Grow Bigger Ears: Don’t (Over) Actively Listen

In the 2003 film The Life of David Gale, there’s a great scene where Kevin Spacey and Laura Linney are debating Capital Punishment:

LL: “And almost-martyrs don’t count.”

KS: “Got it.”

LL: “So, keep it rational.”

KS: “Mm-hmm…”

LL: “And stop that!”

KS: “What?”

LL: “Active listening. I hate active listeners. I feel like they’re too busy pretending to listen to actually hear what I’m saying.”

KS: “I can listen AND actively listen at the same time.”


OK. What about you?

Ever had a conversation with someone who was (over) actively listening to you?

In other words, even though the person WAS doing all the right things…

Like smiling.
Like nodding.
Like taking notes.
Like leaning forward.
Like saying, “Uh huh…”
Like agreeing, “Yeah…!”
Like asking clarifying questions.
Like offering validation phrases.
Like restating what you just said.
Like displaying mirroring or reflection statements.

…that person still drove you crazy!

LISTEN UP: there are three dangers that result from (over) actively listening:

1. Annoyance. If you nod TOO much, smile TOO much and agree TOO much, your customer is going not going to like you … TOO much! Use active listening techniques moderately. Don’t overdo it. Especially in highly emotional situations. Remember: just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

2. Authenticity. Avoid focusing ALL your attention on “coming off as a good listener.” Just relax. The moment you TRY to be authentic is the moment you STOP being authentic. Listening is about focusing on the OTHER person’s words, and not about focusing on YOUR own abilities to do so.

3. Negligence. Think about this: If YOU were talking to your boss and he spent the whole conversation taking notes, how would you feel? Probably like he spent too much time writing and not enough time listening. LESSON LEARNED: beware of allowing your ears to get in the way of hearing the message.

So, that’s the challenge: how do you maintain balance between active listening and (over) active listening?

THE SHORT ANSWER: moderation.

THE LONG ANSWER: grow bigger ears WITHOUT allowing them to stand in the way of what you really need to hear.

Have you ever encountered an (over) active listener?

Tell us what they could have done better here!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag

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