When Bad Listeners Grow Up to Be Bosses

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Here’s how to get horrible listeners (i.e. your boss or yourself) to sit down and pay attention.
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For the horrible listeners in your office, the advice to get them to pay attention is pretty straightforward:

1. Slow down. 

2. Stop talking.

3. Listen.

But Amy Jen Su, an executive coach with Paravis Partners who has written and talked about the issue for the Harvard Business Review, knows it's not so simple, especially for some particularly stubborn bosses.

"I think many of us speak just to hear ourselves think," she said.

For one flagrant interrupter she worked with, Su pulled out some preschool training strategies and asked her client to use a "listening stick" at home with his wife: he couldn't speak until his wife handed him the stick.

If you can get the awful listeners to listen, the solutions are as simple as slowing down, getting comfortable with silence, and focusing attention on the speaker. But if you find yourself getting physically uncomfortable when you're not hearing the sound of your own voice, she said the first step is to get comfortable with the discomfort. 

"Part of listening is listening for the facts," Su said. "Is the person sharing facts that you weren't aware of? Hear the person out." She said as you listen, you need to have your mind open to being changed. And if you don't agree with the speaker, let the speaker know you've listened to what they've said, and then tell them why you disagree.

But if you're the one who isn't being heard during a one-on-one with your boss, Su said you need to go over the conversation at the end of your chat, and reiterate your points. If you're in a large meeting where you keep getting interrupted, you can use verbal cues during the meeting like raising your hand gently and saying "Hang on a second, let me just finish my point there," Su said.

And most importantly, don't rely on your own opinion to determine if you're a good listener. Go to a trusted colleague. They'll tell you the truth. If you're willing to listen and hear what she has to say.