I admit this is an exaggeration, but I feel like no one listens to me. At work I have a staff that never seems to get my point even on simple matters — and then, when I get home, I feel like my children have conspired with my staff to model the dismissive behavior. How can I get people to listen?
There are several possible reasons for what you’re encountering, but lets take a look at two fundamental possibilities. First and foremost, the issue of respect and loyalty must be considered. You should not take for granted that you have the respect of your staff and children. It is my experience that respect is lost when leaders do not establish high standards or when they fail to hold people accountable to those standards. If you set standards at an inspiring level, provide your staff and children with the tools to reach them, and then follow through, they will be more apt to listen. If you fail to do this, then they will nod politely — but only as a strategy to get you to stop talking.
Assuming that you have their respect, the second thing to consider is that your experience and knowledge may be so far beyond your staff and children’s capacity that you accidentally leave out details they need to take action. Harvard Business Review recently ran an article titled “The Knowledge Crisis”; it made this very point. The article explained that executives often make summary statements to their organizations, assuming that everyone understands the meaning behind the statements to the same degree as they do. The executives sometimes forget that they have 20 or 30 years of experience under their belts, not to mention several days in a boardroom developing the statement. So frustration sets in when the new hires don’t seem to grasp the full meaning of statements like, “We will become the most efficient distributor.”
The article’s author cited a study done in 1990 by a Stanford student, Elizabeth Newton. She had individuals tap popular songs on a table while a listener tried to guess the song. Out of 120 songs tapped, only three were guessed accurately. That outcome may not be surprising if you’ve ever played the board game “Cranium” and had to hum a popular song for your teammates to guess.
Newton asked the tappers to estimate what percentage of listeners would accurately guess the song. Their estimate was 50%. Why so high? Because the tappers had way more knowledge about the song: While it was being tapped, they mentally heard the melody and the words. What did the listeners hear? Tap, tap, tap …
If having advanced knowledge is the cause of your problem, you can solve it by adding more details and presenting your ideas in different ways or by telling stories to illustrate your point. Remember that Jesus used parables and, when the people did not understand, he provided a different story to make the same point. He was patient because he knew that he was speaking from a body of knowledge that far surpassed that of his audience. Out of love, he got down to their level — our level — and those who had an ear for truth heard and heeded every word he said.
Catholic author and motivational speaker Dave Durand is online at DaveDurand.com.