Have you ever had the feeling that you were moving your mouth but no one could hear the sounds coming out of it? They go about their day as if you’re not there. There’s a reason this is happening: they’re really not listening to you.
There. I said it. People are tuning you out.
What are the warning signs of this dynamic? When you speak with people, they nod politely but are looking for the exits while they do. They check their Blackberry and have “urgent” calls come in every time you’re talking to them. Your emails never get replied to. Most importantly, the things you want to get done never seem to generate traction.
Don’t worry – the problem is not you personally per se. It’s the information you’re putting out there (or not putting out there for that matter). What I’ve found is there are three major reasons people aren’t listening to you. I’ve personally been guilty of all of these at one point or another. You probably have too.
The good news is there are some simple things you can do to solve those problems.
Reason #1: You Act Like Chicken Little
Everything you’re working on is important… in YOUR mind. Unfortunately, others you work with don’t share your zeal for the new firewall solution you just downloaded because you’re afraid of the trojan zlob virus that’s infecting PC’s in Malaysia and creating zombie bots that spam twitter accounts.
In their eyes, you’ve become an alarmist. Every time you come to them, you point out how pressing and important the issue at hand is. After a while your listener believes you find EVERYTHING to be important therefore NOTHING is important. They don’t have time to sift through all your cries for help to determine which ones are actually worth listening to.
The solution? Be judicious with what you deem as “urgent.” Minimize the number of emails you send that are marked with an “!” or lead with “Crisis!” If you are sparing with your cries for help, when you really need help, they’ll tend to listen more.
Reason #2: They Have No Idea What You’re Getting At
I don’t know about you but my eyes glaze over after someone speaks continuously for more than 2 minutes. You know the type – they never seem to have to inhale. They ramble on and on like it’s a magical mystery tour of their brain.
The problem here is you don’t have a story. You’re not clearly articulating what you want and why you want it. The solution? Take time to craft the story. Be specific about your logic and what action you want the other individual to take. This applies whether you’re trying to convince a front-line associate to perform an analysis or a CEO to pursue an acquisition.
Reason #3: It’s NOT About You
Our default position for attacking problems is moving from ourselves forward. It’s a natural approach. The problem is your audience doesn’t give two spits about you. In their minds it’s about them (which is also very natural). Until you can get inside their heads and look at things from their perspective, you sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher (wonnnt wont wooont wonnnnnt waaaa).
You first need to speak their language. Once you’re communicating in a manner they understand, you next need to be compelling and help them understand how what you’re recommending helps them. That’s the only way you can truly drive action on their part.
Ultimately the best way to get listened to is to solve a problem your audience has. If you bring them a solution to their most pressing concern, they’re much more likely to take the action you desire.
It’s a noisy world out there. The better you are at being selective in your communications and speaking to people about things they’re concerned with, the higher the likelihood you’ll be listened to.
What counterproductive behaviors do you run across in the arena of communications? What creative suggestions for improvement do you have? Please share.