Active Listening


Sometimes a letter from a reader surprises me and strikes close to home. This is one of them.

I don’t what to do but first let me admit that I know this is my problem. I just want to know how to improve so I can control it better.

I have a tendency to have an abrupt, gruff tone of voice. Most of the time, it’s unintentional and sometimes surprises myself. I think, whoa, that wasn’t nice sounding. This is having a negative effect on my career. Today in fact, my boss came to me for a coaching moment that involved me signing a statement that will go into my personnel file. This wasn’t the first time he’s asked me about such a situation but it’s the second time this year. I think there were a couple more last year and it was noted in my performance evaluation.

I don’t recall the incident outlined in this statement but it involved me responding to a client in a gruff tone. Since I don’t recall this incident I refused to sign the statement. And then I had to write that and sign that. So I did.

But my question is how the heck do I curb this? I don’t like the fact that I sometimes make people feel bad especially when I don’t even know or realize it after the words leave my mouth.

I feel for my readers. Most of them just want to go to work, earn a paycheck, and come home to their real lives. Unfortunately, I have had to counsel employees on this very issue while being a five-foot-tall woman who is very abrupt.

In my case, I have learned that people have expectations of my personality.

  • She’s perky! She’s a pixie! She’s silly! She’s fun!

I often have to ask — Who told you that? I am abrupt because I want to be clear. This was tough earlier on in my career because I had to decide if I wanted to be liked or if I wanted to be heard. But I am always the first to say thank you and praise good work. When you are abrupt like me, it is important to show kindness and appreciation in other ways.

In the case of my employees, there are people who sound gruff but their tone doesn’t match their intent. And there are people who sound gruff because they are angry, hate their jobs, or something is bothering them beyond their careers. And there are some people who sound gruff because they fall on a certain side of the neurodiversity scale and they will always seem abrupt no matter what.

The easy advice is out there. If you are abrupt or gruff, you can practice active listening.

“If I hear you correctly, you’re asking me for help on this project?”

Then pause for a moment before you respond. And your response can be, “Can I please get back to you/call you back in a few minutes? Thank you.”

I know that’s not great advice if you work in customer service or at a retail store.

Another idea? Ask colleagues to send requests through email and texting so you can respond in a more neutral tone.

Also easier said than done.

The tougher piece of advice? I am not a psychologist but you might want to try to look inward. Examine the situations where you recall being gruff, abrupt and rude. Where does this happen? Just at work? Does this happen in real life? How were you approached? Why did you respond the way you responded? What could you have done differently?

Might be time to examine bigger issues beyond your job.

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