally engaged in the conversation. They may give eye contact and nod their head in agreement as you are speaking. They will also use verbal acknowledgement by using single word statements such as, “um”, “really”, or “interesting.” Then in time it becomes apparent that they have not heard anything that you have said. You may ask them a question and their answer will not match the question, or they will ask you if you could repeat the question that you just asked them. These folks approach listening by feigning interest, but end up exposing their inattention by something that they either say or do.

   What to Do: Any time you know that you want a person’s undivided attention, you can assist their listening attention by framing the purpose of the conversation before you begin. You might say something like, “I really need you to listen to the three solutions that I have come up with for solving this challenge and give me your advice as to which one is best and why. Can you do that for me?” Such a statement will help them focus on what you are sharing because they know what you want them to do.

8. The Chatterbox can’t seem to stop talking. I have often noticed that silence makes these listeners very uncomfortable, so they seem to fill the space with the sound of their own voice. Other conversation styles talk a lot as a way of thinking or processing out loud. When you hear individuals do this, you might find yourself wondering where the conversation is going or what the purpose of their message may be.

   What to Do: When interacting with these individuals, you can focus or direct the conversation by asking questions. When their speaking becomes somewhat long, you can focus your own listening by asking yourself, “What do they want?” or “Why are they telling me this?” If you cannot discern the answers to those questions, then simply ask those questions to the person to whom you are speaking to help you understand their message. Finally, be sure to summarize what you think that they have said. Don’t worry if they correct you. Their correction will force them to be more specific about what they really meant when they were speaking.

9. The Egotist is totally self-absorbed during a conversation. Whatever the topic, they always turn the topic of discussion to some aspect of their life. They want to talk about their spouse, their house, their children, their earnings, their vacation in Hawaii, or some other bit of news that makes them stand out from everyone else. In speaking with them you might end up wondering how the conversation became focused on them. Speaking with or listening to them is very challenging because every topic of discussion ends up being about them. Their self-centered focus seems to be about gaining admiration and respect.   

   What to Do: Obviously you could choose not to speak with such people at all. Or, you can try to keep the conversation on track by asking the types of questions that will help them to focus on the topic at hand. You might also notice a trend in the types of topics that they often revert to and before they try to maneuver the conversation in that direction, you could provide sincere praise or acknowledgement for their favorite topic. Sometimes people bring up certain topics because they want acknowledgement and that is why they continue to bring it up. Finally, if the person is someone that matters to you and with whom you have a long standing relationship, you probably should provide some helpful feedback while exploring with them the reason that the topic of conversation always focuses on them.  

10.The Repeater is always saying the same things over and over, often with a slightly different twist. I had the opportunity to coach an executive who engaged in this type of listening behavior. What I finally discovered was that he could not read the social cues that told him that others had understood his message. He did not notice when people started to check out, roll their eyes, or totally disengage from the conversation.

   What to Do: If you are a repeater, then try ending your statements with an open-ended question that allows people to respond to your message. For example, saying, “I think we should do this. What do you think?” allows you to test if the person has understood your message. Then you won’t need to assume that they have not understood and repeat yourself. If you are speaking with someone who continually repeats their message, create an opportunity to end the repetition by interjecting, “Yes, I understand,” “Agreed,” or “Right” to signal to them that they have been understood.  

11. The Drama Queen or King always has some dramatic story to tell about how they are the victim, how things just aren’t fair, or about all the bad things that others do to them. They will often tell the same story over and over again until life’s circumstances provide them a new story to tell. Listening to these types of individuals takes great patience and can be emotionally draining. They seem to want to create sympathy for or attention to themselves while avoiding the responsibility to take control of their life.

   What to Do: Pay particular attention to the common themes of the stories that they tell. Make empathetic statements that demonstrate your understanding of their situation, something like, “I understand how frustrating it must be to be treated that way.” Then move from sympathy to reframing the situation from a positive perspective. For example, you could follow the previous statement with something like, “I guess that situation provides you a wonderful opportunity to make a different choice about what you might create for yourself. What do you think?” I have found when I have taken this approach that the drama begins to diminish or stop altogether. It is far better to help these individuals see their opportunity rather than entertaining their drama.

12. The Unfocused are the consummate multitaskers. They have many things that they are working on simultaneously, and they seem to work nonstop. They have great difficulty slowing down and giving you their full and undivided attention if even for a minute. They often lack an organized plan or focused priority for all the work that they have on their plate. They do not intend to be disrespectful. They just see life as never having enough hours in the day.

   What to Do: Make clear statements of your purpose for speaking with them, so that they know exactly what you need for them. Don’t hesitate to make a specific statement of the time you need. For example, “I need two minutes to talk about ….” If they agree to speak with you, but they are still distracted or are unfocused in how they listen to you, ask them if there is a better time when you can have their undivided attention, reschedule, and excuse yourself. Don’t waste your time if they are unable to focus. Respectfully share your observation of the current situation and offer an alternative listening time. But you will need to take the initiative to create the time for them to listen.

There are a number of different listening tactics that people employ that are less than effective. When you encounter such behaviors, you will need to manage the situation to help these individuals to listen more deeply. If you have discovered that you engage in any of the 12 behaviors that I have identified, you need to acknowledge your listening weaknesses and take steps to increase your listening agility. Being a better listener is the key to achieving results, creating respect, and deepening your relationships. Who wouldn’t want more of that?     

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