Try Mind Tools for 7 days FREE Start Trial
Gain essential management and leadership skills
Busy schedule? No problem. Learn anytime, anywhere.
Subscribe to unlimited access to meticulously researched, evidence-based resources.
Join today and save on an annual membership!
Join Mind Tools
Gain essential management and leadership skills
Busy schedule? No problem. Learn anytime, anywhere.
Subscribe to unlimited access to meticulously researched, evidence-based resources.
Join today and save on an annual membership!
Join Mind Tools

Sign-up to our newsletter

Subscribing to the Mind Tools newsletter will keep you up-to-date with our latest updates and newest resources.

Working on it...
Successfully subscribed to the newsletter
Sorry, something went wrong
October 27, 2015

Dealing With People Who Don’t Listen!

Keith Jackson

, ,

Share this post:

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."

Mind Tools reader Soma Jurgensen advised, "Listen to them first. Author Stephen R. Covey [of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People fame] says 'Seek first to understand'."

In a similar vein, we heard:

  • "Stop telling them things, and start asking questions. Listen to them."
  • "Reconsider you own communication. Actively listen to them (for a change?)."
  • "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."
Stay up to date, subscribe to our newsletter

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.

Share this post:

83 comments on “Dealing With People Who Don’t Listen!”

  1. Needless to say, this situation always occurs whenever I go to order at a fast food establishment, I never get what I order. Moreover, when I say to my spouse I'm not in the mood to go out because I need to stress out relax from a long stressful week at work. Out of the blue at the last minute " Oh did I tell you that so and so are coming for dinner" or I thought you wanted this not that" Having said that, we been together for over 15years. Enough said.

    1. Thanks for sharing Romano. Sometimes we could benefit from working on our communication skills (from both sides ;)) to help each other hear what we say! 15 years is impressive. Well done to you both!

  2. I have three people in my life who just cannot hear what I say. No matter what I say the response is invariably "uh?", "what?", "eh?" Or just to ignore me completely. I now keep it zipped. It's their loss.

    1. It can indeed be very frustrating Annmarie when people do not hear what we have to say. I wonder how you might consider minimizing any contact with them just to avoid those feelings of frustration.

  3. What do you do when out of no where your husband has decided to end the marriage when I was 5months pregnant with our second child. I know it was stress related and he has gone into shut down but he won't listen to why we need to try, what his responsibilities are. He said he won't try to make it work or listen because he doesn't want to! HOw do you deal with that when it's ripping apart a family and he is not considering anyone but himself. What about his vows, what about his responsibilities to his wife and family? How do I approach it, how can I get through to him that you can't just throw a marriage away without trying to save it? Please help,

  4. Hi Louise Williams
    I'm very sorry to hear that you're going through a really tough time right now. Loss of a relationship is devastating and sad. I wish I could have a cup of coffee with you right now and just help you through a tough moment!
    It's very hard to give someone the right guidance over a platform like this. Rather than saying the wrong thing, I'd recommend that you get in touch with a counselor in your area. Even though I'm a therapist by profession, I got help from a therapist/counselor when I got divorced a few years ago. While we weren't able to save our relationship, her help was invaluable in getting me through the ordeal in a way that made me a stronger, wiser person. Of course it didn't take the pain away, but it helped me deal with the pain in constructive ways.
    Oh Louise, I'm thinking of you and hope that things will work out for you.
    Yolandé, Mind Tools Team

  5. My family doesn't listen to me at all even when I get there attention. They say that I talk to quiet when I'm talk at a reasonable volume. What should I do?

    1. I am curious Colbi whether you have asked people for more specific feedback when they say that you talk to quiet, particularly when you believe you are speaking at a reasonable volume. Perhaps the next time it happens, you could ask questions to find out more about the reason they are saying what they are saying. Sometimes talking openly and honestly can help both sides understand and make changes. Good luck!

  6. Everyone has times when they don't listen - because of stress, fatigue, something pressing on their mind. However, when they consistently ignore me, don't listen, can't engage they have shown me WHO THEY ARE - which is someone not capable of being in a healthy, functional, adult relationship. My solution is to simply cut them out of my life in any way where their ability to listen or engage with me is needed. Dead wood is dead weight and only clutters my life. Many times this means "defriending," or "ghosting" them and walking away. There is absolutely no reason to keep losers, toxic people, people who refuse or are unable or incapable of listening in your life. You can't change people but you can change how you respond to them. Why waste your time with a human being who is broken, stubborn, toxic or incapable of a relationship that matters?

    1. Thanks Becky for sharing your thoughts. We do sometimes have to make choices about who we surround ourselves with.

  7. A lot of questions on families not listening but I'll give you questions on situations that occur everyday in the office. I work at an IT company and other employees that don't listen not only affects us emotionally but also financially if the contract's requirements are not being met this is what clients are made to believe but in reality most managements couldn't care less about listening unless it affect the bottom line. I think we've created a culture where management does not want to listen because the benefits outweigh the liabilities.

    For example, management see's no point in firing an employee if they harass females or make racist comments in the office. If it doesn't affect the contract or work deliverables then management will look the other way and the person making the complaint is the bad guy or a distraction in their opinion. If a bad employee is talented they will get away with a lot of stuff, they and management will not listen to a few shortcomings. Point is, choose a battle you can win because no good deed goes unpunished. You see this culture in sports as well, the player is a criminal but teams look the other way just so they can win, luckily with the media coverage these days some of it comes to light but it still goes on. This may work in sports where there is a lot of coverage but in the corporate world its about survival.

    Let me through out a few office examples about listening:

    For example #1, if a help call is missed, and I tell the employee to call them back, the employee does not listen. I can then try your approach to ask them an open ended question about if its courteous to call them back. They respond with, if they hang up or got tired of waiting, it's their problem. How are you suppose to deal with this? People don't like to hold or leave voice messages and my employee's don't want to call them back. So I've been unable to get through. When the client complains about calls not being answered, then it undermines our contract. Sure you can fire people but it could be worse with the next employee, so management is in a dead end. Or is it?

