HR Blog

Can You Hear Me Now?

By Dee Yingst

Listening is what happens when your mind is open and your mouth is shut.

Have you ever had an entire conversation with someone and you suspect they didn’t really hear a word you said? Oh, they nodded in all the right places and you maybe even got an affirmative grunt or two, but you know they weren’t really listening. Or maybe you were the grunter because your mind was someplace else.

Here are a few of my favorite non-listeners:

  • The Sentence Finisher. This is the person who talks with you and then ultimately finishes your sentence for you. The tricky part here is that how the sentence gets finished depends greatly on the outlook of person doing the finishing. If you’re dealing with an inherently negative person the sentence will nearly always end badly for them. The person will be upset with you over what they decided you said – not what you actually said. If these folks could find some way of zipping their lips they might find out you’re not saying anything near what they thought.
  • The Shoot-and-Reload Listener. This is the person that isn’t really listening because they’re too busy formulating their response/defense. These people tend to be really defensive and feel like they need to pounce on every single little thing and it shows. They’re fidgety – just itching to get their point out without giving you time to finish yours.
  • The Floor/Ceiling Gazer. This is the person who refuses to make eye contact and doesn’t even acknowledge that there’s a conversation happening. Sometimes this is like a sullen teenager and other times it’s the deer-in-headlights. Either way, that person is not only not really listening, they’re missing all that great non-verbal communicating that’s going on.
  • The Foregone Conclusion Listener. This person is similar to the Sentence Finisher although much quieter. They don’t talk because they’ve already decided what you’re going to say and how they’re going to react – before they even entered the room.
  • The Stone-Faced Listener. This person is staring right through you. No expression. No sounds. No movement. You might be tempted to take their pulse.

We all know someone on this list and we’ve probably all been at least one of these at some point in our lives. There are certainly others – these are just the tip of the iceberg…and you know what they say about icebergs.

Here are a few things you can do to look (and hopefully actually be) more attentive:

  • I’m a big believer in ‘you can’t listen with your mouth open’. You really can’t. Oh, you might hear the words but you’re not really listening. If you have to, put your finger across your mouth (almost a ssshhh gesture); it’s a great reminder to keep your mouth shut and it has the added bonus of making you look pensive and contemplative.
  • Make eye contact every now and then but don’t stare like you’re trying to see into someone’s soul. It’s distracting and more than a little creepy.
  • If you’re unclear about something, ask for clarification. You can even engage in ‘reflective listening’ and repeat back what you thought you heard to make sure you understand.
  • Give some indication that you’re listening – you can nod occasionally or give the periodic ‘mm-hmm” or “okay” or even take notes. The goal is to allow the speaker to feel they are part of a conversation and not just delivering a monologue.

There are lots of different techniques – what’s important is that you find what works for you. Think of all the stuff you may have been missing!

Happy listening!