How To Get People To Listen

» Posted by on Mar 2, 2013 | 2 comments

How To Get People To Listen

We’ve all found ourselves mid-sentence when suddenly someone else starts talking over the top of us, or we finish saying something only to realise that the person we were talking to is focused on something else and hasn’t responded. Getting people to listen to you isn’t easy.

Even when people appear to be listening, they’re often more focused on what they want to say when you’re finished and it’s their turn to talk.

If you want people to really listen to what you’re saying, there’s one crucial thing you’ll need to do first.


What Usually Happens…

We like to be heard and understood. We want to get our point across and have the other person acknowledge they got it. Once that happens, we’re ready to listen to their point of view. The problem is…the other person wants to do it in this order too.

If we speak first, they will often spend most of the time thinking about what they want to say and how best to get their point across when it’s their turn. They give the impression they’re listening but chances are they’re only taking in parts of the conversation. They might hear the words but miss the underlying tone or the body language that goes with it.

Many times people listen with the intention of replying rather than understanding. This often leads to them deciding prematurely what we’re saying and starting to frame a response before they’ve heard the whole story. Sometimes they even start verbalising this while we’re still speaking!

People also tend to hear what another person is saying through their own frame of reference and how they think they would feel if they were in our situation. In doing this, they don’t always clearly understand how it feels for US, because they’re already formulating a response based on their own experience.

And all of this is likely to be what we’re doing too while the other person is speaking. In each case, we’re both left with poor understanding and feelings of not being heard.  So what’s the answer?


The Crucial Step

There’s a saying that goes ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood’. If you want someone to really listen to what you’re saying, recognise that this will probably only happen once you’ve given them your full attention and conveyed your acknowledgment and understanding. After this occurs, they’re going to feel more than ready to listen to you.

Here’s a simple example:

Bill: Let’s paint the fence green.

Joe: Yuck, I hate green, I think it should be blue.

Both Bill and Joe are seeking to be understood first. Bill is likely to feel the need to put more effort into convincing Joe the fence should be green because Joe doesn’t appear to have understood or even acknowledged Bill’s preference. In doing so, he will probably completely ignore Joe’s preference for blue, which will also leave Joe feeling unheard.

Bill: Let’s paint the fence green.

Joe: Hmm, not sure about green, what makes you choose that colour?

Bill: Well partly because I like it but also because I think it would blend in with the garden well.

Joe: Ok yep, I can see your point, it makes sense.It would be good to have it all blend in like that. I was also wondering how blue would look…

Here Joe has allowed Bill to have his full attention and understanding, and when Joe eventually brings up the idea of a different colour, Bill is likely to be much more receptive than in the first example.


During Arguments

This applies even if the other person is criticising you or telling you what they think you’ve done wrong. As difficult as it seems, try detaching and taking a neutral stance as the person explains what the problem is.

Sylvie: I can’t believe you forgot to pick up the milk on the way home, you always ignore what I say.

Babette: I did forget the milk, it seems like you think it’s because I ignore what you say to me generally.

This response, difficult though it feels at the time, is more likely to put Sylvie in a position to listen to Babette’s side of the story. If Babette had just launched immeditately into defending herself, Sylvie would be more inclined to start listing other things that annoy her about Babette just to get her original point across, because she doesn’t feel Babette understands.

In this case, Babette can acknowledge her understanding of what Sylvie is saying, whether or not she agrees with it, and later in the conversation when Sylvie feels understood, Babette can then have her turn. She might explain that she’s had a lot on her plate lately and she’s sorry Sylvie felt ignored because she isn’t ignoring her, she’s just overtired and she’ll go and get the milk now, Because Sylvie has felt heard earlier, she is more likely to hear and understand Babette at this stage too.


Try It!

Next time you have a point you want to get across, try holding off for long enough to hear the other person’s point of view first. Really listen and try to put yourself in their shoes, see if you can fully understand what brought them to that point and convey this understanding to them. This doesn’t mean you agree with them, just that you get what they’re saying.

Watch the difference when you then start to put your point of view across after doing this step. While there are some people who won’t listen to you regardless (they just don’t have those skills), the average person will be much more receptive to hearing and understanding your point of view after this step. Let me know how it goes!


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  1. Thanks for this reminder Leanne! This really does give conversations a whole new quality and opens up a true dialogue instead of 2 people monologing at each other. I tend to slip when I’m exhausted or in a rush. Will try to keep this in mind in those situations.

    • Romy, yes! It’s so much harder to do these things when we’re tired or rushing – best to practice when we’re calm and in a fairly neutral situation first :)


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