Article: How to get through working with a bad listener

Employee Relations

How to get through working with a bad listener

Working with lousy listeners is stressful and counter-productive. Are you working with one?
How to get through working with a bad listener

In conversations, a healthy balance of listening and talking results in a pleasant work relationship and fruitful collaboration. No wonder it annoys our guts to be talking to a person who is forever distracted, loves listening to his own voice, talks over you or just never shifts gears from one thought to another. When you sit down to try and talk to this person you obviously feel hurt, unheard and lose track of what you were going to say. As a matter of fact, since they suffer from selective hearing they end up making mistakes in work assigned to them. What a pity. 

How should you then go about making things better? 

Write and then call for a meeting

Each one of us has a distinct style of working. May be you colleague who you think is a bad listeners isn’t really one? They probably find it easier to first go through the agenda of the meeting (a detailed one?) before they meet? It could be that they need time to gather the facts before they can discuss the issue in hand. So how about becoming flexible and checking with them first? Ask clearly on how they would like to go about it. Doing so will leave no room for miscommunication. A win-win?

Make active listening a team practice

A lousy listener is not as invested in what the other person is saying as much as they are in their own perception. They are more focused on what their contribution in the conversation should be irrespective of what’s being talked about. That’s where the problem lies.

A Fast Company article calls it the thinking mindest vs doing mindset. It’s the doing mindset that sets off a conversation from its tracks. One must actively think, reflect on what’s being said and then respond. Otherwise it’s as good as not having a conversation at all. 

To make sure you don’t single out one person, make practicing active listening a team activity. Whenever you’re entering a meeting let them know that everybody will get a chance to speak and share their thoughts. Make it very clear that no one should attempt to dominate the speaker or interrupt them while they are still talking. This way they will be more conscious of their conversational skills and also learn to become better listeners. 

Focus on the importance of your message

Right before you start a conversation emphasise on its importance. Say, “What we are going to talk is extremely important…” or “I need your help on something that’s really important”. When you stress on how important the subject matter is they will listen more attentively. Repeat yourself if need be. Say, “I hope you understood what I said” or “I’d just like to repeat myself…” or “I hope you have understood the instructions well enough because in the end it is going to be your call” or “Should I send you the details over an email”. Don’t overdo it though. It will trouble them to know that you doubt their comprehension skills! 

Are you yourself a good listener/talker? 

Your lousy-listener-of-a-colleague may be hurried in their conversation, but ever thought you could be intimidating them in equal measure? Does your body language come in way? Do you fidget and fiddle around too? Are you preoccupied with your phone? Do you make them feel heard? Or are you busy judging their listening skills? Whatever the case, introspection and auctioning upon how you participate in a conversation won’t hurt. 

  • Repeat what your colleague says. It shows that you’ve understood what they were saying. This will give them an opportunity to correct you, if need be.
  • Assert your intention to finish so that they recede a little. Politely say, “How aout I finish what I was saying and then you take over?”
  • Ask if they’ve got your point and if they’d like you to go over it again? Say, “I won’t mind going over it again. It won’t take more than two minutes”. 
  • Maintain an eye contact. 
  • If you don’t see them adding anything to the conversation, frame your question differently. For instance, say, “What do you think if I do this first? Will it make a difference?” The purpose is to elicit a response and encourage them to think deeply instead of frivolously hopping from one thought to another.


It may be demanding to work with a bad listener but you can change it completely. It will require efforts from both sides, may be more from you, but it will pay off. Just don’t react if none of it is working. Address the situation minus being volatile. Cite incidences where their poor listening skills costed the team and the company. Let them off if it’s the first time, but do convey that repeat offenders don’t have a spot in your team. 

Topics: Employee Relations

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