Don’t be like Kanye: 3 Habits of Bad Listeners

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.”

— Stephen Covey

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Ever since you were in grade school, the adults in your life have been trying to teach you how to be a good listener. You may remember your teacher saying you have two ears and one mouth for a reason, or even clapping three times to get your attention.

Neither of those are appropriate in the workplace, but the lesson still applies: Hearing is a passive process, but listening requires focus, effort and skill.

Recognizing the value of learning from others’ mistakes, here are some way to be a bad listener — plus a few tips on how to be better at this critical workplace skill.  

Don’t be Kanye. The most famous interruption of our generation was when Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift’s VMA awards speech in 2009. “Imma let you finish, but…” spawned thousands of memes. Funny as it is now, most people remember the shocked, hurt look on Taylor’s face as it happened. There’s no way around it — interrupting is disrespectful and rude. Unless it’s truly an emergency (i.e. the building is actually on fire), don’t cut someone off mid-sentence.

Don’t play ‘Telephone.’ Remember the elementary school game “Telephone”? The first person whispered something to the next person, who whispered what they heard to the next person and so on until the last person was reached. That last person announced what they heard and it was, without fail, hilariously different than what the first person said.

Messages, when passed from person to person to person without confirmation can be horribly distorted. One way to combat this is by using “active listening language” — rephrase what someone said back to them and don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. This gives both parties an opportunity to correct errors and better remember the conversation. (Taking notes can help, too.)

Stop fidgeting. There’s a reason so many teachers hate fidget spinners in the classroom. While some people argue that that multitasking is perfectly fine, dividing your attention between listening and doing something else is a recipe for disaster. Unless you’re taking notes on the conversation, give the person you’re speaking with your undivided attention. Stop doodling, and fidgeting. This will benefit you later when you remember what was said and can recall key details of the conversation. Plus, it will make the person you’re speaking with feel respected.

Good listeners are able to develop trust quickly in the workplace, make fewer mistakes on the job and are more productive. It turns out your teacher was right when she said: “Zip it, lock it, put it in your pocket.”


Warren Wright