Conquer Conflict At Work/Conflict Mis-Styles #3: Fails to Listen

Friday, March 10, 2023

Conflict Mis-Styles #3: Fails to Listen

Attentive listening is one of the most important skills of any successful communicator and leader. when we fail to listen we fail to connect and disconnection increases the chances of negative feelings, escalating tensions and resentment.

Fails to Listen

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new” ~ Dalai Lama

This is the third article of a 7 part series exploring 7 Common Mis-Styles of Conflict Resolution to help you become a Better Leader and Communicator. Subscribe and Comment


Attentive listening is one of the most important skills of any successful communicator and leader. Bad listeners, however, are all around us and you likely have many experiences to draw from here.

We adopt unhealthy ways of dealing with conflict as a way of surviving difficult moments. Rooted in our childhood and playground experiences, these "styles" go unchallenged in our minds until we come across a challenge we can not resolve to our satisfaction and it starts to affect our personal and professional relationships.

Today's mis-style is "Fails to Listen"

Truth time, have you been guilty of not listening to someone before?

Hello social media scrolling while watching television and trying to hold a conversation (self confession time). This speaks to the massive volume of information we receive that can make it hard to prioritize and focus.

There are plenty of examples of this in the everyday interactions, the real question is ... why do we adopt this style in conflict?

Why do People Fail to Listen?

There are many reasons someone may choose this method as a conflict resolution strategy and I will highlight them in three categories:

  • They can't listen/understand
  • They won't listen/understand
  • ​Too overwhelmed to listen/understand

They Can't Understand: aka They Lack the Capacity.

One common cause is they are simply just cannot relate to what you are sharing. They have not developed the toolset required to put themselves into another's shoes making it difficult for them to relate. They are not intentionally trying to hurt you, they simply lack the ability to make a connection to how you are feeling, what you are thinking, and the actions you are taking.

They may say things like "you are not making any sense" .. and they truly are confused.

They Won't Listen

This person has the capacity to listen and to put themselves in your shoes, they are actively choosing not to do so. This mis-style may be related to them

  • ​​feeling ignored in a past experience with you (ouch!)
  • ​deriving some sense of pleasure or power from seeing you frustrated.
  • ​protecting themselves from an uncomfortable truth

You may hear them say "you are getting on my nerves" to deflect attention away from themselves and their own insecurities.

Too Overwhelmed to Listen

Outside of the physiological aspects of hearing loss and temporary challenges related to illness or medication use, people who fail to listen may do so because they are overwhelmed with worry, fear, self blame or selfishness.

Imagine being in the middle of prepping a report with a looming deadline. You have already cleared your schedule and plan to work late tonight when someone plops down beside you, visibly upset and starts to talk. You are feeling all the pressures of the workload combined with your desire to be an open and accessible boss. This moment is filled with tension around how to be both, making effective listening more challenging.

How to identify someone who Fails to Listen

  • ​Observe body language for signs of disrespect such as eye rolling, sighs, looking past them, looking away from them, not responding to questions, turning away from you
  • ​Interrupting to talk over someone or to finish their thoughts
  • ​Use of blaming statements such as "you are getting on my nerves" or "you are not making any sense"
  • ​Shutting down and withdrawing from a conversation.

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Screenshot 2023-01-19 at 9 35 54 AM png

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