“Hey, do you have time to talk?”
“Do you have a minute, I have an idea I want to run by you?”

How many times a day are you asked questions like these? And how many times do you wish you could be honest and say NO, but what comes out of your mouth is YES?

I’ll bet it’s a lot!

From the time we’re young, we’re trained to believe that we must listen to others, especially when they come to us for help. For those of us in leadership positions, we’re told that we should have an open door policy and that we should tell our employees they can come to us whenever they need us.

Well I’m here to tell you that’s just not true. There are times when whatever you’re doing is more important than what that other person has to say. Just because they want your attention now, doesn’t mean you have to give it. In fact, when you say “yes” to listening when you know you’ve got something else on your mind, or something more important or urgent to do, are you really listening to that person, or is your internal dialogue screaming at you the whole time, “I wish he’d hurry up, I need to get back to what I was doing”?

It’s time to stop that internal programming that makes us say YES every time and instead, assess the situation and prioritize. If what the other person has to say IS more important, then by all means, drop what you’re doing and listen. However, if after assessing you realize that what they want to talk about can wait, then you’re doing yourself and the other person a favor by saying NO to listening.

This week be honest about your ability to listen. Assess the situation and prioritize. Remember that you’re doing a disservice to yourself and the other person if you say you’re listening, but you’re really not because you’re preoccupied. Saying NO to listening doesn’t mean you have to be rude and it doesn’t mean you NEVER want to hear what the other person has to say, it just means not now. Here’s what I say when I need to say not now to listening:

“I’d love to help you with that, but I have a deadline to get this report done. Can I come see you (or call you back) in about an hour? Then I’ll be able to give you my undivided attention.”

P.S. – For those of you thinking to yourself, “But what if I don’t want to talk about it later either?” Then that’s the time you have to prioritize as well- prioritize between your disinterest in listening or need to listen, versus the other person’s need to share. If the answer is NO, then you can say so. For example, “Judy, I’m sorry you’re struggling with your relationship with your boyfriend. However, we’ve spoken about this several times before and I’ve offered you all the suggestions I can think of, but you seem unwilling to try them. At this point, I really don’t have anything else to offer, so I’d rather not talk about your relationship any more.”

It may sound harsh, but it may need to be said!

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