10 questions to ask when no one will listen

David Dye

One of the most challenging leadership experiences you can have is to feel like no one's listening:

  • You passionately share a vision of the future...and are met with chirping crickets.
  • You share new procedures to help improve results...and everyone continues doing what they've always done.
  • You make recommendations grounded in clear facts...and they are ignored.


Moment of TruthHow you handle these moments is vitally important. Learn from them and your effectiveness skyrockets, but if you become so frustrated that you rely on fear or power, your credibility will vanish.

Here are 10 questions to ask when you feel like your team is not listening:

1) What do you really want?

Whenever you have leadership challenges, the first thing to examine is your own motivation. 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 - "when I say jump they better ask 'how high?' on the way up" - then you're never going to have a team that listens. They will act out of fear when they have to and ignore you when they feel it's safe. However, if your desire is for the team to succeed together, to make an impact...then keep reading.

2) Are you speaking their language?
Do the words and concepts you're using mean the same thing to your team that they mean to you? Are you sharing numbers and facts when stories and demonstrations are needed – or vice versa?

3) Are you listening?
If you don’t hear what people tell you, they’ll naturally think you don't care, they’ll lose heart, and they’ll stop caring. If you want to know, 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.

4) Do you have credibility?
If your team can think to itself, "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. Can people trust you? Can they rely on you?

5) Do you know what matters to them?
Everyone values something. If the values you're promoting conflict with your team's values, you'll have trouble being heard.

6) Are you ordering or inviting?
I don't mean the literal phrasing of the words (although that can make a difference too), as much as the attitude behind them. 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?

7) 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.

8) Do you check for understanding?
An idea is rarely as clear to the listener as it is to the speaker. Check for understanding. Ask your listener what they heard, what they understood you to be asking, and what they understand the consequences to be.

9) Are you saying it often enough?
I have coached 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. So then I ask "When was the last time you communicated the item?" In response I've heard:

  • "Last year."
  • "At that off-site year before last..."
  • "We were in the hallway six months ago..."

If you've communicated something once - you haven't communicated.

As hard as it is for our ego to take, our teams have lives beyond us. They have constant challenges facing them on a daily basis.

To realistically think that something you said two years ago is on everyone's mind when they wake up every morning is just silly.

10) Are you saying it in different ways?
People learn differently. Some are visual, some auditory, some through practice, some by reading, and so on. As you practice #9, use different communication techniques. I recommend 6x3 communication. The idea is to repeat critical information at least six times through three or more channels. For example, you might use email, a staff meeting, and one-on-one meetings for your three different channels.

Your TurnI had the opportunity to visit the company headquarters of an international medical technology firm. In a single gathering of staff, the leaders of the organization used heart-felt letters, humorous skits, a spoken address from the President, call and response, audio-visual production, and fielded unscripted questions from attendees. In that one meeting they used every item on this list...and they are frequently cited as one of the State's "best places to work". If you feel as if no one's listening, ask yourself these ten questions…and listen to your own answers.

Reprinted with the permission of David Dye. David works with leaders who want to get results without losing their soul (or mind) in the process. He is an internationally recognized leadership speaker and award-winning author of Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul and The Seven Things Your Team Needs to Hear You Say. For more information visit www.trailblazeinc.com or email david@trailblazeinc.com


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