You’re sitting in a meeting and watching two people talk. In theory, they’re talking to each other. But the more you listen and the more heated the discussion becomes, the more apparent it is that they’re just talking at each other. Nothing useful is happening at this meeting.
Meanwhile, the other six people in the room have started checking their phones. Who is listening to anyone in the meeting? Well, no one. They’re talking, waiting to talk or checking their phones.
Even if you haven’t been part of a situation like this recently, you’ve probably witnessed one where it’s been really clear that someone isn’t listening. Maybe that someone has even been you.
Here are some tips on how to listen, how to ask someone to listen and what to do if a colleague just won’t listen:
Learning how to listen.
Many great resources address active listening, but here are three key tips that are remarkably effective:
1. Step away from distractions. The enemy of listening is distractions, and nothing is as distracting as one’s own thoughts, according to Pierre Khawand, founder of People-OnTheGo and author of The Accomplishing More with Less Workbook. Consciously decide that nothing is more important than what the other person is trying to say and ostentatiously step away from smartphones and computers. Listening will become significantly easier.
2. Make the other person feel heard. Make eye contact. Nod your head. Turn your body toward that person. All these actions amount to good active-listening techniques and nonverbal feedback. But providing verbal feedback makes the speaker feel heard.
If the person speaking keeps repeating ideas, that's a clue that he or she may need to feel heard. Acknowledge what the person said by repeating part of it. If that doesn’t work, try building on that person's ideas. Watch and see whether the speaker relaxes a bit and moves on to the next point. If so, that person probably feels heard.
3. Let go of what you have to say. A company culture that involves people interrupting one another is usually full of passion and energy. But this kind of interruptive company culture can lead to a huge focus on adding one's own comment to the conversation. Especially for extroverts, it’s always more fun to talk than to listen. Waiting for a chance to speak doesn't count as listening. But letting go of that so-called important thought and paying attention to what’s being said does.
Inviting someone to listen to you.
I have a confession to make: I’m not the greatest listener and have most of the warning signs. I’d much rather move forward with a mistaken perception than stop and listen to a contrary opinion. I’d much rather give my opinion on a topic than listen to one. Some especially brilliant colleagues have succeeded, though, in asking me to stop and listen. Here’s their advice:
Ask for help. Most people in this world love to be asked for help. A common misperception is that asking for help shows weakness and makes another person seem more powerful. Swallowing pride and asking someone to listen increases the chances that this person will stop and listen since his or her ego has been stroked.
Schedule a time and set an agenda. A truly talkative person won’t just shut up and listen just because he or she has been asked. But scheduling a time to talk increases the chances that he or she will make an effort to sit down and listen. Creating a specific agenda firms up the topics to be addressed and helps prevent the chatterbox from running away with the conversation.
Listen to the other person. Maybe someone isn’t listening to you because he or she doesn’t feel heard. That person is spending energy on getting a point across rather than listening to yours. Take some of the tips above and use them with the nonlistener. The results might surprise you.
Figuring out the next move when someone won’t listen.
Unfortunately, sometimes people just won’t listen. They take over the conversation (with or without an agenda) and become almost aggressive when you ask for help. What can be done then?
Get help from above. Getting help from someone higher up in the company can be remarkably effective but sometimes tricky to bring about. Calmly go to someone you trust and explain the situation and the attempts you’ve made to remedy it. When the higher-up shows understanding, ask for advice on handling the situation. Sometimes an intervention might result or great advice may be shared based on the higher-up's experience. If you receive advice, try it. It might just work.
Give up. Recognize that it's not always necessary for someone to listen you. Maybe he or she will just keep talking despite not having a real stake in the matter. Sometimes it can be easier to just work around that person. Perhaps the team will reach consensus without that person. Or maybe he or she is right and you need to listen to this individual. Before going to untold lengths and expending valuable political capital, consider just giving up and working with the situation as is.
Listening isn’t easy; if it were, there wouldn’t be so much research about it. If you can become a good listener, you’ll find yourself sought after for your opinion and won’t have to force it on someone else so often. If some of the above tactics can help you get the incessant talkers to stop and listen, you’ll make meetings more valuable and get a lot more done.