    Example #2, if someone assigns lets say a technical document from upper management and then you spend time to write the documents to standards. You email the work. But get no response or they are unwilling to listen to what you've done. What is one suppose to do? This seems more like a trust issue, why assign work if they won't trust your judgement? If they don't trust, how can one earn trust so they will listen? Your suppose to just sit and wait until your in a position of authority? How is one suppose to move up in the ladder if no one listens?

    Example #3, if your assigned work to make sure your company follows certain procedures and you discover the company has been lying or cheated to get credentials/procedures it doesn't have and convincing customers it does have them, who will listen to this type of complaint? It not only puts the employee in a trap but also cheats our customers. Sure you can quit and go to the next cheating company or how are you going to get someone to listen?

    If people don't listen to these small things what would make them listen to the bigger things? if you enable people to not listen on these small things then it creates a pattern where they will mind their own business when they see bigger things. Maybe they'll see a someone getting harassed but look the other way, if someone taught them to stand up maybe they might save someone's life. Looking the other way is not the culture our kids should be receiving, in the end its just hard to do something good.

  8. Maybe there's a culture of not really paying attention to one another in your company. The situations you described certainly sound uncomfortable. In situations like these, you can feel caught up and helpless. Remember that you can't change or control other people, you can at best influence them. Therefore it may be useful to ask yourself is, "How can I be a better listener?"
    Have a look at this quiz, too:

  9. Government departments are infuriating. I believe it’s because they’re bored after doing the same thing for so long, so when we speak they already have a rote answer even if you have spoken and explained clearly. I have a physical disability and so many times they think I’m mentally challenged, so imagine I’m very naive when in fact I have a double degree. It’s purely frustrating when I say something concise and clearly and they come back with a non thought out answer that’s contrary or down right inane to the topic.
    Rant over lol
    To the people posting about their abusive family members, narcissism is rife in our culture. It’s not personal. Focus back on yourselves, self care and get on with your lives after going no or minimal contact. You’re enough as you are.
    Happy Christmas everyone!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences Shelby as it highlights the importance of listening, rather than simply half hearing what is said and giving a stock answer! Your suggestion about focusing back on oneself is a great one! Happy holidays to you too.

  10. I am in different situation when my family members listen to me partially. They are quite open and asking advice when they are unable to solve and are in need.
    They know very well that I have answer to their problems.
    But they will do what they want after the phase is gone..will listen to me only till the problem is solved.
    Then I think, am I a use and throw person? Or I am over possessive about my solutions?
    Should I stop giving solutions or should I stop expecting to listen completely?
    What do You think?

    1. Meghana, this can be quite a tricky issue. I can hear that it hurts you and probably frustrates you if they only listen to you when it suits them. I also understand that it makes you feel "used."
      What they do with your solutions...well, that's up to them and it's not something you can control. Personally I find that giving people solutions isn't always the best thing to do. Sometimes it's better to help them find their own solutions by asking them good questions. That will teach and empower them to find their own solutions even when you're not around. Examples of such questions are,
      "What do you think the solution is?"
      "What is attractive to you about that solution/possibility?"
      "What could possible pitfalls/obstacles be regarding this solution?"
      "What can you do to prepare for it?"
      "What assumptions are you making about the problem and/or the solution?"
      Hope this helps!

  11. I myself have a situation. I have a 39 year old brother who is overweight but won’t go on a diet, he mooches off our mom, he won’t see a doctor and just does not make an effort to do anything to better himself. I’m worried about him and I’m afraid if he doesn’t get it together he is going to die. He puts every excuse in the world and blames everybody and everything for the way he lives his life. I give advice he gets upset and starts his fighting which cause me to fight back and it just turns into an argument, and this happens a lot. I offered for him to go see a doctor about his weight issues and the only thing he says is that I’m just trying to control his life and intimidate him into going out to see a doctor. He’s constantly saying when he’s ready to lose the weight and get a job, he’ll do it but when anyone else tell hims when he needs to do it. I feel sorry for my mom because she doesn’t not know how to an almost 40 year old son who won’t make an effort to better himself. He won’t help my mom for anything. It hurts to see my almost 70 year old mother shoveling snow because he has every excuse not to do it for her so I always have do it for her. I really do not know what else to. Should I just cut him off completely and not deal with him anymore? I know it hurts my mom when him and I argue about these issues but honestly I feel she is part of the problem and I don’t know whether or not to just clean my hands up with my brother and just give up and stay away.

    1. Hi Brenda,

      This is a difficult situation. What I "hear" when I read your post, is that you want to help because you can see from your perspective that the situation can't go on as it is. I'll offer a few thoughts, but I also want to urge you to seek professional help from someone in your area.
      What I've seen in similar cases in the past is that the overweight person is very good at manipulating those around them to do what they want them to do. If it is an elderly parent or someone who doesn't have a strong, assertive personality, they often give in to the will of the manipulator. It's simply easier for them than trying to deal with the conflict that will inevitably follow if they don't give the manipulator what he/she wants.
      Your mom needs help to empower her to become more assertive, because she is enabling your brother. She probably knows it isn't best for him, but on the other hand she probably also feels it's her child and she can't just ignore his needs. (I've had a case in my own family where an elderly parent acted as the enabler to a child, so I understand this dynamic from a personal and professional perspective. I might just add that the older the child gets the more difficult it becomes to change the situation and professional intervention is the safest route to go.)
      Of course your brother is resisting change, because his situation is working for him at the moment. While it's working for him, there's no motivation for him to change. The phrase that he'll do so when "he's ready" is passive-aggressive resistance: What is he doing to get ready? What will cause him to be ready? Is there a time limit? If he isn't doing anything constructive to change and get "ready" it's simply an excuse to get you off his back. It also sounds if he has quite a lot of "victim" baggage if he blames everything and everybody for where he is at. All of us need to take responsibility for our own lives at some point - regardless of what happened in the past.
      Should you cut him off completely? I don't know because I don't know enough about the situation, but I think your mom could probably do with emotional support and someone who's willing to help her get help. Is this something you'll be able to talk to her about (in private)?
      I sincerely hope you'll find the right help in your area.
      Thanks for being brave enough to put your situation in words, that way others can also learn from it.

