Are bad listeners undermining your workplace?

If workers are talking over each other, or simply failing to pay attention, here's what HR should do

Are bad listeners undermining your workplace?
Whether they’re constantly talking over you or just seemingly distracted, working with bad listeners can be a terrible experience. But not only is it annoying, it also increases chances for miscommunication in the workplace, which can be detrimental to a firm’s productivity.

Experts with the Harvard Business Review chimed in last week on how to deal with these problematic workers.

“When someone is not fully present, it erodes the quality of what you say,” said Sabine Nawaz, executive coach and CEO of Nawaz Consulting. She explained that the experience can “cause you to lose your train of thought” or “suppress what you originally planned to communicate.”

According to Christine Riordan, leadership coach and president of Adelphi University, these workers can “have very negative consequences from an operational standpoint — there are often a lot of mistakes because projects don’t get executed correctly.”

Here are four strategies for working with colleagues who never seem to be listening.

Consider work styles
“Some people are visual and some are verbal,” Riordan said. She advises “asking your colleague how they prefer to receive information. Say: ‘Should we have a conversation, or would you like to see something in writing?’” Try to be a “flexible” and understanding conversation partner, Nawaz said. “You need to use your colleague’s time efficiently.”

Reflect on your own behavior
Putting up with a colleague who’s a bad listener often causes you to “look in the mirror” and “question whether you’re a good listener yourself,” Riordan said. “Bad role models are as instructive as good ones,” she added. “Maybe you’re a rambling speaker. Maybe you overwhelm your listener with numbers. Maybe you need to tell more stories,” she said. Take the time to “get some data on your own communication style” so that you can model the behavior you want to see.

Highlight the magnitude of your message
Emphasizing the importance of your message up front can help as well. Before even starting a conversation, Riordan suggests saying something along the lines of: “I have something really important to talk to you about, and I need your help.” This sends a signal to your colleagues that they ought to relinquish the stage and prick up their ears. “It should strengthen their awareness to listen more carefully,” she said.

Propose a social contract
Another option if the problem persists is to propose instituting a “social contract” that puts parameters on “how your team members interact with each other,” Riordan said. By raising it to the team level, you aren’t singling out any one person but making an agreement as a group. The contract — which ought to be “updated regularly” — would stipulate that colleagues “not dominate the conversation” and give “everybody a chance to share an opinion.”

Related stories:
Standard listening skills “falling short”
Communication 101 with Mark Bowden

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