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Posted By - Geoff Watts
How to deal with poor listeners? I recently wrote an article about The 7 Deadly Types of Poor Listening and How to Improve Your Active Listening Skills and one reader asked me:
That’s all well and good Geoff but I have a colleague/manager who does all of these! How do I deliver feedback to poor listeners like them?
And that’s a great question so this post is aimed at helping you deal with poor listeners.
A quick reminder of the dysfunctional listening behaviours we’re talking about. For more detail on them check out the previous post:
It can take courage (one of the five Scrum values) to deal with poor listeners; it’s much easier to let it go but just think of how your conversations and relationship with that person could be so much better and let that motivate you.
When dealing with individuals who exhibit one or more of those dysfunctional listening behaviours above, my first piece of advice is to think of your actions as encouraging improved communication with someone who has positive intent. Try and avoid thinking of ‘teaching them a lesson’ or ‘getting even’.
Even think of this as ‘helping them’ because they are suffering from suboptimal communication and reduced rapport in relationships. They almost certainly *think* they are helping and rarely think they are having the negative effect you are experiencing; that’s certainly not their intention in my experience.
Once you are in that mindset, here’s a set of generic steps to start with when trying to deal with poor listeners:
When giving feedback, almost every model or piece of advice will encourage you to be specific so even if they fit all of the above personas, pick one to begin with. Clearly describe the problematic behaviour and provide a real, recent example to help the person understand its impact.
Approach the situation with patience and a positive attitude, not a wounded victim at the end of their tether. I know it’s cliché but this isn’t really a problem; rather it’s an opportunity to improve your relationship with someone valuable.
One of the Scrum values I try hardest to model is “Respect”. I rarely find anyone trying to deliberately sabotage you, the conversation or the organisation. Assuming other people have positive intentions and respecting that they may have other things going on that you are unaware of almost always helps lead to successful outcomes.
When discussing the behaviour, frame your concerns with “I” statements to express your feelings. It’s easy to start your sentences with “You” e.g. “You interrupted me” and while this is factually true it can feel accusatory whereas “I didn’t get to finish what I was saying” is equally true and slightly less accusatory.
“You made me feel annoyed” might feel factually true but there is a school of thought that nobody can make you feel anything. How you respond and feel is within your control and is likely driven by your values, needs and mindset more than anything anyone else does.
When trying to deal with poor listeners don’t leave them hanging. If there is something specific they could do that would make the communication better between you, suggest it. Ideally with an optional request rather than a demand. For example “Could you help me out by letting me finish my train of thought before sharing your experience?” as opposed to “Stop interrupting me”.
When it comes to delivering feedback on the specific dysfunctional listening behaviours, here are some tips:
The positive interpretation here is they really want to help you by sharing their experience or advice. They see you suffering in some way and want to help you avoid that again.
The positive interpretation here is that you have connected with a thought or memory of their own so the message resonates with them. Assume that they are processing the information in the only way they know or feel comfortable with by playing it through their own frame of reference.
The positive interpretation here is that they feel a connection to what you are saying and want to show they understand you. This can also be a response to a feeling of discomfort that you aren’t getting to the point quick enough for their liking.
The positive interpretation here is that they want to be present but the environment is not conducive to their focus levels and/or they likely have other things going on for them that you are unaware of and that are validly competing for their attention
The positive interpretation here is that they are trying to understand but are so enthusiastic to join in the conversation that they don’t realise they are filtering things through their own lens and they likely miss key nuances as they draw conclusions prematurely.
The positive interpretation here is that they really want to contribute and likely have something very valuable to add to the conversation. The truth is that they will be unable to internalise anything you say while they have something they want to share so urgently no matter how much they want to listen.
The positive interpretation here is that they want to connect through shared experience and potentially make you feel better by realising that things could be worse or there are better times ahead.
Remember, when trying to deal with poor listeners, effective communication is a two-way process. By addressing dysfunctional listening behaviours with empathy and patience, you can foster an environment where both parties feel heard and respected.
At AMI we cover listening and feedback skills in all our agile trainings for teams and agile product management training. So regardless of whether you want to follow the Scrum Mastery, Product Mastery, Team Mastery, Agile Coach or Agile Leadership Pathways, these are skills we can help you develop as part of your pathway to greatness.
There are a few great TED talks that could help with these topics:
If you prefer to read then here are some books you could check out: