An Irritating Guy!

Communications Stories from the Trenches – III

Once upon a time I worked with a colleague – we’ll call him Ralph – who seemed to have a great deal of difficulty in looking directly at me when we talked. The moment I walked into his office he stood up and did not sit down until our conversation was finished. At first I thought it was me. Then I discovered he did that with everyone. He also had an irritating habit of jingling his keys or the change in his pocket when anyone was speaking to him. He would stop that whenever he was talking. And since we had daily interaction with him, these annoying habits became a form of subtle torture for some of us, to the point where several of his coworkers went out of their way to avoid having to deal with him. He was a clear Introvert although his senior level required him to speak regularly in staff and divisional management meetings and he was reasonably effective in that setting.

Ralph was either completely unaware of the effect his irritating habits had on others, or he didn’t care, or he was at least somewhat aware at some level and couldn’t help himself. I don’t know; I’m not a psychologist (and I don’t play one on television). I do know that his nonverbal messages seemed pretty clear to most of us:

  • Ralph was clearly uncomfortable in face-to-face, one-on-one communication situations.
  • He was not paying much attention to what we were saying
  • He would like us to leave as quickly as possible

To say the least, Ralph was a poor listener. He violated most of the basic rules of effective listening. What do good listeners do?:

  • They maintain eye contact with the other person
  • They show non-verbal interest in what the other person is saying; they nod occasionally, have an open expression, and smile if it’s appropriate
  • They avoid fidgeting, crossing their arms and legs, looking at their watch. Ralph violated this one constantly.
  • They ask questions to clarify what the other person is saying
  • They repeat or paraphrase the other person’s message to check for understanding
  • They are patient and allow the other person to make their point fully

How are your listening skills these days?

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