How to Deal with Bad Listeners

Bad Listeners in a Business Meeting

Have you ever caught yourself not listening?  Perhaps you were distracted, bored, or simply not interested in the subject being discussed.

The important thing is that you noticed you weren’t listening.  But this isn’t the case for some people.

According to Changing Minds, there are four reasons for “bad listening” based on studies done in 1957, 1994, and 2000:

  • Lack of respect for the speaker.
  • Trapped in one’s own head by one’s own thoughts.
  • Hearing only superficialities and missing the real meaning.
  • General ignorance of social politeness.


Remarkably, half of these aspects of poor listening relate to the most important principles of good manners and etiquette:

  • Respect for others as demonstrated by respectful action.
  • Mindfulness demonstrated by polite and courteous actions in the company of others.

When Someone Isn’t Listening

Though you can strive to do something about your own listening habits and hope to improve upon your own good manners, you cannot control what others think or do.

You may have a feeling someone isn’t listening and attempt to make your conversation more entertaining or change the subject.

But you’ll know someone isn’t listening when they:

  • Interrupt you in the middle of a sentence.
  • Look at you as you’re talking, but don’t acknowledge anything that you said.
  • Change the subject without any transition.
  • Look away from you, even as you’re talking.
  • Talk over you as you are talking.
  • Begin arguing with you based on things you didn’t say or take what you said out of context.

Encourage Someone to Listen

You can develop habits and strategies to handle yourself when others are demonstrating their bad listening habits.

However, make sure your actions qualify as respectful and courteous for both you and the person you’re dealing with.

  • Decide if this is a moment you don’t want to go by without telling the other person that you value them and your communication with them, but you notice that what they are doing doesn’t “look like” listening to you.
    John, you and I can talk to each other courteously, but it doesn’t seem to me that      right now you are hearing what I’m saying.”
    Chris, I care about you, but right now I’m getting signals from you that indicate you aren’t hearing what I’m saying.  Would you mind highlighting what you think I’m talking about and then give me time to respond?

  • Decide which issues you need to be heard on, rather than watching for every annoying thing this person does.  Which conversations must you not avoid?

  • Discover what the other person enjoys talking about—something of personal interest to them.
     
  • If you find your conversation is getting heated, let the person know that you prefer to talk later when both of you can be civil in tone.  “When’s a good time for you?”  During your “break” from the conversation forgive the other person for any offense you may have felt.

  • Show that you are listening when the other person is speaking.  Acknowledge, respond, and encourage the conversation along . . . “Tell me more about . . .”

A bad listener can make you lose confidence in your conversation skills.  But only if you allow this to happen.

It’s important to remember that you may not understand what the other person is dealing with in the moment, especially if he is dealing with confidence issues of his own.  Empathy has a place here.

However, in the case of repeat offenders or someone who should be listening – a coworker, student, child, or the person who initiated your conversation – etiquette-fully acknowledging that you aren’t receiving the attention you deserve is appropriate.

After all, everyone wishes to be heard, acknowledged, and respected.



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