  12. ok here's my story on that. my mother has a listening problem. no she's not deaf she just doesn't want to see anyone else's point of view except her own. me and the rest of my family have been dealing with this for maybe 10 years. i guess it started when my mother found out that my dad was having an affair once and she "jumped off the deep end" she went crazy and left me and my 2 siblings, whom were pretty young at the time and she ended up doin drugs. she kept sayin that she was trying to hurt our dad but ended up hurting us in the process. he apologized and wanted to make it work. and I don't think we've completely gotten over it yet but we're working on it. anyway ever since then she's changed from the loving mother we once knew to this person who is manipulative, hard headed, and a bit self centered. we try to talk to her about something serious and she turns it around back on her. she just excludes our feelings and talks about what's goin on with her and her friends. if need more details just ask but this is all I can say right now. can someone tell me what I can do. cuz I have tried to do all of this that was in the article.

    1. Hi Kay, Thank you for sharing. It can indeed be challenging when someone has experienced a 'trauma' and reacted in a way that is difficult for all involved. It seems like they have not coped well in the situation and although dealing with things as best they can, it is still difficult for you. We have an article that might give you some more ideas to consider called Managing Post Traumatic Growth. I also wonder if you, and your mother, could benefit from some professional input and advice. Wishing you all the best.

  13. I am responsible for 4 people 2 households and 4 vehicles. When I try to delegate I get excuses. When I explain what I need from them I get ignored. Two of the people are excused from this rant because of age (76&6) but the other two are adults.

    1. Jenny, Your comment made me laugh. The thought of delegating to children indeed has its many challenges including them not listening! Regarding the adults though, I wonder whether any of our articles related to delegation might give you some ideas about approaching these individuals and succeeding in delegating certain things. You can use the search function (in the upper right hand corner with a magnifying glass icon) to see what comes up.

  14. I have a friend who has hit rock bottom. She had a friend pass away through overdose or suicide, I can't remember which, and broke up with her boyfriend of 7 years whom she believed she would marry someday. I unfortunately got stuck in the middle with her and her boyfriend since I've become friends with both of them, and many people come to me for advice (comes with the territory as a hairstylist for some reason.. lol) The problem is, after talking at all ends with both of them, of course both of them made mistakes, but she blames him for everything and doesn't see that her frantic, desperate, often irrational and downright upset outbursts are the main cause of all of it. I have told her to take this time to look inside herself, and help herself heal since she has had such a hard year and she holds all of this like a giant bag of boulders on her shoulders. I'm gently telling her that maybe her outbursts might have something to do with it. She immediately begins blaming him again after any statement I make... often it even seems like she didn't read my texts or hear me at all, as if the comment didn't even exist. She's a wreck, tearing herself down and horribly upset OFTEN. I've told her it isn't healthy to be this upset, and I let her rant and rave, even when what she is saying would seem irrational to pretty much everyone, agree with her and ask her if she's thought about this or that, or would it help if you did this or that.. and she just says she doesn't know how or she cant. I wish I could get her to a good therapist because I know she has depression, that is obvious, and i'm pretty sure she might have bipolar or manic/depressive disorder... but how do you help someone, or get someone to find a therapist when they blame everyone else for why they feel terrible??? I'm so lost at what to do.

  15. I should mention also that it's been a year since they broke up, and over a year since her friend passed away and she still talks about it and cries about it or gets angry about it to this day, every time I speak with her. She CAN NOT let it go, find peace or move on. it's like she's stuck in a time loop where everything happened to her yesterday. I'll take any good advice I can find at this point because I miss my happy, funny, peppy friend and I wish she would come back from this.. and soon. It hurts me to see her so upset at everything.

    1. Hi Amber,
      I am sorry to hear about your friend and I know well that place of wanting to help someone who does not yet seem ready for help. Everyone grieves differently and takes their own time to go through the process. From my experiences, no amount of advice or suggestions will be heard until they are ready to hear them.

      One thought is to have a conversation with the friend about how much you miss them (like you shared above) while acknowledging that they have gone through challenging times. Perhaps these experiences are just the tip of the iceberg of other things that have gone on beforehand and the reason why they seem to be staying with this acute grief and anger.

      The question that comes to my mind that I would ask is 'what has to happen (that is within your own control) for you to be able to let this go and move on with your life?'

      People hold onto things for different reasons and they is usually some sort of gain or benefit. What is the gain or benefit for this person to stay 'stuck'? I agree that some sort of professional help or a support group might be beneficial to check out. Yet, it has to be the person to take responsibility for themselves and take the action. You, as a friend, can only make the suggestions.

      Good luck.

