10 Things to Do When Your Team's Not Listening

Her call touched me deeply. She was trying so hard…to establish the right vision, to key in on the important behaviors, to scaffold and develop…and her team just wasn’t listening.

Perhaps you’ve been there too. You’ve got vision. You care deeply. You teach. You repeat yourself. But no one seems to “get it”?

Here are ten questions worth asking when you hit that wall–when your team is just not listening. Note this is a preview of Winning Well Insights from our new book. You can download the first few chapters for free here).

1- Do you say it in different ways?
People learn differently—some by seeing things, some by hearing, some through practice, and so on. As you practice communicating frequently, use different techniques. Try our Winning Well 6×3 communication strategy: repeat critical information at least six times through three or more channels. For example, to communicate a new procedure, you might use email, a staff meeting, and one-on-one meetings for your three channels.

2- Do you say it often enough?
We have worked with so 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.” Here are a few of the answers we got when we asked, When was the last time you communicated the issue?
“Last year.”
“At that off-site the year before last.”
“We were in the hallway six months ago.”
“At the staff meeting last month.”
“In an email.”

If you’ve communicated something once, you haven’t communicated. Managers who win well communicate frequently.

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

4- 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.

5- Are you ordering or inviting?
Invitation is the language of collaboration. We don’t mean the literal phrasing of the words (although that can make a difference too), so much as the attitude behind them. People know when you focus on relationships along with results. 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?

6- Do  you know what matters to them?
Everyone values something. If the values you promote conflict with your people’s values, you’ll have trouble being heard.

7- Do you have credibility?
If your team can say, “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. If you don’t know what you’re doing in a certain arena, admit it and seek out others with the expertise to supplement what you do know. When your people can’t trust you or rely on you, but you insist on compliance, you fight an uphill battle you cannot win in the long run.

8- Do you listen?
If you don’t hear what people tell you, they’ll naturally think you don’t care, they’ll lose heart, and they will stop caring. To learn whether or not you’re hearing people, 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. It takes both internal values of confidence and humility to truly listen without defending yourself. When you listen, you strengthen the connection with your people and learn what areas of training, execution, and accountability need attention.

9- Do you speak their language?
Do the words and concepts you use mean the same thing to your team that they mean to you? Do you share numbers and facts when stories and demonstrations are needed—or vice versa?

10- What do you really want?
Whenever you have management challenges, the first thing to examine is your own motivation. Are you truly focused on results and relationships, or are other self-protecting or self motivations creeping in? 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—“I know what’s best, and they’d better listen to me”—then you won’t ever have a team that wins well. They will act out of fear when they have to and ignore you when they feel it’s safe. When you want more—for the group to succeed together, to make an impact—you’re on your way to Winning Well

If you feel as if no one’s listening, ask yourself these ten questions, be honest with yourself, and take action in response to your answers. Winning Well managers master these challenging communication moments.

Want to learn more about Winning Well? You can see our book trailer, and download the first few chapters for free by clicking here. 

Posted in Results & Execution, Winning Well and tagged , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was recently named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of 3 books: Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. Awesome. Big yes. I see it with parents too. Kids don’t get the message and it ultimately leads to a blow up. “Because I said so” rarely leads to sustainable positive action.

    Will share!

    ~ Alli

    • Thanks, Alli. Yeah, “because I say so” doesn’t get much traction in my home either 😉

  2. Excellent article Karin! I will be sure to share this article on social media as well as with my leadership friends who lead teams. Awesome points here. I appreciate you!

  3. Excellent article Karin! All ten of your points are essential if leaders want to be heard. I would add that offering all the information is critical as well. I have noticed that sometimes pieces of information are not shared because managers fear their team doesn’t need all the facts. I believe that our teams do need as many facts and reasons behind what they are being asked to carry out. When documents or information is withheld, rumors float and solutions aren’t usually strong.

    Thanks Karin!

    • Terri, That’s a VERY important add. Thanks so much, as always for your great insights.

  4. Great post Karin! I see so many leaders struggling to understand why they need to repeat themselves, and how people learn differently, and how people are motivated. Well done!

  5. Great article, Karin. I find that when people don’t seem to be listening or don’t act like they heard, I ask them to repeat to me what I’ve told them. Maybe they heard something different from what I intended…or maybe they weren’t listening at all!

    But if you ask them to repeat back to you what they thought you said, it can nip misunderstandings in the bud. Or, if they weren’t listening, it forces them to process the information in a different way….

  6. Once again, I am reminded how leaders need to think about “triangulation” – get to the audience in two, three or more ways. Different media. I also think about how people don’t read any more. Ok, that is a gross exaggeration, but many people scan, read headlines, subjects, and fail to get to the meat that is in the body of an email or letter. Do we need a different way of writing that connects better with a younger and younger workforce? There is nothing wrong with the millennial -but many of them are accustomed to quicker, shorter, more lively messaging. If we can’t get through to them … we won’t get through to other stakeholders and our customers. Look at me … once again, I’m writing too much!

Leave a Reply

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.