I’m able to listen when someone tells me something of value. I’m even willing to keep quiet when an employee needs to vent or complain or give me a blow-by-blow account of his day.
But there are times when I refuse to waste time listening, like when people tell stupid jokes or can’t stop running their mouths. I just want to yell SHUT UP ALREADY!
Yeah, I know. I can’t do that.
A diplomatic cutoff valve
I’ve found that unless I speak up eventually, people might talk my ear off for 10 minutes, easy. It’s almost like they dare me to interrupt.
I don’t play that game. I’m not going to pretend to listen, then pretend I have a sudden need to rush off. People see through that.
There are more efficient ways to prod someone to make a point without barking, “Make your point.” My favorite technique is to jump in and ask, “What are you concluding from all this?” or “OK, let’s talk action: What are you going to do? And what do you want me to do?” If I still don’t get an answer, I’ll repeat the question until it sinks in.
When I’m more comfortable with the person, I might push a little harder by saying “Cut to the chase” or “Give me the short version.” It’s rude, but it works.
Silencing the dumb joker
My company can be a pretty tense place to work. Lots of folks tell jokes to relax. We’re big on gallows humor.
But some people’s brand of humor borders on the offensive. If I come down too hard on them, I fear coming across as a schoolmarm. But if I let one guy tell an off-color joke, things often degenerate into a free-for-all.
I like to say “Watch it” or “Enough” as a kind of warning. If that doesn’t work, I’ll pull the person aside and say, “I want to make you aware of something. I’m all for fun and games, but there’s a line we can’t cross. I don’t want you to tell jokes other people might find offensive.”
Sending silent signals
You can listen to a bird’s song if you keep still. But if you make any quick moves, the bird may fly away.
Same goes with people. I’ll often knock a speaker off his perch by fidgeting, checking my watch or, more obviously, standing up and starting to head out the door. But I don’t just walk out. I maintain eye contact to be polite. Yet without saying a word, by shifting from a listening posture to show I’m on the go, I convey the need for him to hurry up.
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