  16. Thank you for this. I will admit that some of the advice in the article seems like I have to find a way to be more interesting to deserve being heard. While this is sometimes important (especially in a work environment), sometimes I just want to be around people who enjoy hearing me even when I'm not actively trying to engage them as my best self.
    I find there are different definitions of someone who doesn't 'listen'. Some more maddening to me than others:
    Some people don't take advice. They hear everything told to them, retain the information but don't want to follow a suggestion or a command. They're stubborn or not interested in applying your wisdom. I don't take this personally. They are listening, they aren't choosing my solution.
    There are folks who listen to everything you say but push to find a solution instead of acknowledging your feelings. In stereotyping men, some can be guilty of this. Targeting the problem and not validating the feelings.
    Some people simply can not retain anything you've said to them-- a request, a story about your childhood, your preferences, your feelings on an issue. They have very limited patience and only listen just enough to gauge the broad strokes. Something like following assembly instructions in a pamphlet or learning the steps of a mundane but necessary task-- impossible for them. Everything said to them is lost in translation, except an insult. They always hear an insult! This is really hard for me to be around. There is nothing that makes me feel more invisible than when I've told someone something (especially when it's something about myself) and have two minutes later either forgotten what I said (took it in but didn't retain it) or never even heard it (never took it in). I immediately think - Am I that unimportant to you? ... I try not to take it personally, as I think most people who act this way just have loud and fast thoughts (mostly insecure and toxic self-beliefs) that can't be silenced long enough for new information to enter the mind. But sometimes it makes me feel worthless and boring. These people are self-occupied-- interrupting you, walking away or pulling out their phone as you speak. When you call them out on it, they don't even realize they've tuned you out. They apologize. But continue to chronically do it.
    There are also people who retain but who are disinterested in most things that don't directly affect them. These are the people who's attention starts to drift away (they may even yawn) as soon as you start talking about yourself in a way that doesn't involve them or their interests. They hear everything you say if it's something about them or on the topic of one of their interests, but they shut down and make you feel unwilling to continue talking as soon as they don't care about a subject. This could happen in a 5 second period of speaking-- "I had a difficult client today and I wanted to--"... They're leaning back in the seat and closing their eyes... They just passive aggressively 'drop you'. These people are truly self-centered. They don't make me feel as invisible as the non-retainers, but I limit my time with them.
    When I listen to people, I try very hard to hear them at a second level of listening where I'm imagining them in their problem-- where I'm completely outside my narrative and am following along in their narrative with them as the main character. Ironically there's is so much to learn about myself when I step outside myself. People are fascinating, even the boring ones. You just have to listen, and more so within their silences.
    There is no greater gift a person could give me than to truly hear me. And to truly care to. It's better than any advice they could offer, any material object they could bestow on me. It's a direct honoring of my being. I just hope I can do the same for others and hear them as purely as some have heard, as thus 'seen', me.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences about listening - and how other people don't listen!
      I'm sure many people relate to some of the things you've experienced.
      Listening mindfully is something we all need to practice all the time. It's a sure sign of showing respect and it also prevents misunderstanding.

  17. Hi I'm having some serious relationship problems with my boyfriend of 1yr. (We have been friends for 3yrs before we decided to get together). He is always explaining how I should do something and I never do it his way, he says im always questioning him at things he is an expert at. I really wish this argument could go away. I do hear him and how he thinks I should do something (even when I don't ask for his help/input). Is there any advice or a solution to this problem? Does this stem from past relationships where men showed/explaned how to do something or what i should do & it never worked out that way? I'm so confused and tired of the arguments. Please help

    1. Sorry to hear that your communication issues are causing serious relationship problems. Although I am not in a position to comment as to the reason why your boyfriend is reacting in such a manner, my suggestion is to keep on talking. By sharing your thoughts and feeling about the interactions and exchanges and by asking him questions as to what is prompting his, you might be able to understand each other better (and as a result reduce those arguments). We have lots of resources regarding communication and difficult conversations that might give you some additional ideas. You might also consider seeking professional help to assist you both in communicating more effectively.

  18. I've actually had 3 different situations that all surround this topic. I often feel frustrated and impatient by it, however I'm aware of it and try my best to understand. The first situation is with my bf son, when is on the functioning side of the autism spectrum as well as ODD, ADD and Bi-polar disorder. When we make simple instructions eg; "please leave the kitchen while we're cooking" or "please leave our valuables and toys at home, they're not for school", "please go brush your teeth and come show me you did it" ect. He seems to forget and we find ourselves repeating ourselves, and this is daily with the same tasks over and over. He has a very defined routine as well so I feel like at some point he should be able to remember what we've said. However I do understand that it's part of some of his co-morbid issues however I sense a hint of obstinacy, as if he does know what the instructions or rules are and "forgets" on purpose. Also we have been working on strategies to help him stay on track and remember however he often does not engage in these strategies even with consistent reminders to engage with said statagey. I'd like to know how I can find out in what circumstances he is listening and refusing to comply or if it may be a working memory issue or inattentiveness. It feels like "Groundhog" day every day, even though he's 15, it really feels like we're raising a much younger child whos needs are not in line with his development. I try my best to understand however I've found myself losing my patience with the situation almost every day. My second situation is employment, I'm the assistant manager for a store that has recently changed hands, the new owners have chosen to bring 2 relatives on board to help us out, they are a couple and both have strong language barriers that make it difficult to gauge whether they a) understand what I said and b) may not be able to communicate they do not. The female in the situation seems to understand once I visually show here a task several times, however while training her husband, whom speaks more fluent English often walks away from me when I'm instructing him how to perform certain tasks he's requested help with, or even after showing him a task and asking if he understood he will say he does and show me he does but then refuse to do it again when the opportunity arises and asks for assistance. I'm not sure if this is do to not understanding, or the language barrier or complete insubordination? How do I know in these 2 circumstances? And what can I do to make sure I know they do understand so if not I can find other ways to communicate effectively to them. My third is a situation in which I've observed a very codependent dynamic with my bf mother and him. She often come to him needing help in situations she knows what the consequences would be for her but once faced with them will plead for him to "rescue" her from said consequences. Or upon request for assistance, her son will explain what he needs in order to help her and advises her the best way possible to solve the problem and explains what the results will be if she tries to veer from very specific solutions and do it a different way and she does it the one way that has the worst repercussions, thus pleading again to be rescued from her circumstances. I feel as if she doesn't need his advice on purpose as well so she can feel loved and cared after, which we all need and deserve. However the means to do so are very manipulative in the process. I have told him my concern about it and he feels similar, however he feels bad given her boundaries, and even what he does practice establishing health limits she ignores them and finds ways to consume his time anyways just trying to preserve himself and his needs. I feel helpless to help him but it often takes away from our needs as a couple and family when every waking moment is tied up in helping her with things that take from us. We've found resources for her based on her income and accessable to her so she can have some more independence in her life but she refuses to listen or be accepting to utilizing such services. Any advice would be helpful. We're definitely at our wits end repeating the same things, and obviously most our strategies aren't helping much.

