Why I’m Single #66: Listen Up

Admittedly, I’m more of a talker than a listener.

But when I do listen…I tend to have to work at it to remain fully engaged because I can be a fairly passive listener.  Not that that’s a bad thing.  Most of what we say in casual conversation can probably be gleaned from passive listening and context cues.

That said, I think our culture also places a premium on having an opinion and opinions aren’t something that just happily sit in a shelf in a bottle.  Once people form an opinion, they tend to be eager to share whatever I – er – they most recently learned on the Facebook.

However, there are conversations where you have to take a more active role.

But you poor bastards have probably heard enough about my dating career.  I could tell you more stories, but you’d probably begin to get bored…

So, how about something else that I’m good at that the longer I do, the harder other people tend to make it to get decent results?

Work, of course.

It seems like not a week goes by at work without an eyeroll-inducing conversation about the work ethic of millennials.

Now, you see the correlation, eh?

But, it’s true.  I think our best work force is probably close to actually leaving the work force.

In a box.

I should admit that it’s unfair to classify an entire group of people as poor workers, and I know that there have been – and are – younger people that have a fine perspective on an honest day’s work.  That said, it sure feels as if finding a decent worker in their 20s is like the proverbial needle in a haystack.  I tend to fear having more than one 20-something working in the same area…you know that old adage about water finding its own level.

And, I would be remiss if I didn’t wonder if the results I see from younger workers are at least partially due to a language barrier between millennials and people in their 30s, 40s or older that prevents the best results from being achieved.

There’s a thing that makes one ponder.


Counseling conversations at work are certainly one example of where one’s agenda can get in the way of good listening.  I make sure to listen actively during those conversations because my ultimate goal isn’t to fire someone, it’s to improve performance and preserve the working relationship.  In order to do that, sometimes I need to help people overcome the obstacles they put in their own way. Paying attention to what they say as they verbally process the situation allows me to help remove those obstacles.

Active listening isn’t really something you can “processize”, if you know what I mean.  It’s a behavior or series of good habits you execute during a conversation.

When I worked at Green Zebra, one of our executives – well, and even the owner – had a habit of multi-tasking during meetings.  Usually, the owner was showing off how effectively she could shovel salad into her mouth, but I didn’t really care about that until she switched from listening mode to talking mode.  Then I had to stop listening because:  misophonia.  But what they both did to prove they were listening while multi-tasking was say, “Ok, what I hear you saying” and then repeat what was said with amazing accuracy.

And occasional salad projectiles that we all ignored.

Pretty soon, the minions were using that same phrase to demonstrate-slash-validate their own listening acumen.  Regardless of whether they actually possessed any particular skill beyond those of your jungle-variety parrot or snarky mid-level manager.

It was an amusing situation, even if this effectively resulted in making meetings twice as long as they needed to be just so these executives could do something else while everyone else struggled to accomplish the normal goals of the meeting.

Where this really worked against them was in performance management.  As I said, it’s important to listen actively during a critical conversation, but one of the Zeeb’s core values was speaking up.

Simple enough, right?

Of course not.

Because their rote habit here became – literally – “Thank you for speaking up, what I heard you say was…”.  Looking back, I’m kind of surprised my eyes aren’t stuck looking toward the back of my skull.  What people heard when they said that was the praise being given for participating in the culture of open communication they wanted to create in the work place.

Their problem here was that praise can often be misconstrued as validation.

My problem was that I tend to not validate things people say that are wrong.  My usual tactic when that occurs isn’t to say thanks for anything, it’s to move to correct the error by saying something like “That doesn’t sound right to me…” or “I can’t agree with that…” depending on the situation.

Y’know…be more direct.

I actually tend to be the same in my personal life, too.

Why I’m single #66.

Telling it like I see it to be.

Hey, you all know by now that I certainly have an opinion.

Honestly, I think there have always been personalities that required kid gloves when dealing with them:  our not great and -sadly – not late #45, for one.  But where those fragile egos used to be the exception, now they are a dime a dozen.  Not that we’re barfing out psychopathic narcissists, no.  It’s more that we are manufacturing people who are great at opinions, but not so much at critical thinking.  I’ve met some doozies, personally and professionally and they tend be loud and proud about spewing out their thoughts and equally skilled at deflecting from the fact that they don’t have a lot of data or practical experience to back up their opinions.

That’s a problem.

In a co-worker.

In a date.

In a president.

In our culture.

It’s not something I can fix.  But it’s also something that I’m not walking away from.

It’s why I continue to talk about my perspective on what is happening politically in our country.  Also, why I find it hard to remain respectful when I speak with someone who defends what is happening politically in our country without admitting the brazen hypocrisy of the shituation.

It’s why I am not dating and also not missing dating.

And it’s why I appreciate the people that I work with that come to work and do their damnedest to do a damn fine job.  That’s a relationship that I can appreciate!

Why I’m Single #66: Listen Up

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