Why Managers Don’t Listen (Poor Listener Syndrome): and the Cures!

One of the most important skills for any manager is
listening. Listening demonstrates respect, concern, an openness to new ideas, empathy,
compassion, curiosity, trust, loyalty, and receptivity to feedback – all
considered to be qualities of an effective leader.

Listening isn’t rocket science. We are born with the ability
to listen, yet somehow managers, at some point in their careers, seem to forget
how to use this natural born gift. Listening is one of the most consistently
lowest rated behaviors in 360 degree feedback assessments for managers. It’s a
management disease – Poor Listener Syndrome (PLS)!

Actually, it’s not just managers that don’t listen – it’s
also employees, husbands, wives, kids, students, teachers, and just about human
being with two ears. However, this is a management and leadership resource, so
we’ll stick with listening in the context of a management skill.

So if listening is such an important management skill and
it’s an ability we were born with, why do so many managers get feedback that
say they are poor listeners?
That’s an issue I’ve explored with several managers when I
review their 360 assessment results. Here are the seven most frequent reasons,
and a prescription for each cause:

1. They don’t know
they are poor listeners – it’s a blind spot
. A behavioral blind spot is the
gap between our intentions and our behaviors. We see ourselves as a good
listener, but others don’t. Given that candid feedback
is such a rare commodity, we are clueless about our flaws until they are
pointed out by others. And even when they are, we sometimes still deny they
exist (fight or flight).

The cure: Get some feedback. Feedback is a gift, and
awareness is the key to self-development.

2. They don’t
understand the value of listening.
I’ll often have to spend time explaining
the impact of poor listening to managers, either in a coaching session or in a
training class. Sometimes I’ll demonstrate it. At some point, the light goes
on, and for the first time in their lives they get it. These are the same
managers who are often having issues in their personal lives, with their
friends and family, and poor listening is often the culprit.

The cure: Read the research,
discuss the importance of listening with others, and experience the positive effects when you focus on improving your
listening skills!

3. They don’t know
how to listen.
Managers often get low scores in listening but insist they
understand the importance of listening and that they DO listen. While this may
be true (good intentions), others see behaviors that convey a lack of

The cure: Listening skills are relatively easy behaviors to
learn, with a little awareness and practice. They include:
Making eye contact
Head nodding
An open posture
Leaning forward
Arms uncrossed
Using encouraging phrases such as “go on”, “tell
me more”, “uh uh”, or anything to show that you are paying attention
Paraphrasing (repeating back in your own words
to check for understanding
Take a short course, read a book, observe others, practice,
and get feedback. Like any new skill, it will feel unnatural at first, but with
deliberate practice, the skill soon becomes a habit.

4. They are
impatient, smart, or easily distracted.
OK, these are actually three
separate, but sometimes related causes. Highly
successful, intelligent,  type A managers

often find it difficult to slow down and take the extra time to listen. They
jump ahead and want to finish someone’s sentence, use hand gestures to speed
someone along, or their minds start racing on to other issues and thoughts.
Smartphone checking is a symptom of this impatience and habitual multi-tasking.

The cures: Shut the door, turn off the smartphone, focus,
and give the person in front of you 100% of your attention. Think of it as a
gift, and observe the difference in how others respond.

5. They listen
This reason is one of the most common, and becomes apparent
with 360 degree assessment results. The manager shows high in listening for the
boss and superiors, but low with peers or direct reports.

The cure: The skills are there- you just have to apply them

6. They don’t value
people at all.
Managers won’t admit this, but when they try to justify their
low listening scores, it becomes apparent that they just don’t see value in
paying attention to what others have to say. They just may not be interested in
people. In the worst cases, it’s extreme arrogance.

The cure: Fake it until you make it. If you can convince a
manager that it is in their own selfish self-interest to at least pretend that
they are listening, they might be willing to mimic listening behaviors. Yes,
it’s not authentic, and some people will see through it, but sometimes if you
practice a behavior long enough, you get good at it, and you start to become
the behavior.

7. They have poor
. I know this from personal experience, when a caring manager told
me that others were complaining that I didn’t listen to them. That, and my wife
complaining that the TV was too loud.

The cause: get your hearing checked, and if you are told you
need hearing aids (and can afford them), get it
done. Your family and employees will appreciate it, and you’ll find out what
you’ve been missing.

Need an executive coach that can work with you or your leaders to improve their listening skills? Or a half day training program? Please contact me to discuss!