    1. Thank you for sharing your challenges both personally and professionally in dealing with people who seem not to listen.

      Regarding the professional situation with the couple who have been brought into the business by the new owners. I am wondering about ways that you might engage them more. Do you think that explaining the importance and benefits of what you are doing with them might help to engage them? Or, the impact of them if they do not know about or understand what you are doing?

      In regards to your boyfriend's son who has all those conditions, I can only imagine how challenging that situation might be. I wonder whether seeking out some sort of support group for people facing similar challenges might help. That way, you could receive personal support and hear about ideas and strategies that others have used.

      Finally, setting and maintaining boundaries can be difficult regardless of what the situation is and who it is with. Much like a parent needs to set boundaries with a child and be firm when they are pushed and tested; we all need to do that with people around us. In the situation with your boyfriend's mother, you can only control yourself and your boundaries. One thought is to seek clarity around what you will and will not accept in this situation and communicate that. Reflecting on how the situation is impacting on your relationship and the negative impact or consequences it is having.

      Good luck with all that!

  19. I am 17 and i am dealing with someone leaving false accusations. I try to talk it out but they wont listen or wont even let me talk to them. any advice?

    1. Hi Jaden, Sorry to hear you are in a challenging situation. It can be tough when you want to talk and the other person does not. Unfortunately, you can not force them to talk to you. One thought is to write them a letter and share your thoughts, views and feelings on the situation. At least that way, you have your say. Then, it is up to them how they want to handle and whether they want to come back to you. Good luck and let us know how you get on.

  20. Great article. I can identify! Most people in my family do not listen, and everyone builds perceptions of one another that are based upon mere assumptions, because there’s never been an effort to truly get to know someone’s heart and what they love and are passionate about and their “individualism” per se.

    Even today, when I try and talk to family members, there’s almost like a wall up; or, what’s particularly frustrating is when you’re trying to talk to someone about something and they always make jokes about it, OR when you’re speaking to them, they do one of several things (sometimes all of these in one session):

    1) Never look at you when you’re speaking to them.
    2) They get fidgety or won’t seem to be paying attention, and as you’re speaking, they will start speaking to themselves about something that they should be doing (in a brief whisper or very low tone of voice), which implies that they are thinking of other things and not paying attention.
    3) While doing these things, as you are speaking, they start focusing on OTHER THINGS, such as fiddling with a radio, or they’ll suddenly say something to themselves and suddenly walk away, their backs turned, their heads not even turned towards you, and it’s like they hear you, but don’t. It’s strange. Lack of communication skills.

    It’s especially frustrating when you are trying to tell them something important, and what happens? They seem to be listening, but their body language doesn’t imply that they are. They never or hardly ever look at you. Their heads are down, or they focus in on other things around them (walk away to do something, start talking to themselves about something that they’re thinking about, etc., implying that you don’t have their undivided attention).

    I never do this! When someone speaks to me, I try my best to listen. The people that don’t want to listen to ME always expect ME to listen to THEM, and it’s pretty frustrating because I’m empathic and I try to listen when people are talking to me by engaging and looking at them and listening intently, etc., but it is SO FRUSTRATING when you want someone to listen to you, and they don’t, or they seem to block it out, or their body language implies that they aren’t interested in hearing what you have to say, or when you speak, their answers are always things such as:




    And on it goes. This is essentially the world I grew up in, and it causes the person to want to seek people OUTSIDE OF FAMILY to talk to and make connections, and even THAT isn’t exactly easy at times, because it seems that most people don’t want to listen because they only care about themselves, which reverts back to hyper-selfishness, especially in our current generation.

    I can identify very deeply with the immense frustration and painful feelings of trying to talk to someone and they don’t listen, or they aren’t even paying attention, or they get distracted when you’re trying to talk to them, as if they don’t have the ability to just listen and engage and have a simple discussion with normal communication. I was also emotionally invalidated as a child, so I still have deep-seeded issues with feeling not listened to and so on.

    Thank you so much for this article!

    1. Thank you Derrick for sharing your thoughts and experiences with people who do not listen. It is indeed frustrating when people pay more attention to other things than to the conversation they are having with you. I trust that your experiences have helped you to become a better listener to others.

  21. I'm living back with my parents at the moment. My dad has depression, and I think this makes him not listen sometimes (I know because I am also guilty of this sometimes). He asks me a question, I respond, while making eye contact 3 feet away, and he'll just keep asking the question, or adding more onto it, as if I didn't respond at all. He and my mom also will knock on my door, and I say "come in", and they just keep knocking and or asking if they can come in. My mom will ask "what?/ what did you say?" after almost every sentence on some days, even though she heard me, she just hasn't taken the time to process it yet. I know this because sometimes she'll ask me "what?" and when I don't answer, she responds to what I said. It's driving me up the wall!

    1. Sorry to hear Alex that you are experiencing some challenging times. Which strategies in the post do you think you might try out? What could help you maintain a sense of calm and clarity when faced with those situations you describe?

  22. I have a sibling that seems to have some sort of issue with listening or lack of caring about details during discussions. At one time I thought it was a hearing problem, and she did have her hearing tested and it’s perfect, so clearly it’s either an attention problem or a lack of caring/interest in the discussion.

    For example, and these types of things happen repeatedly:

    We may be talking on a Monday, and she will mention that she has a surgical follow up appointment later in the week, and I will ask what day is that appointment, and she tells me it’s on Thursday. Then she will call me on Wednesday and start telling me about her surgical follow up...and I will be a little confused and say, “you told me this appointment was on Thursday” and she will dismiss my comment and say, well I was confused it was today, I didn’t look at my schedule when I told you the day, etc.

