Learning to Listen Up!

Hi, Anita:

I am beginning to get extremely frustrated with my co-worker and need some advice. No matter how hard I try, she seems to be incapable of listening to any of my thoughts or suggestions. It is like the minute I start talking she puts in her figurative earplugs and tunes me out. Is it just me or something more?

Hi, Help with the Selectively Deaf:

listenerThanks for the question. Hearing what someone has to say is one thing, but actually listening to them is an entirely different matter. It is an accepted belief that actively listening to another person takes a certain degree of skill and upkeep. More often than not, people fail to maintain their listening skills and quickly fall into damaging and unproductive communication habits. I have been doing some research and recently picked up a great book on the subject called “Power Listening: The Most Powerful Business Skill of All” by Bernard Ferrari. In his book, he describes 6 different types of bad listeners:

  • The Opinionator: A person who listens to others’ ideas but only to see whether or not they conform to his or her own already-held beliefs and ideas.
  • The Grouch: A person who is absolutely certain that his or her colleagues do not have any valuable or valid ideas. All other input, except theirs, is wrong. They will express displeasure and disapproval for all opinions with a “You are full of it” response.
  • The Preambler: An individual who has carefully calculated scripts and lengthy lead-ins to box in his conversation partners to his pre-conceived ideas.
  • The Perseverator: A conversation partner that remains steady on their ideas and uses techniques to not advance discussion in hopes of keeping their opinions on top.
  • The Answer Man: A person who has immature listening skills and provides solutions to problems without listening to all of the facts.
  • The Pretender: An individual who is not interested in what his conversation partner has to say. These people enter into dialogues with their opinions and choose to not engage in the conversation. These people politely listen and pretend to be fully involved in a conversation when in reality they are simply off on another planet or putting on a show just for you.

These are the most common listener types, but you can bet that bad listeners come in every size, shape, form, and combination of the above. Remember: it is almost impossible to rid yourself of an ailment if you do not have a proper diagnosis. Try to identify what type of listener you are (or which one you’re talking to) and begin to break down the barriers of communication.

Readers: What types of listeners do you encounter in your day-to-day lives? Which one do you think is the most difficult to deal with?


Working With the Office Monster

Dear Anita,

I have been at my job for a few years and have finally become fed up with working and dealing with my horrible co-worker every day. To our supervisors and higher ups she is overly nice, but she treats the rest of us like dirt.  I cannot stand her antics and the bullying she is doing around the office. Can you please offer some advice and shed some light on this awful situation?

This reminds me of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!

It looks like you have a very difficult and unbearable co-worker on your hands. As much as we wish the office to be a safe and drama-free workplace, unfortunately a few poisonous apples can manage to slip through the cracks. These are Witch of Workpeople that you do everything in your power to avoid and they still manage to weasel their way into your day. They are incredibly difficult to please, nasty, unethical, and are on a mission to make others’ work lives miserable. They are also incredibly skilled at manipulating others around them. Luckily, your pal Anita has a few tricks up her sleeves to help handle these intolerable creatures.

Do your best to remain as far away from them as possible. This does not mean you need to switch jobs, hide under a rock, or flee to the closest neighboring country. If there is an open desk away from the office monster, talk to your boss or human resources manager about making the switch. If you feel comfortable, you may want to mention the reasons why you are requesting the move — something along the lines of “I feel that my current location is not a neutral or conducive environment for me to work as efficiently as possible.” If a new location is not an option, invest in a pair of noise-cancelling earphones. It is one way to drown out the chatter and unpleasantness.

It is important to remember that most bullies will end up digging a hole so deep, they will find themselves out of a job. Many act the way they do to get an edge over potential competition by emotionally and professionally damaging their co-workers. Do your best to avoid engaging with this individual. If you have to interact with him or her on a daily basis, be prepared to handle any disagreements or friction ahead of time. When we are caught off guard, emotions kick in and we are less likely to think rationally. If you have a strategy, you can handle the situation like the professional you are!

As any normal person would, you may begin to feel that retaliation is in order. After putting up with and being put downScary! by this behavior, it only seems fair to fight back. It is very important that you hold back with all your might and do the opposite; kill them with kindness. It is the best way to handle your emotions. They will have little-to-no reason to continue to engage you in their antics or become frustrated with not being able to get a rise out of you.

Hopefully by now, this individual has begun to back off of you, and you are getting back to what is important: work. But don’t, for a single second, think that the situation has left the premises. Most unpleasant people are habitual bullies. They will wait until they see you at a weak point and will attack like a wild animal. Ever hear of the saying, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”? The manipulator will wait until they have an opportunity to exploit you or bring you down again. In short, keep up your guard and continue to watch your back.

If further action is needed, I suggest you call a meeting with your boss and human resources manager. It will be more meaningful to all parties involved that you are being proactive, and it will be a big wake-up call to your horrible co-worker that you are no longer going to tolerate this bad behavior. Again, leave your emotions at the door. Be strong and stand up for your right to a psychologically safe and sound workplace. State your case, but try not to point fingers. Your boss or human resources manager may request further explanation or encourage you to briefly go in to detail about how you are feelings. It will be helpful to check out my post on Tackling Employee Tensions to be prepared for a conflict resolution meeting.

Have you ever encounter an office monster? If so, what did you do to diffuse the situation?

Have a question? Ask Anita Clew! Visit http://www.anitaclew.com/ask_anita to submit your tough one!

Have a Spook-tacular Halloween!

-Anita Boo


Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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