Aggressive Listening

I think this pattern is something I have come across in several cases. With one of my folks, I found that it was so bad that it affected the ability of the person to get along with the rest of the team.

A typical conversation in an AggressiveListening conversation.

Experienced Person: Here we use an observer pattern to communicate between the business logic and the UI.

Aggressive Listener: I don't think that is the observer pattern.

EP: (getting annoyed): It really is, its a modified version of it, where we pass the contents of the event with the notification. Since this is going over a potentially slow connection, we want to avoid the call-back typically used in a standard observer.

AL: It can't possibly be that slow.

EP(angry now...Pulling up timing data): It really is, in most of the tests we the construction of the screen was 1/2 the time when using the standard observer..But this really isn't the point. I'm just trying to show you the existing code.

AL: We should have used a different pattern. We shouldn't be sending all the events over individually.

EP(giving up): Well..Anyway, here is the code. Ask me if you have any questions.

The scenario here is often repeated over and over again. In fact, each of the places where the Active listener challenged the ideas or facts of the other person, they were simply trying to gain understanding. There was no malice of intent.


I've run across enough Aggressive Listeners in my day that I can usually respond appropriately without getting angry, but it is sometimes difficult. What Aggressive Listeners don't seem to understand is that their "challenging questions" have underlying meanings of "you are lying to me" or "you are incompetent".

In the example exchange above, the listener could have gotten a lot more information and cooperation by re-phrasing the questions as "Is that really the Observer pattern?", "Is the connection really that slow?", or "Did you consider using any other patterns?" Opening a dialogue is always more effective than is throwing rocks at things you don't like.

Aggressive Listeners are IncompetentCommunicators, in my opinion. Unfortunately, they usually don't accept their incompetence, instead claiming their attitude to be a virtue.

Some methods for dealing with Aggressive Listeners:

-- KrisJohnson

My favorite technique is the "bluntly tell them" technique. I find that honestly approaching an individual and telling them what you see (specific facts), how those facts make you feel, and what you would like to do differently works quite well. Never approach an individual on opinion though. (i.e. "You are being mean" as opposed to "John feels intimidated by your tone"). -- MichaelKirby

See also OnlySayThingsThatCanBeHeard, DiplomacyPattern


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