    This type of telling me one thing, and then days later I find out it’s something else, and my sister says, “well, I was mistaken” happens frequently. And when I ask her why she doesn’t simply check her calendar or say she’s not sure when her appointment is, when asked; she gets angry and says I am making this all about me...

    Anyway, sometimes when we are talking, I can hear her fingers pecking on her phone or computer, so I tell her to stop, or call me when she has time to talk and focus just on one thing. She gets a little insulted when I do that, but there is no point in having a conversation with someone who is half listening, at best...then gets angry with you when you become frustrated over their repeated nonchalant attitude regarding details they state conversations.

    I should mention that I try to maintain as much contact as possible with this sibling because she went through a period of severe depression and then, thankfully, was able to get good help. I try to make sure she is doing okay, always.

    1. Thanks Lee for sharing your experiences with someone who does not appear to listen. It is great that you are there to support your sister and ensure she is doing ok. It is also great that she has been able to receive good help. Since she is like this and seems to become defensive, I wonder what would help you to be able to more easily let go and accept that she is like that. Unless you are the one that is actually taking her to the appointments, what impact is this change of day (or other appointment) actually have on you?

  23. The normal probably exist it is not that the advisor or talking person is to take consideration as to the non-Lister it is up to the non-listener to actually listen don’t you people get it yet does talking or not the problem the problem is the listeners of the listeners required not the one that’s trying to communicate give me a break

    1. Thanks Bill. I agree with you that in an ideal world, when two people are communicating with each other, they should be present and listen to what the other has to say before offering their thoughts in reply. However, since we have no control over other people, by focusing on ourselves and how we deliver our message, we have a greater chance of engaging with them.

  24. Have we changed over time as listeners or is it my imagination that there's more of an entitlement to make remarks today? Our tour director was speaking to all of us over a microphone as we traveled through town and logically had prefaced the tour with the request not to chat with one another. Half way through the almost 3 hour tour we took a break and she repeated the request. People chatted the entire time. Unfortunately, I don't seem to be able to concentrate on either speaker when I hear them speaking at the same time and was pretty frustrated by the end of the tour because of that. Our guide was very engaging and full of interesting facts, some of which were lost to me. I suppose a second question is whether my situation is unusual. Do you know if others are affected by the loss of what both speakers are saying? I'm past 70 and am thinking my difficulty might be age related.

    1. I too find it irritating when people continue to chat while someone is presenting, like on a tour or an important presentation. I am not sure it is an age-related thing because I experience a similar problem in the classroom when one student is asking a question while others are talking. The end result is that I don't hear the question! I very kindly ask the class to listen to the question with me and then ask the person to repeat it. Perhaps that might be a strategy you can use on your next tour. What do you think?

  25. Married to husband of 26, I am 33 by the way. I know my husband loves me. But there is a huge communication problem between us. He always answers to me in a way that is other than what I am asking. I do not understand why is he like that. He will either contradict me or will say something other than what I asked. This is so frustrating. It is not like he acts this way to everybody, he is always overly eager to agree with others, but with me, he has to oppose. I told him that is problem is draining me. He apologizes and agrees that he is doing so. But than after a day or two the same thing will continue. I feel like it is better if I stop talking to him since we cannot have a normal conversation.

    1. Hi Tenzin, Sorry to hear about the communication issues you are experiencing. This seems to be the number one issue that many relationships have. We have many resources on our website that deal with communication difficulties that you could get some ideas and strategies. You might also seek outside help from a professional who can help you both to communicate ore effectively. Wishing you all the best.

  26. I am the youngest of 5 and our Mother died when I was 10. All my life( I'm 58) I have been treated like cr*p by my family, except my sister who lives in my town. I'm always wrong, I don't know what I am talking about of I am just ignored. My nephew 33 has learned from my brothers just how to treat me. He does not see how mean he is to me. I can not say or do anything right. Even my opinion is wrong. My sister is my best friend and this is tearing us apart. I cannot be treated like garbage one more day. He recently got married and told my sister it wasn't fair his wife has to put up with me.

    1. Hi Katie, Thank you for sharing your experiences and I am sorry to hear the challenges you face. I wonder if any of our resources relating to assertiveness could help you speak up. Additionally, have you ever considered seeking professional help to support you in developing strategies to navigate the situation? Wishing you all the best.

  27. I have this issue frequently. My mom - seems every conversation! Just last night, I started to say something and she interrupts me with her own comment and then "I'll talk to you tomorrow". Thankfully the only talking I do with my sister is via text or it would be the same scenario(same personality as my mom). And it frequently happens at work - I'll ask someone a question and be totally ignored. It's like I'm not even in the same room! And I've been a supervisor at jobs for 20 years.... now I understand the migraine issue. Anyway, thanks for the article - gave me some things to think about, and ideas.

    1. Hi April,

      That must be so frustrating!
      Do you think it might help if you got your mom/sister/other person's attention and say something like, "Mom, I'd like to just put a full stop behind what I was busy saying..."
      And yes, I'm SO with you on the migraine issue. If you constantly feel unheard, it's going to cause a lot of stress and tension.
      It's my opinion that you should address this when you feel right to do so. It's not okay to constantly feel unheard and disrespected.
      Let us know if you need ideas how to start such a conversation?

  28. I really don't want to talk to my husband as it is frustrating that he doesn't listen or partially listens but don't understand me. Tried my best to explain how it feels but no improvement. Even we went to a counselor but no improvement. Few instances: for my birthday we went to a restaurant, we discussed about 2 dishes. Then decided on a particular dish. Again he started confusing. I asked him to get oats flakes from the shop which we have it at home. Instead of getting the same he got something else. He listens and interpret the things differently. It's difficult for me to know what he interprets.. another example my son has 2 jackets. One is total blue and the other one has two layers inner layer is blue and outer layer is red. For this he need an additional trousers which is black. I asked my husband to dress my son with blue jacket. But he decided to dress him with the 3 layer dress where only inner layer is blue. This small small things annoys me a lot. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Meena,
      There could be any number of reasons why someone does not hear to what another says. One thought is to get them to repeat what they have heard you say because we can often think we have heard when in reality we have not. Another thought is to sit down with the person (possibly with a professional to help) and explore what might be the reasons why you do not seem to be communicating effectively and to develop strategies together to solve.

