The other day, one of my coworkers said something about how he was feeling or something, I can’t remember exactly what. The point is, listening to your coworkers is hard. That’s why, when speaking with your coworkers, the best course of action is to make them feel heard while at the same time ignoring them completely. Here are my favorite ways to do just that.
1. Ask vague questions
Come up with six or seven begging questions you can ask at random points without giving away the fact that you haven’t been listening. Questions like, “Tell me more” or “What do you mean by that?” or “Why do you think that is?” or “Who are we really?”, will make your coworker delve deeper into the recesses of his mind, leaving you to be with your thoughts about what you’re having for dinner tonight.
2. Create a distraction
If your coworker wants to chat with you, it’s always great to suggest a “walking” meeting, or to meet somewhere outside of the office. This way there’s always something to point out at key moments, whether it be a cool piece of graffiti, homeless person or any shiny object. While he talks, keep on the lookout for anything that might seem interesting and point it out whenever you feel like you can’t take his yabbering anymore. Then, apologize for getting distracted and ask him to continue. Rinse and repeat.
3. Mention their attitude
Interrupt your coworker with a simple, “You seem angry,” and quickly follow it up with, “Are you ok?” If you point out his overall attitude, any attitude really, you’ve instantaneously made him feel heard, and also sort of exposed. It’s the perfect combination. This way he feels like you’re listening on a deeper level than anyone else, even though you’re actually spending time in the Twitterverse of your mind.
4. Start with a hard stop
Start every conversation with, “I have a hard stop in 3 minutes.” For desperate situations, say you have a meeting. If you don’t have a meeting, say you have a deadline. If you don’t have a deadline then say you have an email you have to finish reading.
5. Overzealously agree
Interject with strongly agreeable statements, such as, “I totally get that,” “I hear you 110%” or “I am right there with you, boo.” The positive reinforcement will make your coworker feel validated as if you were actually listening. Even better, your coworkers will feel like you’re completely on their side even though that would be impossible.
6. Seem confused
Have a painfully confused look on your face throughout the conversation. This will convince your coworkers that you’re listening intently, and not actually trying to decide which is worse for you, a margarita or a vodka sour.
7. Be silent
An interesting thing happens when you’re totally silent. People tend to feel like they need to fill the silence with more talking, and eventually they end up talking themselves out of whatever they were saying in the first place. Do this long enough and they’ll think of you as some all-knowing ever-present tai chi master.
8. Talk about the big picture
Coworkers often want to talk about tiny boring details that could drain the life out of a drain pipe. Questioning their focus on the big picture takes the spotlight off of your inability to listen and back on their ability to keep talking.
9. Attempt to repeat them
It’s important to paraphrase what your coworkers say in such a way that you’re actually telling them what you want to hear. If they mention problems, turn them into challenges, if they mention complaints, turn them into opportunities, and if they mention their vacation, turn it into a guilt trip. If they point out that you don’t seem to be understanding them, suggest a class on effective communication.
10. Avoid eye contact
Never look your coworker in the eye while he’s talking. Non-verbal communication specialists say that tilting your head and looking up indicates reflection. Do this while nodding so he’ll interpret it as you trying to figure out a solution to his problems, and he’ll be unable to see your eyes glazing over. Another option is to close your eyes altogether and assure him it helps you listen. If you fall asleep, try not to snore. When he finishes talking, simply open your eyes again and say, “I’ll think about that some more”. Then walk away feeling refreshed and confident, knowing your coworker really thought you were listening that time.