How to talk to people who don’t listen

The one thing that frustrates leaders everywhere, is leading team members that don’t listen. Team members that nod encouragingly, then do something else. Or that just don’t seem to hear what the leader is saying, which ends up in miscommunication or quarrels about what was said. 

It would be so much easier if team members just listened. It can’t be that hard, right. 

This might be a good blog post for team members to read, too. Listening to your leader is important, for both of you. If you would like a harmonious working relationship, that is. 

In my experience, for the team member that doesn’t listen, there is generally an underlying relationship issue. It is not really a listening issue. It is a trust issue, or it is a respect issue, or it is a care factor issue. If I interviewed the team member who doesn’t listen, they would tell me that they have an issue with their leader. For whatever reason.  

The fact remains though, that leaders need to be able to give clear direction (task allocation) and the team member needs to be aware of what is required. So, how does a leader talk to a team member who doesn’t appear to be listening? 

1. Build a better relationship 

As mentioned above, a lack of listening is generally not the obvious issue that it seems. And it depends on how it shows up, as to what the likely issues might be. Being a mediator, I sit between leaders and their team members when the issues get too big.  

It is the responsibility of the leader to sort out the relationship. And to understand what is happening between the two of them. That takes, firstly, extreme ownership. To acknowledge it. Secondly, it takes radical candour (real conversations) to address it. 

Read some of the other 95 (that is the exact number) of articles that I have written already this year for ideas on how to build the relationship. The first thing that you can do as a leader is practice active listening. That’s right. Just read that again…  

If the team member isn’t listening, it can be a sign that the leader isn’t. Here is the psychology; humans have a habit of projecting. Projecting means that we blame others for their behaviours, in the same areas that we have an issue in. We project our issues onto others.  

So, if you want to build a relationship with a team member who you think doesn’t listen, the first thing to do is to be a good listener. 

2. Set expectations  

The big thing here for the leader is that the leader needs to do task allocation. That is one of a leader’s key roles, and team members that don’t listen and clarify or don’t listen and follow through, can cause the leader a level of angst. And they cause issues for their team and team performance. For that reason, leader languaging needs to be very clear, and it needs to be quite direct. 

The most effective words you can use as a leader are ‘my expectation is’. Or some other derivative of that, with the word expectation in the sentence. Setting expectations creates clarity, and it develops deadlines, and it accentuates accountability. When you set expectations, you allocate the task, you clarify the deadline, and you finalise the follow up plan. Then you get agreement.  

Then you follow up. If your directions are not followed (for a period of time), it might be time for more formal processes or discussions. 

3. Paraphrase and punctuate 

Not providing positive reinforcement when team members do a good job would be the most underutilised leadership tool on planet earth (or in the Aussie culture at least). The second most underutilised leadership skill is leadership paraphrasing. 

What I mean here is not about the leader paraphrasing something the team member said. This is about asking the team member to paraphrase what they heard. Leadership driven paraphrasing is an important communication skill that needs to be practiced and needs to be perfected. It can be such an effective tool to ensure that the team member is clear on the task allocation and clear on expectations. 

As a leader, punctuate the importance of paraphrasing, but practicing it regularly. Get into the habit of asking your team member what they heard. What they understood. What they commit to. And watch your communication quality improve.  

In summary, if you have a team member who you feel doesn’t listen, become a better listener. Hear what they are saying and understand if they have issues. Then, as part of your conversations, use the word expectation. Finally, use the skill of leadership paraphrasing, which is about asking your team member to repeat back what they heard. 

And you might never have to say you don’t feel like your team member doesn’t listen, ever again. 

Please reach out if you need to talk. 

And please click the image below if you’d like to chat about what leadership means to you.

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About Anton

Anton has dedicated his working life to helping leaders to upgrade their mindset, upskill their leadership, and uplift their teams! With a focus on helps leaders to better lead under pressure. Anton is an entrepreneur, speaker, consultant, bestselling author and founder of The Guinea Group. Over the past 19 years, Anton has worked with over 175+ global organisations, he has inspired workplace leadership, safety, and cultural change. He’s achieved this by combining his corporate expertise, education (Bachelor of HR and Psychology), and infectious energy levels.
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