businesswoman with big earsOne of the questions we are often asked in both our Bud to Boss and Remarkable Communicator workshops is: “How do you get people to listen when they are set in their ways?”

Like so many questions related to leadership and communication, there’s a short answer and a more complete answer.

The short answer is: You can’t get another person to listen. They have to choose to listen.

The longer answer starts with the short answer and then amplifies it a bit. You can’t get another person to listen. You can behave in ways that invites them to listen so that they choose to listen.

In many cases, the reason that people don’t listen is that they don’t feel heard and understood. Their basic and fundamental need to be understood is not met, and they continue talking (in some cases they withdraw) until they feel that you have understood them.

The general principle to remember in the context of the question we’re answering in this post is this:

Until a person feels heard and understood, they find it difficult to hear and understand.

Unmet or unfulfilled needs create an internal, emotional pressure in people. This internal pressure causes people to focus on relieving the pressure by finding a way to fulfill their personal need. While they are focused on getting their need(s) fulfilled, they often cannot stop to focus on the needs of others. In order to listen, they have to stop long enough to focus – at least briefly – on the needs of others.

The fastest, most reliable way to help another person slow down enough to listen is to slow down enough to listen. In other words, you need to give to them what you want to receive in return.

When you have listened to them fully, you can then ask permission to share information with them. By asking permission to share information with them, you invite them into the conversation and you improve the likelihood that they will actually listen to what you have to say.

The communication flow could go something like this…

  • Listen fully and completely to their concerns and frustrations.
  • Show them that you understand by repeating back their concern. Ask them if you have understood correctly.
  • Ask them if you can share additional information with them.

While no communication technique will work with every person in every situation, this general strategy will work with many people in many situations.

And now we’d like to hear from you!

What communication techniques or strategies do you use in emotionally-charged or stressful conversations? Leave your answer in the comments below.


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  1. It is a classic question and I love this answer! It’s a great tip. Sort of a “you get what you give” kind of approach which resonates with me and is something I’ll be working on getting better at immediately. Thanks for this and all your great articles. Really valuable stuff!!

  2. This came at the perfect time for me. Dealing with someone who refuses to listen is very frustrating. I cannot wait to try this.

  3. Informative thank you
    It is difficult to get staff to listen especially handover time with multiple interruptions, sometimes hand gestures for quiet to concentrate or ask to repeat
    We have a chatterbox manager who stands over staff & directs continually without giving staff time to do the things required or even to think or feedback.
    I have told her privately that God gave us 2 ears & 1 mouth for a reason & that usually makes her reflect & we have peace
    regards from Rhonda
    Sydney Australia

  4. I often use a technique where when I am done giving instruction or direction I will ask the person to tell me what they just heard. I set it up like this:

    “I know I just went over a number of things and it’s important we get this project done quickly but correctly. Sometimes what is said and what is heard can be 2 different things. Can you repeat back to me the major points of what you just heard so I know I did a good job of explaining it?”

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