Why Don’t Others Listen to You?

Nine Tips for Improving Others Willingness to Listen to You

I had been on the road all week and I was eager to hang out with my family on Saturday morning. I came downstairs to find them watching cartoons. In a somewhat animated and enthusiastic voice I exclaimed, “Hey, let’s go outside and hit the ball around! What do you say?”

My young son looked up at me and said, “Please Dad, don’t yell at us.”

Realizing in that moment that my children had been socialized by their mother who is much more reserved than myself, I quietly whispered almost inaudibly, “Would anyone like to go outside and play some ball?” Immediately their ears perked up, someone turned off the TV, and someone led the charge outside with a “Let’s go!”

I learned two things that day that have repeatedly been verified. First, sometimes softer is better, and second, there is a huge segment of the population that interprets passion and enthusiasm as aggression or anger. Consequently, we would do well to temper our volume and our feelings when speaking with others.

Because it is important for people to listen to you, we should identify a number of behaviors that prevent people from listening to you. We ought to consciously become more aware and observe ourselves while eliminating some of these tactics from our conversations in order to have their full attention:

1.     Using a lot of words to describe an issue. Sometimes we are wordy and just not as concise as we could be. If people cannot get to the heart of the matter, then they become distracted and quit listening.   

2.     Processing or formulating our ideas out loud. Some people are verbal thinkers, meaning they process ideas and concepts out loud, so they may ramble or follow numerous trains of thought. This leaves the listener thinking “what in heaven’s name are they talking about.”

3.     Not listening and attending to others. It becomes obviously apparent when people feel like they are talking to themselves when they are talking to you. If there is no attempt at connection on your part, others don’t usually return the favor.

4.     Telling the same story over and over again. People become weary of others who always seem to have an ax to grind and are constantly telling the same story or a variation of the same story that includes recent updates over and over again.

5.     Overreacting with a high degree of emotional intensity. Some people are superb at creating an endless stream of drama. Often an individual’s emotional outburst occurs because of some negative interpretation or judgment that is formulated from the actions of others. People’s emotions say volumes about them.   

6.     Occupying all of the air time. Many people may not even notice when they are doing this, but it is very annoying to be with someone who is doing all of the talking and never allows anyone else to contribute to the conversation.

7.     Not being able to sincerely empathize and understand another’s view point. If you are listening to others and constantly offering judgments, evaluations, or advice, people end up thinking that you are more interested in talking about yourself than in hearing what they have to say. 

8.     Offering constant negativity or criticism of others. Usually people think if a person will talk negatively or critically about someone else, that same person would probably talk negatively about them when you are not around. Negativity pushes people away and causes them to shut down.

9.     Always talking about yourself. This is akin to occupying all of the time in a conversation. Someone who is always talking about themselves comes across as a self-centered bore. Such behavior causes people to quit listening as soon as you open your mouth.

You probably have a few you could add; however, you’ll notice many of these behaviors signal a lack of awareness on the part of the individual. Any of these behaviors create disconnection and an unwillingness on the part of others to listen to what you have to say.

So how do you increase the chance that anyone will listen to you? Here are some tips that you might find useful: 

1.     Be precise. Think about an important point you want to make and deliver your message precisely. Be prepared with the facts or supporting details if you are asked for them, but don’t provide long, logical explanations upfront. Hit them with the point and wait for their queries.

2.     Ask questions. Asking questions is always a good idea because it allows you to control the conversation. However, when dealing with people who process out loud, it is important to ask questions to help clarify your understanding as well as focus their ideas. Also, verbal thinkers often think that they have said something when in fact they just thought it. If you will ask questions to make sure you have understood, you will help them recognize what they have said and what you thought you understood.

3.     Give your attention. Make eye contact with the person who is speaking and ask questions to understand and show interest in what they are saying. Giving someone your undivided attention helps others to do the same to you.

4.     Ask, “What do you like me to do?” Sometimes the reason people tell the same story over and over is because they want to be acknowledged or they need to know that they have been heard. Sometimes when a person engages in this behavior, it is because they want to be validated. That’s fine.  Remember that we usually behave in ways for which we determine there is some benefit. Otherwise, they would not engage in said behavior.

Sometimes this quest for acknowledgment is based on the lack of awareness that others have understood. I once worked with an executive who struggled to identify if he had been understood. He gave me permission to say, “Got it,” when I attended any of his meetings. Sometimes while sitting in his team meetings, I would say, “Got it” when he began to repeat himself. Often he would stop himself and ask “Really?” to which others would respond in the affirmative. It took him a while to become more self-aware. But when he did, his communication dramatically improved. Please note, that this individual was the exception rather than the norm. Calling out an individual’s behavior without permission or in a caustic or accusatory tone is highly offensive. I only mention this story to illustrate that people can be well intended and still develop some conversational skill.

5.     Monitor your feelings. Emotional outbursts are usually preceded by a thought. If you easily become emotional, you need to spend some time identifying what sets you off and learn ways to defuse your reaction.

6.     Notice the dynamics. Observe and ask yourself, “Do I invite others to contribute to a conversation?” If you notice that others are not participating in a dialogue, then invite them to add their perspective and listen to what they have to say. Notice whether you are doing all of the talking and whether others are talking or not. If not, take steps to invite them into the conversation. People who are often introverted struggle to speak up if they feel uncomfortable. Even if they won’t engage, continue to invite them to participate. Over time they will come to feel safer about contributing to the conversation.

7.     Empathize with others. This is easier said than done if you have never received any training in empathy. You might try asking yourself: “What would I think and feel if I found myself in this situation?” Remember that everyone is rational from their perspective. Thinking about others’ thoughts and feelings as a way to understand their behavior will help you understand and begin to relate to the person. And of course, you may need to recognize that your attempts to guess at their thinking and feeling will never compensate for asking the person what is really going on with them.

8.     Be positive. Watch what is coming out of your mouth—volume and tone. Look for opportunities to express appreciation, offer sincere and specific compliments, and recognize superior effort and performance. Such behavior speaks volumes about your consideration for others.

9.     Create engagement. Ask others to share their ideas, experience, and opinions about issues or challenges that you may be having. Then when you give your full attention to their comments, it might surprise you what you might learn.

You want to increase others’ willingness to listen to you by incorporating the Law of Reciprocity into your interactions with others. This law simply stated is, “That which you freely give to others, they will return to you magnified beyond what you could have expected.” If you make a sincere attempt to listen to others, you will soon find that they will listen to you