How can you strive to be a better listener?

By Adrian Amore, Director of Operations, Halcyon

As a change manager, I spend most of my day listening to people to gain a better understanding of what they do and how to best approach a lasting change strategy for their organisation. But at times I can really struggle to keep on track, and mostly that’s down to these four bad habits of listeners.

The lost listener.

They are in their mind rather than in the conversation. The lost listener is so absorbed with their own self-talk they don’t create enough space in their own mind for the dialogue to land because they are so busy thinking about their last thought or their next thought that they can’t focus on the discussion. They are lost before they turn up to the discussion.

The shrewd listener.

They are too busy trying to solve the issue before listening to your explanation. This is the affliction of the shrewd listener – their quick mind. These people are so brilliant that they think they can fix the issue you are discussing before you have explained it. Not only are they so brilliant at fixing the issue you are explaining, they are anticipating and fixing 3-4 issues they think you should be really discussing with them if you were as shrewd as them. They are shrewd enough to wait patiently and not interrupt, yet they are not present or involved in the dialogue. They are so far into the future that they have forgotten their dialogue is happening in the present.

The interrupting listener.

They are too focused on finding a solution that that they are finishing your sentences for you because they feel you are moving too slowly in describing the issue. They listen with the intent of solving, rather than their intent being to listen curiously and completely. They interrupt and interject before you can fully explain. As the speaker, you feel frustrated and rushed because although they are listening to the content, you can’t completely explain your thoughts or your subsequent thoughts.

The dramatic listener.

These listeners love drama and they want to explore and over-explore every element of your discussion. Rather than help you progress your dialogue they are stuck in understanding the historical events and patterns that have led you to the discussion. The dialogue feels frustrating for you because you are being distracted by the listeners well-meaning and constant questions. They not only love listening to your drama, they also enjoy creating a bit themselves. They are so engrossed and engaged in the drama of your story that they have lost themselves, rather than being focused on the dialogue.

When I notice these habits, I like to use three quick tactics to improve my listening ability. Firstly, I put the smartphone away and close my laptop to ensure I do not get distracted and stay present in the moment. Secondly, I like to summarise what has just been said back to the person I am listening to, to ensure I have properly understood the message. And lastly, I ask follow up questions to fill in any knowledge gaps so I avoid trying to mind read later.

How can you strive to be a better listener?