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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

3 Ways to Deal With a Bad Listener That Are Better Than Constantly Repeating Yourself

person not listening
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Maybe your boss never pays attention to what you say. Or maybe you’re the boss with an employee who never implements your feedback. Or it could be you’re working on a group project with a teammate who’s not on the same page as the rest of you. Regardless of your efforts, your point isn’t getting across.

Whatever the specific situation, working with a bad listener is frustrating and counter-productive. (Which, you know, since you’re living it.)

You’re certain it’s them, because everyone else gets what you’re saying. And that absolutely may be true, but the fact is you can’t just flip a switch and make them tune in. What you can do is adjust how you share your message. Yes, it’ll take a little more work on your end, but getting through to them the first time—and beefing up your communication skills in the process—will be well worth it.

Here are three tactics to try:

1. Make it a Two-Sided Conversation

You’re already focused on communicating clearly. You’ve shared your thinking, and maybe you’ve even tried phrasing your ideas a few different ways—but the other person still isn’t following you.

While it’s helpful to consider how you’re expressing yourself, it’s not enough. Because if you’re giving a soliloquy, a poor listener will tune you out.

Here’s How

Engage the other person by asking them specific questions (Ones that only need a yes-or-no answer like “Does that make sense?” don’t count.) Instead, say something like “How would you improve on this approach?” or “What do you think we should tackle first?” This requires critical thinking, so they’ll pay closer attention. And, if they’re already lost, you’ll be able to catch it in the initial conversation and pinpoint what needs clarification.

2. Try a New Medium

Maybe you tried asking questions, and had what you felt was a productive conversation—until the other person went ahead and did the exact opposite of what you said.

In a prior role, I managed an intern who routinely submitted projects that weren’t done to specifications. No matter how many times we checked in over the course of the project, I couldn’t get her onto the same page.

Several weeks into working together, she mentioned that she did a lot better with written instructions. It turns out, it wasn’t so much that she was a “bad listener” as it was that she needed written instructions to refer back to.

Here’s How

When I started following up on all assignments with an email that reiterated specifications, she was able to meet expectations to a T. So, if you get the feeling that someone is tuning you out when you speak, try putting your message in writing and see if that eases communication.

3. Ask Them for Feedback

Odds are you’ve been thinking about what the other person could do differently. If only he’d actually pay attention when you were speaking—or put his phone away. I’ll bet you have plenty of unsolicited feedback you’d like to share.

But you can’t just tell someone you think he’s a bad listener. (Not surprisingly, it’ll put him on the defensive.) So, often, the most effective strategy in this situation is to flip the script.

Here’s How

Make it about you. Say, “I’m trying to improve my communication skills. Is there anything I can do to share my ideas more clearly?”

This way, you’re broaching the subject of not feeling heard, so you can work towards finding a solution. And, on the off chance that it really is how you speak and not how they listen, you could gain valuable feedback.

In an ideal world, all of your co-workers would practice active listening and you’d feel confident you were heard. But, not everyone is able to call upon this skill. So, just like you’d adapt and help a teammate who lacked a hard skill, adjust your approach so you can work effectively with someone who isn’t a great listener.

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