THE BLOG
09/05/2014 03:05 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

10 Tips for Listening to Your Coworkers While Still Ignoring Them

One of my coworkers came to me the other day and said something about how they were feeling or something, I can't remember exactly what. The point is, listening to your coworkers is hard. They often say marginally interesting things which you have no desire to contribute to, and that leaves you feeling empty and hollow inside. This is no way to live. That's why, when speaking with your coworkers, the best course of action is to make them feel heard while at the same time ignoring them completely. Here are my favorite ways to do just that.

1. Say "I totally get that"

Interject with clearly agreeable statements, such as, "I totally get that," "I hear you 110%" or "I am right there with you, boo." All the positive reinforcement will make your coworker feel validated, as if you were actually listening. Even better, they'll think you're completely on their side even though that would be impossible.

2. Seem confused

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Have a painfully confused look on your face throughout the conversation. This will convince your coworkers that you're listening intently, and trying really hard to understand them, when really you're just wondering what drink to order at happy hour.

3. Repeat what they said, sort of

It's important to paraphrase what your coworkers say in such a way that you're actually telling them what you want to hear. If they mention problems, turn them into challenges, if they mention complaints, turn them into opportunities and if they mention their vacation, turn it into a guilt trip. If they point out that you don't seem to be understanding them, suggest they take a class on effective communication. 

4. Mention their attitude

Interrupt your coworker with a simple, "You seem angry," and quickly follow it up with, "Are you ok?" If you point out their overall attitude, any attitude really, you've instantaneously made them feel heard, and also sort of ashamed. It's the perfect combination. This way they feel like you're listening to them on a deeper level than anyone else, even though you're actually spending time in the Twitterverse of your mind.

5. Talk about the big picture

Coworkers often want to talk about tiny boring details that could drain the life out of a drain pipe. Questioning their focus on the big picture takes the spotlight off of your inability to listen and back on their ability to keep talking.

6. Create a distraction

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If your coworker wants to chat with you, it's always great to suggest a "walking" meeting, or to meet somewhere outside of the office. This way there's always something to point out at key moments, whether it be a cool piece of graffiti, homeless person or any shiny object. While they talk, keep on the lookout for anything that might seem interesting and point it out whenever you feel like you can't take their yabbering anymore. Then, apologize for getting distracted and ask them to continue. Rinse and repeat.

7. Be silent

An interesting thing happens when you're totally silent. People tend to feel like they need to fill the silence with more talking, and eventually they end up talking themselves out of whatever they were saying in the first place. Do this long enough and they'll think you're some kind of all-knowing ever-present tai chi master.

8. Ask meaningless questions

Come up with six or seven begging questions you can ask at random points without giving away the fact that you haven't been listening. Questions like, "Can you tell me more?" or "What do you mean by that?" or "Why do you think that is?" or "Who are we really?", will make your coworker dive deeper into the recesses of their mind, leaving you to be with your thoughts about last night's Tinder date.

9. Start with a hard stop

Start every conversation with, "I have a hard stop in 3 minutes." For more desperate situations, say you have a meeting. If you don't have a meeting, say you have a deadline. If you don't have a deadline then say you have an email you have to finish looking at.

10. Avoid eye contact

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Never look your coworker in the eye while they talk. Non-verbal communication specialists say that tilting your head and looking up indicates reflection. Do this while nodding so they can't see your eyes glazing over. Another option is to close your eyes altogether and assure them it helps you listen. If you fall asleep, try not to snore. When they finish talking, simply open your eyes again and say, "I'll think about that some more". Then walk away feeling refreshed and confident that your coworker really thought you were listening that time.

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For more from Sarah, check out TheCooperReview.com. Follow @sarahcpr on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.