Why won't they listen?! It can be exasperating when you're trying to communicate with someone, but you know that what you are saying is "going in one ear and out the other."
You might be offering advice, or giving instructions on how to complete a task, but the other person has made up their mind already, or thinks that their way is the best way and won't entertain any other points of view. When that happens, you can either throw your hands up in the air and walk away, or be patient and make the effort to ensure that they do eventually take your message on board.
There are occasions when you can almost forgive your listener's deliberate obtuseness or "selective" hearing. I can't imagine there's a parent out there who hasn't uttered the words, "Are you sure you want to do that? Have you tried doing it this way... ?" as they watch their child ignore the blindingly obvious negative consequences of an ill-considered undertaking.
The Danger of Not Listening!
I remember being 16 and confidently dismissing my father's opinion that there were less perilous ways of cleaning the chain of my motorbike than by holding an oiled rag around it with one hand while releasing the clutch with the other. There was a surprisingly small time lag between my hand getting dragged towards the teeth of the sprocket, and the realization that the old man had a point!
In the workplace, though, the reasons that people don't, or won't, listen cannot be explained away by the misplaced confidence of youth. Instead, it can be attributed to such things as arrogance, pride, defensiveness, or an unwillingness to admit to mistakes.
We asked Mind Tools' readers and followers to let us know how they deal with people who don't listen. And their replies revealed what an understanding, patient lot they are! We thank everyone who contributed their ideas, and here's a selection of their top tips:
Listen to Understand
Kantharaj Kanth set the tone for many of the responses when he said, "You need to ask open questions, or ask their point of view, so they will be more attentive to stay tune in the present."
Taking responsibility for the situation and trying to understand the other person's lack of engagement was also a popular standpoint. One reader suggested, "Seek first to understand, then be understood." It was a view echoed by X (formerly known as Twitter) user Richard Newton, who wrote, "1.Get to know the person & understand why 2. Explain in different way 3. Understand/explain from their perspective."
"Understand emotional needs and make them listen with appropriate explanations. Though it looks easy, it's practically tough."
"Value where they are at. Connect & never force trust - it unfolds through creating meaningful relationships."
Allow for Silence, Hold the Space
Several people suggested trying a different channel of communication, as people have different preferred ways of learning or understanding. Ivan Garcerant said, "Two tips: communicate in writing form, and [involve others] to bring a bit of objectivity." And Rufus May offered, "A) do something unexpected. B) write to them. C) ask for a meeting with friends present, and D) listen deeply without interrupting them." Penny Gundry said, "Allow for silence, hold the 'space', be an actor, not reactor."
I hope you find one another's tips informative and enlightening. Perhaps the last word should go to Dr Ekaterina Netchitailova, although I'm not sure how seriously to take her suggestion that, "You get drunk with them! Good wine is usually a deal-maker!"
About the Author:
Keith is a managing editor at Mind Tools and has been part of the content team since 2015. He's an experienced editor, writer and manager, with a long history of working in the e-learning and media industries.
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"It leads to what the author calls “assertive play” – not brick-on-skull assertive, but self-confident engagement, where people know they have things to contribute, and stake their claim."- Jonathan Hancock