Are you a Bad Listener?

Shaaz Nasir

The number one flaw in most young professionals today is that they simply love the sound of their own voice. I don’t blame them as research from Forbes, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company and many more all suggest that the one who talks the most is perceived to be the leader.  Young professionals are at a stage where they must push their ideas and flex their authority over counterparts in various settings in the workforce. It is critical to share your viewpoint to further establish your knowledge to co-workers, but to a point. Your intent should not be to keep yapping away trying to object, critique, or convince everyone you see. The now popular “saying anything is better than saying nothing” approach will not impress those experienced professionals. The only people you will “wow” are the ones that do not matter in your professional development.

People who just keep on blabbing or practice fake listening are thinking, “I’m smarter than you and I know what you’re going to tell me, so let’s make this really efficient for both of us. I won’t have to listen, and we can get to the really important part of the conversation: me telling you what to do.” This may have worked for you thus far but as you become surrounded by equals and climb the ladder of professional development, your arrogance will shine through the smokes and mirrors.

Listen to Learn

Many young professionals claim they do listen to counterparts but in reality are just mentally preparing to attack or interject their (often empty) viewpoint. From meetings to lunch time chats, some top young professionals are wired into senselessly critiquing ideas or trying to convince someone of their skills.  They ignore the skill of listening to focus on how to articulate and present their own views more effectively. This will not help your progress as young professionals are at a point in their life where they need to listen to those with more experience and their peers. Mckinsey recommends us to show respect for conversation partners, spending less time speaking, yet challenge assumptions with the intent to enrich conversations with substance. “Active listening” is now being used to fake genuine listening, spend time on what is being said not only on how you look to the professionals around you.

Advice from Experts

“I learned to listen by having only one objective: comprehension. I was only trying to understand what the person was trying to convey to me.” – Sam Palmisano IBM’s former CEO

“Listening is a threshold skill: if you don’t have it, you will fail, but having it doesn’t mean you will necessarily succeed.” – Kevin Sharer Amgen’s current CEO

Types of Fake Listeners 

The list below has been modified from Mckinsey’s report on listening. Mindthis has converted the report, which was geared towards senior executives, for young professionals.

1.     Opinionator

Listens to others primarily to determine whether or not their ideas conform to what he or she already believes to be true. Opinionators may appear to be listening closely, but they aren’t listening with an open mind and instead often use their silences as opportunities to “reload.”

The effect of this listening style is to make conversation partners uncomfortable or even to intimidate them. Opinionators routinely squelch their colleagues’ ideas, regardless of quality.

 2.     Preambler

The Preambler’s windy lead-ins and questions are really stealth speeches, often intended to box conversation partners into a corner.

Preamblers use questioning to steer the discussion, send warnings, or generate a desired answer. Such behavior epitomizes one-way communication, which may be appealing at first, but eventually as your reputation solidifies, your colleagues will see right through your BS. Masking self-promoting speeches as questions will only frustrate the ones who matter around you.

3.     Perseverators

They talk a lot without saying anything.

If you pay close attention to one of these poor listeners, you’ll find that their comments and questions don’t advance the conversation. As often as not, perseverators are editing on the fly and fine-tuning their thoughts through reiteration. Perseverators use the thoughts of their conversation partners to support their own prejudices, biases, or ideas. When talking to one, you may feel that the two of you are having completely different conversations.

How to fix your Listening Problem?

Bernard T. Ferrari’s Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All highlights why it is important to focus on “strategic listening”: a purposeful, multifaceted, time- sensitive listening system that helps you get the signals you need from your ecosystem. He argues that listening can be learned, but to change your behavior on any important dimension you’ve got to have deep self-awareness. You have to change, and you have to want to change—and you can’t fake it.

Message from Bernard

“Throughout my career, I’ve observed that good listeners tend to make better decisions, based on better-informed judgments, than ordinary or poor listeners do—and hence tend to be better leaders. By showing respect to our conversation partners, remaining quiet so they can speak, and actively opening ourselves up to facts that undermine our beliefs, we can all better cultivate this valuable skill.”

In short, young professionals must avoid being bad listeners who just treat conversations as opportunities to broadcast their own status or ideas, or who spend more time formulating their next response than listening to their conversation partners. Shut up and Listen.