The frustration is real. You say things, share things, and communicate important messages, and it seems to fall on deaf ears. Have you ever wondered why people aren’t listening to you? Have you ever considered that it might not be about them at all?
At the core, effective communication is message sent; message received. Listening is clearly in the middle of that exchange. If we want to get our messages received clearly (another way to say that people are listening to you), we should consider what we are doing to impede the message being received. Which leads to the question: What can I do to make it easier for people to listen to me?
That is a great question. Before we get to the answer, we must acknowledge this profound truth: someone else listening to us isn’t in our control. We can’t “make someone” listen to us – just ask any elementary school teacher on the day before Spring Break starts. Everyone owns their own choice to listen, and so we must determine how to influence, encourage, and persuade them to listen to us.
As we think about that truth – that getting people to listen to us is an exercise in influence, we can quickly identify four things we often do wrong – four things that keep people from listening to us.
You aren’t listening to them
If you aren’t listening to me, why should I listen to you? It may sound petty and adolescent, but our brains all work like that sometimes. One of the best things you can do to improve the chances people will be listening to you is to listen them. Think about your best communication exchanges. In those cases, you are likely intently listening to others and they are doing the same in return. More on that in a minute, but for now realize that it probably isn’t a coincidence.
If people aren’t listening to you stop and ask yourself, and I modelling what I want them to do?
You aren’t focused on “message received”
Think about the side-by-side talking heads on any TV news or sports talk show. There is lots of talking, and very little listening going on. In those cases, both parties are often talking at the same time, over each other. Not only are they not listening to each other, but if we are ultimate audience, they are making it hard for us to listen to them too. While our communication situations might not be exactly like that, there are times they are eerily similar. When your focus is on what you are saying, you aren’t thinking about your audience at all.
If you want people to listen more closely to you, shift your focus from “making your point” (which is about pushing your message onto someone), to “helping them see” (which is about aiding them in hearing your point).
You aren’t tailoring the message to them
Have you ever seen the presentation that you know has been given five (or fifty times) -the one where the presenter seems on autopilot? While they may be polished and well prepared, does it sometimes feel like there might be something missing?
This is another example of the speaker being too focused on their message, and not enough on the audience. Knowing your stuff, having the facts, and even having a good story to tell isn’t enough, if there isn’t a perfect match between that message and the needs and interests of the audience.
Whether your audience is 1 or 100, are you speaking to them? Consider these questions: Are you speaking from your experience, or tapping into theirs? Are you using language and examples that they understand? Are you giving them good reasons, both intellectual and emotional, to listen to you?
Talking louder, or simple repetition won’t solve your problem. If you want others to listen to you, make it easy for them to do so, and give them reasons to. Remember they are deciding whether to listen to you or not, if they aren’t, it I up to you think about what you can do to capture their interest and change their mind.
You aren’t creating a dialogue
Listening to a lecture is hard. However good the lecture, speech or sermon is, you have an internal dialogue going on, don’t you? You have questions, you’d like to share your thoughts, you’d like the person to slow down or speed up. In other words, when communication is one way, it is harder for it to be successful.
You will create the opportunity and likelihood that others will listen if you stop focusing on your message and engage them in a dialogue about your message. If you feel people aren’t listening, stop talking. Ask a question about their thoughts or feelings. Elicit their questions. As you turn your exchange into a two-way dialogue, the levels of listening by both parties (you too!) will likely increase.
We have all felt the frustration when it doesn’t feel like our communication is working. It is too easy to just blame all of that on the other person. If someone isn’t listening to you, you will get better results if you focus on what you could change that might encourage them to listen to you – which means rather than waiting for them to change, the change must start with us.
One of the many ways you can become a more effective communicator is through better understanding your communication style and the strengths and weaknesses of that style. When you couple that knowledge with an understanding of how others communicate, you can predictably create more effective communication – including making it easier for people to listen to you. One tool for doing that is a DISC Assessment. You can get a taste of those insights with our free assessment. From there, you can upgrade to a full assessment and see a suite of tools to help you and your team be more effective communicators.