How to recognize your bad listening habits

I make a substantial part of my living having conversations with people, and teaching other people how to enhance the effectiveness of their conversations. And of all the skills involved in this, none is so challenging as listening. Listening is truly the master skill for everyone, and for leaders in particular.

In a recent book Power Listening: Mastering the most critical business skill of all Bernard T. Ferrari, a McKinsey Consulting veteran, shares a whole set of practical tactics for enhancing listening effectiveness. His basic premise is not only that listening is a crucial business skill, but that it requires disciplined practice to develop this skill to an effective level. It is important to everyone at work, and especially vital to senior executives.

“[Listening] is a skill that demands conscious attention and constant practice, because only through good listening can any of us gather the information we need to do our jobs well.”

The challenge with enhancing listening skills is that we’ve all heard the basics so many times that we believe we “know it all”. The reality, of course, is that putting it all into practice is not at all easy.

If you’re interested to learn more about Ferrari’s take on effective listening for executives but not sure you want to buy the book, you may want to check out the article The executive’s guide to better listening at the McKinsey Quarterly website NOTE: Access to the article is free, but you do need to register (a worthwhile step in my view, given the high quality articles that regularly come from this source.

One of the interesting twists in Ferrari’s framework for effective listening is his “field guide to identifying bad listeners”. He identifies six “types” of bad listeners: The Opinionator, the Grouch, the Preambler, the Perseverator, the Answer Man, and the Pretender.

This humorous and instructive field guide in itself is worth the time to click on the article. You will undoubtedly find it really easy to recognise these bad listening patterns in others. The challenge, of course, is to recognise when we are guilty of them!

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