The phrase Type A personality was originally coined by two cardiologists in the 1950s, based on observations of how middle-aged men with heart conditions behaved in the waiting room. Doctors labeled patients who couldn’t sit still, sat on the edge of their seats, or jumped up frequently “Type A,” and subsequently conducted research that showed those people were more likely to develop heart disease and high blood pressure.
Since then, “Type A Behavior Patterns” have grown to include competitiveness, urgency, and hostility. Type A people are ambitious and critical of themselves, always feeling as if they need to make the most of every second. With that, they can be impatient, anxious, and try to overschedule their lives (which doesn’t sound familiar to me at all. . .). All these factors combine to make Type A people more easily roused to anger or frustration. It also means that listening can be a struggle.
“Investing time into listening feels to Type A people like they are wasting it because the results of the investment are not immediately apparent,” says Dave Popple, PhD, president of Psynet Group. Stephen Garber, founder and president of the executive coaching firm Third LEVEL, agrees that for Type A people, the listening struggle is real. “Type A personalities are usually so busy driving themselves and their teams forward that it is uncomfortable for them to pause long enough to listen,” he says. “This is often true for many of us, just more so for the Type A’s. The Type A thought process moves at such a quick pace that they are likely to have considered and decided what needs to be done, want to deliver that message, and move on to the next subject. It’s not always the most empowering or effective management,” Garber adds.
While we spend about 60% of our interactions “listening,” we retain only about 25% of what we hear, and I would be willing to bet that for Type A people, it tends to be even less. The best leaders, thinkers, and problem solvers are first and foremost the best listeners. If you need to be convinced of that, watch any of these brilliant TED Talks on the importance of listening. Type A comrades, we need to be better, so here are some ways we can start:
Here’s the upside: Type A people are actually very effective at focusing on a task, and that can be applied just as well to listening—so long as they think it is worth their time. “The Type A personality needs to be convinced that the investment will pay dividends,” Popple says. “Practically, if a Type A personality truly believes that the person talking may say something at any moment that will impact their goals, they will listen intently and even apply active listening skills to draw out the nugget of wisdom.” Again, if you need to be convinced that listening is worth your time and attention (because it is), watch these TED Talks. Now.
If you’re really struggling to channel your focus and attention on listening, try easing into it by listening for emotion first, content second. “When others are communicating with you, they are describing their attitude about something,” says Patrick Malone, senior partner at The PAR Group. “Those attitudes are influenced by both logic and emotion. Listen more for the emotion—how (voice and body language) they express themselves, then the what will make more sense.”
Another way to think about it? Challenge yourself to read between the lines. “Sometimes a message is about what’s not being said as much as what is being said,” says Anastacia Kurylo, Ph.D., a corporate communication consultant and author. “Focusing on emotional expression—especially revealed through the face when communicating with someone—will give you insight into the goals of the speaker.”
When you’re about to cut someone off and try to solve the problem for them, Garber recommends an acronym he uses with his Type A executives: WOA. The W stands for “wait.” By “wait,” he means take a deep breath, exhale, and repeat the word wait three times. By then, the urge to answer may have passed, and you’ll be surprised how much more you may hear and learn. The O is for “observe.” You will get to see and hear more information, and may even find that the speaker has found his or her own solution. The A is for “allow.” Allow that there may be solutions or responses other than your own. “We have found that executives at all levels using this technique are far more satisfied and effective in their relationships and as leaders,” Garber says.
Yes, I know you have 45 things waiting for you as this person is speaking, but this is not the time to think about those things. “Part of being Type A is constantly multitasking, but recent research shows that no matter how well you think you’re multitasking, it reduces performance—including the ability to listen well,” says Molly Owens, CEO of Truity, which provides personality and career assessments. “Take a break from your internal to-do list and become an active listener, which requires focusing on the speaker with all your senses.” (We’ll excuse taste and touch.)
Once you’ve broken from your internal to-do list and are able to focus fully on the content and emotion of what someone is expressing to you, it is still not time to rush in with a quip or solution. New York Times best-selling author and intimacy expert Laura Doyle tells me that three magic words have transformed her interactions: I hear you. “It’s fantastically neutral,” she says. “I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with the speaker—I’m just listening, just bearing witness to what they have to say.”
This article originally appeared on Levo and is reprinted with permission.