Her call touched me deeply. She was trying so hard…to establish the right vision, to key in on the important behaviors, to scaffold and develop…and her team just wasn’t listening.
Perhaps you’ve been there too. You’ve got vision. You care deeply. You teach. You repeat yourself. But no one seems to “get it”?
Here are 10 questions worth asking when you hit that wall and when your team is just not listening.
1) Do you say it in different ways?
People learn differently—some by seeing things, some by hearing, some through practice, and so on. As you practice communicating frequently, use different techniques. Repeat critical information at least six times through three or more channels. For example, to communicate a new procedure, you might use email, a staff meeting, and one-on-one meetings for your three channels.
2) Do you say it often enough?
We have worked with so many frustrated leaders who complain that their team is insubordinate or unresponsive. When asked if they communicated the issue to their team, they say “yes.” Here are a few of the answers we got when we asked, When was the last time you communicated the issue?
“At that off-site the year before last.”
“We were in the hallway six months ago.”
“At the staff meeting last month.”
“In an email.”
If you’ve communicated something once, you haven’t communicated. Managers who win well communicate frequently.
3) Do you check for understanding?
An idea is rarely as clear to the listener as it is to the speaker. Ask your listeners what they heard, what they understood you to be asking, and what they understand the consequences to be.
4) Have you explained the “whys”?
Even military briefings include the reasons and objectives behind the orders. Sometimes people’s lack of response results from not understanding the consequences of their action or inaction.
5) Are you ordering or inviting?
Invitation is the language of collaboration. We don’t mean the literal phrasing of the words (although that can make a difference too), so much as the attitude behind them. People know when you focus on relationships along with results. Do you communicate that you’re better than everyone else and they should serve you? Or do you invite people with mutual dignity to participate with you?
6) Do you know what matters to them?
Everyone values something. If the values you promote conflict with your people’s values, you’ll have trouble being heard.
7) Do you have credibility?
If your team can say, “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” and they have evidence to back up their conclusion, expect to be ignored. Credibility is built, not demanded. If you don’t know what you’re doing in a certain arena, admit it and seek out others with the expertise to supplement what you do know. When your people can’t trust you or rely on you, but you insist on compliance, you fight an uphill battle you cannot win in the long run.
￼8) Do you listen?
If you don’t hear what people tell you, they’ll naturally think you don’t care, they’ll lose heart, and they will stop caring. To learn whether or not you’re hearing people, ask a few team members to share with you: “Is there anything you’ve been trying to tell me that I’m just not hearing?” Be quiet and listen. Thank them for sharing, and respond in time. You don’t have to agree, but you do need to hear. It takes both internal values of confidence and humility to truly listen without defending yourself. When you listen, you strengthen the connection with your people and learn what areas of training, execution, and accountability need attention.
9) Do you speak their language?
Do the words and concepts you use mean the same thing to your team that they mean to you? Do you share numbers and facts when stories and demonstrations are needed—or vice versa?
10) What do you really want?
Whenever you have management challenges, the first thing to examine is your own motivation. Are you truly focused on results and relationships, or are other self-protecting or self motivations creeping in? There’s a big difference between wanting what’s best for the team and wanting what’s best for you. So what is it you really want? If the answer is submission—“I know what’s best, and they’d better listen to me”—then you won’t ever have a team that wins well. They will act out of fear when they have to and ignore you when they feel it’s safe.
If you feel as if no one’s listening, ask yourself these 10 questions, be honest with yourself, and take action in response to your answers.
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