#040: What Did You Say? I Wasn’t Listening!

The conversation in the meeting was proceeding nicely when someone jumped in with a comment regarding the topic we finished discussing.

Not Listening Meeting

Someone else felt compelled to contribute by restating what had just been said by someone else. Suddenly, right in the middle of one person’s comment, someone else who can’t seem to control themselves interrupts with their idea. Quietly, across the room, with a voice just above a loud whisper, two people are discussing another idea with each other. Yet another individual was asked a question and responded, “What Did You Say? I Wasn’t Listening!”

When I attend meetings like this I have this strange desire to just get up, and bang my head against the wall, and scream “listen people, listen!” This has happened so often over my career I think I have Repetitive Head Injury Syndrome. I’ve noted five of the most common types of non-listeners:

  • The Unconscious. They might have been paying attention a while ago, but not lately. They don’t realize the conversation on that topic ended a few minutes ago, and suddenly they come to life interrupting the flow of the meeting.
  • The Repeater. They love to hear the sound of their own voices, or they think the last person didn’t articulate the idea as well as they have it formed in their heads so they insist on saying the same thing as the last person, just in their words.
  • The Interrupter. Their brain is running at full-speed, without a set of brakes on their tongue. So they interrupt whoever is speaking with their brilliance.
  • The Distractor. They love their idea and it’s important so they want to tell their neighbor. Usually loud enough to gain the attention of several others nearby so as to distract a number of people from the main conversation.
  • The Oblivious. They are lost in their own world. The meeting may be going too slowly for them, or maybe too fast. Either way they are lost in their own world and quit paying attention a long time ago. Another version of this group is The Multi-tasker. They could be their own group, but really they are a sub-set of The Oblivious.

It seems most every meeting I attend, and many of the small group conversations, end up with someone who is unconscious, a repeater, an interrupter, a distractor, or someone just plain oblivious. In a worst case scenario, you’ll have someone who exhibits a combination of two or more of these lovely habits! I imagine you have had the same experience of being in a meeting with a non-listener—someone like this. Hopefully it wasn’t you!

Stephen Covey who wrote a whole chapter about the importance of listening in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People book said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Despite the fact that Covey has sold millions of copies of this book, they either have not been read by people who really need them, or learning to listen is really harder than it first seems.

The writer of Proverbs speaks directly to the importance of listening: “If one gives answer before hearing, it is folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13).  

James, writing to Christians, said, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).


As leaders, one of our responsibilities is to help people grow and develop so that they can be all that God has for them. If there is someone you work with who exhibits one or more of these bad listening habits you owe it to them to correct their behavior. Help them to become good listeners. Listeners that like Covey says, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” It will benefit them and certainly benefit your team as meetings will most certainly become more productive.

Join the Conversation:

As always questions and comments are welcome. Have you been guilty of being a bad listener? If so, which of these bad listening habits do you struggle with? Do you work with someone that has poor listening skills? If so, how have you dealt with them?

Category: Skills | Communication Skills




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