How leaders can get people to truly listen to them

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People aren't listening to you!

You've probably heard the advice for creating stunning presentations. "Tell them what you are going to tell them. Tell them. Then tell them what you've told them"

Sounds trite. But there is much that we all need to heed in this - if we are to be good leaders. 

Communicating the key messages about your company is probably the most important job you've got as a leader. But sadly, the truth is that no-one is constantly listening to their managers or bosses at work. People have so much to absorb that its easy to tune out, or rely on their colleagues to tell them what's going on.

So if you are to be effective,  you'll need to up your game. Communicating effectively is a skill - just like anything else. You are not expected to know it simply because you've been given a leadership role. 

1. Don't expect anyone to remember what you said the first time.

You will need to repeat yourself until you are bored of the sound of your own voice. You will need to say things over and over again, in multiple different ways. Don't give up, don't think that you've really nailed your message after one or two meetings. 

2. You need to use the channels that the listener prefers. Not always your preferred channels. 

Some people love to talk, some hate it. Some will pick up new information rapidly, some take time to digest. You'll need to provide ways that everyone can absorb the message. Just because you prefer sending emails, doesn't necessarily mean your employees will read them. I've lost count of the times when people have asked me to explain emails I've sent them - over the phone - that I thought were truly simple!

3. People learn in different ways.

Psychologists have identified several different ways that people prefer to learn new things. For some its listening, others reading, for others its via social groups or activities. You'll need to ensure you've provided tools for all your people. So, if you are communicating a change in your company, make sure you engage with people via team meetings, written briefings, emails, company noticeboards, and get out and about while people are socialising to spread the word. 

4. Be kind and considerate.

We don't always talk about kindness at work. But its critical. Especially when people are feeling vulnerable and you're communicating a lot of change in your messages, for example. 

People don't leave their emotions or feelings at the office door. Being considerate is one of the most powerful things you can do. We talked to a friend recently who is leaving a very well paid job at a large organisation simply because in the year she has worked there, her manager never once said good morning to her when she arrived for work, and ignored the greeting she gave him. How simply this could have been avoided!

5. You are communicating constantly through what you DO as well as what you SAY.

In the workplace, people notice everything you do - yes, absoutely everything.  Your body language and actions communicate volumes. Think people don't notice when you don't live out your own values, or the company's values? Think you can get away with not attending social events you expect your employees to do? Or taking your turn at essential office chores? Think again! What the leader does is the thing that everyone will do. I once worked at a company where my manager (the CEO) cleaned the toilets and took out the rubbish every day. He never had to ask for help - people pitched in automatically. 

6. Be honest in your communication

People don’t expect you to know the answer to everything or to be always right. They are adults, and don't expect you to be God. Its OK (good, in fact) to admit you have messed up, or don’t know the answer. What is bad, is to pretend to know, lie, or retreat into a hole when you don’t know what to do. There is nothing worse than an information vacuum while leaders are figuring out what to say. People will write their own stories - not necessarily what you want them to hear. 

7. Communicate the WIIFM

People don’t listen to everything you say or understand what you are telling them. What? You’ve told them 5 times? And they still don’t get it? What’s wrong with these people? There is nothing wrong with them, but there is something wrong with your communication. You have not followed the number one rule – people need to know “WIIFM” (“what’s in it for me”). If they don’t hear or see this, they switch off, no matter how much noise you make.

8. People aren't telling you the truth.

People don’t always tell you how they really feel, no matter how friendly you are with them or how long you have worked with them. We have talked to countless CEOs who tell me that all their people are very happy working at their company. How do they know? They “asked” them. Now, just think for a moment. You are a junior employee, and your boss or boss’s boss says, “do you enjoy working here?” Hmm….great to be asked, but are you really going to reveal that you think your co-workers are lazy, you are fed up that you did not get asked to contribute to the new project, or that you think you deserved the promotion not your colleague? And just before she stopped by your desk you were updating your LinkedIn profile? I wonder. 

To allow your people to communicate effectively with you, make sure you allow them the freedom to express themselves without judgement. 

If you like this post, you can read more of our best ideas for people management on our blog here. 

About Rachel-Maclean

Rachel Maclean

Rachel is an HR, people, and management expert with 25+ years experience in high growth businesses. She co-founded Packt Publishing, now the UK’s leading technology publisher; and has led HR and sales teams in many companies globally. She started Air an HR Software platform to help small businesses and entrepreneurs build better workplaces with happier employees.

She’s a keynote speaker and thought leader on the future of work and has appeared at conferences including Disrupt HR, the Business Growth Show and Innovation Nation.


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