  29. At my job, my boss is one of these drama queens where everything is a problem.

    What's worse, there is always an enemy. A problem "child."

    She just let go of one "problem." This person was supposedly lazy, and not doing their job, even though the rest of us could see that the work was being done properly (or else we couldn't work).

    Now I'm the new problem. I can't put a foot right, despite being one of the senior people there. Once my experience was valued, but no more.

    She grossly exaggerates things. If you make A mistake doing something once, you ALWAYS make that mistake. If something took an hour, somehow it took 2 1/2 (even though my shift was only 4 hours long & started the project 3 hours into my shift).

    Now she accuses me of ALWAYS arguing with her. She tells me something that is demonstrably false about something that happened & I tell her so, I'm arguing with her.

    The entire affair has become more than toxic. Everyone knows once I'm gone, there will be a few days of peace because the "problem" has been banished, until yet another takes the place.

    Covid19 has the economy in the hole. I can't afford to sit & hope I can get unemployment. I'm very scared now.

    Where do such people come from? How do they always come to power when people easier to get along with exist?

    1. Hi Tsarina,
      Sorry to hear about the situation with your boss. When someone uses broad generalizations like 'you always do this', it can be tough and demotivating.

      I encourage you to remain calm and professional when responding to your boss and to use some of the strategies that are outlined in our article Dealing with Unfair Criticism:

      Good luck.

  30. I have difficulties talking to my freeholder/ landlord of the apartment next door.
    The latest situation is that it was leaking through my spotlights onto my floorboards. After an investigation if they increased the gauge/ pressure on the boiler next door it was leaking in my apartment. The freeholder who owns the apartment next door came and said that it can’t be his apartment if it leaks in my apartment and that loosing boiler pressure has nothing to do with a leak in their apartment.It is common knowledge that water travels and loosing boiler pressure is most likely due to a leakage .I mentioned that. However , he doesn’t want to take any advise from me. It might be that I am a tall women and he is a short man ( possibly a cultural clash as well)The problem is that I can’t sleep at night out of fear it is leaking again through my spotlights as the problem isn’t fixed. The last comment the landlord made was that it’s the fault of the people renting.How could I communicate with them effectively to fix the problem?

    1. Hi Sylvia,
      It sounds like a tough situation, particularly with water leaking through lights. Water and electricity are not a good mix!! If I were in your position, I would speak with the people renting and clearly outline the potential problems and issues. If they do not speak with their landlord to investigate, I might be tempted to hire someone myself or seek legal advice. Sometimes, taking a firmer approach is necessary. Wishing you all the best.

  31. Hello,
    I’m currently taking care of my 16 year old niece and my older sister that’s disabled. They never want to listen to me when it comes to different situations, helping around the house, etc. I explain to them what’s going on and how it should be handled. I also ask the a variety of questions about why they don’t listen, what had to happen for them to start listening, what suggestions they have, etc. They never give me a straight answer if any at all or they fuss about it. For instance, one of them have an health issue and has to constantly be reminded to take there meds. Despite this they ignore me, don’t take the meds as often as they should and fuss and argue about it when I do remind them. If i don’t remind them to see if they will do it on their own, on many occasions they claim that they forgot. Even though I told them to set an alarm to remind themselves and purchased a weekly pill dispenser for them. What I really don’t get is that they both admitted that I’m right “99 percent of the time.” The kicker is that when they don’t listen there mess ups end up falling in my lap. For instance, I had to take one of them to the hospital because they simply didn’t take the there meds. Sometimes I wonder if they are trying to make my life more complicated then it already is.

    1. Hi Melissa, Thank you for sharing your story and experiences. I imagine that it is quite tough to take care of them and frustrating if they do not listen even if it is for their own good. One thing I have had to learn in my life is to let go of my need to tell people what to do or what is best for them, in effect, trying to control them. This process has been tough and I remind myself that I (and they) are all doing the best we can. It's a way to let go of the anxiety and stress I feel. Could that approach help?

  32. What about people who keep talking and wont come up for air, and wont give you a chance to talk!? All they want is to be heard, and complain and ask for favors.......

    1. Good question Lucy and one that many of us have had to face in our lives. When someone speaks, non-stop, where we can not get a word in edgewise, it is frustrating and annoying. I have learned over time to simply jump in and interrupt them, in a polite manner, or make the point when I do have space to talk that I didn't feel there was any space to reply. Not always easy, yet it's a strategy that works for me.

  33. I am 17 years old, I live with my brother who is 25 years. We were getting along very well when I moved to his place, but he discovered I liked his place more than our home where my parents live he started leaving every work in the house for me to do if I try to resist to do the work, he usually threatens me that i will have to pack and go back home

    1. Hi John,
      It sounds like an uncomfortable situation for you, and I'm really sorry that you're experiencing that. Have you tried having a conversation with your brother about it?
      If you need help in sorting out your living arrangements, it might be a good idea to talk to social support services in your area - they will be better suited to help you.
      I hope things work out for you!

  34. I'm in quite a complicated situation. Me and my sister have been hiding things things from our parents, our parents banned all social media apps which obvi- we still kept using those apps and along with that we studied 0 times in a day. our marks were ok as we cheated on exams. I realized soon enough what I did isn't the smartest thing to do, especially for college, so I stopped ( btw, this went on for a year for me) . My sister on the other hand is still cheating and lying to our parents, I keep telling her to stop, she will get nowhere in life if she continues. I'm concerned for her and she isn't listening to me. I'm afraid to tell our parents as my sister might snitch on me back. Help.

