One of the most challenging management experiences you’ll encounter is when it feels like your team won’t listen.
- You share your vision of the future, what the team’s capable of achieving…and are met with shrugs and silent stares.
- You share a new process to improve results…and everyone keeps on doing what they’ve always done.
- You make recommendations grounded in real data…and they are ignored.
These times when it feels like your team won’t listen are great opportunities to build your influence. You might be tempted to turn to fear, power, and a raised voice to get things done, but I invite you to pause and look at what’s happening before you do.
When you learn from these moments your effectiveness will soar, but if you allow yourself to get so frustrated that you turn to fear or power to get things done, you lose credibility and trust.
Here are 10 questions to ask when you feel like your team won’t listen:
1) What do you want?
Whenever you have leadership challenges, the first thing to examine is your own desire.
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 compliance “When I say jump, they better ask ‘how high?’ on the way up” – then you’re never going to have a team that truly listens. They will do things out of fear when they must and ignore you when they can.
However, if what you want for the team to achieve great results together…then keep reading.
2) Are you speaking their language?
Do the actual words you use 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 do your stories need more data and explanation?
3) Have you listened?
When you don’t hear what people tell you, they naturally think you don’t care, they lose heart, and they’ll stop caring.
Not sure if your team is being heard? 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, even if it’s to explain constraints or why you’re taking a different direction. You don’t have to agree, but you do need to hear.
4) Are you credible?
If your people can say, “You don’t know what you’re talking about” and they have evidence to back up their conclusion, well, expect to be ignored.
You build your credibility. You can’t demand it. Can people trust you? Can they rely on you? Take a moment and seriously consider the answer to these questions. If you were on your own team, would you trust you, based only on what you see and experience?
5) Do you know what matters to your people?
If the values you’re promoting conflict with your team’s values, you’ll have trouble being heard. I worked with a CEO who was disappointed that her employees were leaving work when they were scheduled to leave. She wanted people who valued going the extra distance to get things done. Her employees loved their work, but they also valued their family and friends and considered it nearly immoral to sacrifice family relationships for work.
6) Are you ordering people or inviting them?
Look at both the literal words you’re using as well as the attitude behind them.
Do your words and attitude communicate dignity and equal worth? Or do your words and attitude suggest that you’re better than everyone else and they should just do what they’re told?
7) Have you explained why?
Your team’s lack of response may be because they don’t understand the consequences. Why is this important? How does it make a difference to other people? To the bottom line? Even military briefings include the reasons and objectives behind the orders.
8) Did you check for understanding?
When you share a task and ask “Are there any questions?” you will likely be met with silence.
Don’t assume that silence means they get it. Silence could mean confusion, embarrassment, or that they think they understand.
Rather, ask your team something like: “Let’s make sure we’re on the same page. What are the three things we’re doing coming out of this meeting? Why does this matter? When will these be finished? Make sure they received what you thought you communicated.
9) Have you said it often enough?
I have coached many frustrated leaders who complain that their team is insubordinate or unresponsive.
So then I ask “When was the last time you shared this task or explained what was supposed to happen?”
Some of the answers I’ve heard include:
- “At that off-site year before last…”
- “We were in the hallway six months ago…”
- “At the company meeting last January…”
If you’ve communicated something once, you haven’t communicated.
As hard as it may be for your ego to accept, your team members have other lives. They have constant challenges confronting them every day.
It’s unrealistic to believe that something you said one time, last year, is on everyone’s mind. If it’s important, be the drummer. Keep the beat and consistently communicate the MITs (Most Important Things.)
10) Have you said it in different ways?
People receive information differently. I’m a reader first, audio second, and video third. But many other people get much more from video or other visuals.
As you reinforce the MITs, use different communication techniques.
We recommend 6×3 communication. The idea is to repeat critical information at least six times through three or more channels. For example, you might use a staff meeting, a video, and one-on-one meetings for your three different channels.
When it feels like your team won’t listen, it is easy to get frustrated and give in to the temptation to yell louder. But effective leaders know that when it seems no one’s listening, there are likely other issues that need to be resolved.
If you feel like your team won’t listen, ask yourself these ten questions…and listen to your answers.
Leave us a comment and share: How do you ensure you’ve been heard when communicating with your team?
Creative Commons photo by Bryan Katz