    1. Hi Maria,
      Sorry to hear that you are struggling with the situation with your sister. We may only offer suggestions to others, yet it is up to them whether they take them on board. Is there a professional at school that you could go and discuss this further with? Perhaps they might have more suggestions.

  35. Community living is harmonious when each member is trying to show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Yes, we are human and tend to be moody but as we grow and mature hopefully we are learning more and more about how to live peacefully with each other.

    1. Absolutely, Greg, and just by truly listening to other people it already helps so much to build good relationships.

  36. Hi, I’m a Sophomore in high school. And I’m so sick and tired of (my opinions and sometimes my “needs”)never being heard in my family and not being able to talk. Every time I do talk, there someone always trying to talk, and I let them talk. Other times I keep talking but they talk louder. Other times, I’ll ask if there done talking so I can talk but, I’m not even half way through when their interrupting me. Other times, when it’s my turn to talk I’ve already forgotten what I was going to tell them. It’s so frustrating and disappointing to always being the last one to talk and almost never being heard. On Memorial Day, and a few day before I’ve asked my mother what she wanted me to do for chores because that day I wanted to focus on turning in some late assignments. Turns out, I wasn’t able to turn them in, except like 3 of about 12. I’ve had already told my mother my plans and situation but I guess she didn’t listen to me.

    1. Thank you for sharing Marta and it is indeed frustrating when people do not listen to us. Talking over others or talking louder is not the greatest of strategies to be heard so one that should not be copied. One thought is to work on developing your confidence and assertiveness skills to help yourself be heard. There are many articles here on the site that touch on these topics. Additionally, do you have someone at your school that you can talk to like a guidance counsellor? They might be able to help you to speak up and be heard. Good luck!

  37. Just getting it off my chest makes me feel better. And I guess, I wished I would have told my friends about it before posting it here.

  38. Most people hardly listen to me they always talk to me about their story ..i always listen to them but when i talk about something they don't care to listen to me pains me ...even in group talk with friends i always had to repeatedly talk to them the same thing because they never listen to me the first and the second time i ask questions to them...
    And people treated me so low...the struggle i went through the things i do if it is done by me they think it's easy they took it lightly and if it done by them they talk as if they did something so huge and will go on to talk like I've never done it ...
    I thought iam the problem guess i am a push over ...but u don't know how to solve these things ...i want them to respect me , listen to me , take me seriously..

  39. I feel this too, I told my sister & friend a lot about a boy I liked & then next come of days I was talking about Alan again & they both said who is Alan, I felt so NONPLUSSED, so-called friends, so I don't listen to them now

  40. I'm 39 serve over 20 years in the UK military struggle with people listening to me when giving other help my view on it if people don't listen even if your half way through talking and you can see they have stopped listening stop talking and walk away and when they ask why you did that explain to them.
    The only other way I know people are listening is when I'm at work and I'm armed strangly people are very focused on what I'm saying when I'm holding a rifle.

    1. That sounds frustrating, Russ. From what you've said, people seem to listen and focus on what you say at work, but this pattern doesn't cross over into other spaces. Have you ever considered comparing your body language, positioning, and distance while at work with those other spaces? It could be minor adjustments you could make to ensure your listeners are attentive wherever you are.

      --Sonia, Mind Tools team

  41. I know the feeling as my sister called me on the phone the other day & isn't feeling well & she won't listen to me when I try to help her, I have been ill more times than her but she says I don't know how she feels
    Well actually I do but if u wont listen well stay ill then

    1. Hi Jane,

      I can see that can be frustrating.

      It might be worth thinking about why your sister is not listening when you are trying to help her. Perhaps she is not ready to hear your advice? Or perhaps there is another reason why she is not willing to hear you? If you could get to the bottom of that it might help with how you get your message across to her more effectively?

      Good luck,
      Sarah, Mind Tools Team

  42. If you can't hardly get a word in edgewise and its maybe the third time you've tried to reexplain what you said, I try to remember the deer I once saw. It kept moving away as I approached hoping to remove the rope snagged by its horns.

    1. Thanks Steve, that's such a great analogy. It leaves me wondering what you do, however, to help the deer release its horns from the rope?

      Mind Tools Team

  43. But what about in the workplace where not listening can lead to death or dismemberment. I’ve read so many comments which place so much on the leader to listen and hear what they say. I call total BS on this. If you have workers who cannot listen, remove them. They put you and your team at risk. It’s not about that individual person, it’s about the team and honoring them all. If someone singles themselves out by not listening they’ve obviously chosen they think of themselves as above the team and that is a recipe for disaster.

    1. Hi Artees,

      Thanks for your comments about listening.

      You make a very valid point regarding the potential consequences of not listening and I would agree entirely that any generic advice/good practice must be adapted to the specifics of each situation.

      Do you believe that people can be shown/learn the skills of better listening? I know I do, as I have seen people go from poor to very good listeners with a bit of guidance, coaching and helpful tools. My belief is that sometimes people don't realize they are poor listeners so raising their self-awareness is often a helpful approach in the first instance.

      Mind Tools Coach

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Gain essential management and leadership skills

Busy schedule? No problem. Learn anytime, anywhere. Subscribe to unlimited access to meticulously researched, evidence-based resources. Join today and save on an annual membership!
Join Mind Tools

You may also like...

November 16, 2023

Digging Into Conflict: How to "Play Nice" at Work

"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

, ,

November 2, 2023

Dyslexia at Work: How I Learned to Live With My Dyslexia

How can organizations help dyslexic employees? Jaye O'Farrell-Stevens shares his journey with dyslexia – and gives his tips on how to help.

, ,

October 11, 2023

Accepting Praise – How to Own Your Achievements

There's a lot of advice on giving praise, but how can we accept it gracefully? Mind Tools' Assistant Content Editor, Alice Gledhill, explores why accepting praise can be so difficult.

, ,

© Mind Tools Ltd 2024. All rights reserved. "Mind Tools" is a registered trademark of Mind Tools Ltd.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram