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Monica Wofford, CSP, is a professional speaker and CEO of Contagious Companies, a training and consulting firm that develops better leaders and trains managers how to become better leaders.

“Can you hear me now” had better just apply to phones if what you want is to become a better leader.

If you even think the phrase “Can you hear me now?” after you’ve just talked to an employee, then you’re a leader whose employees aren’t listening. But why aren’t they? Hearing is a gift most of your team members will have, but listening is a skill and leaders need listening skills. There’s more to the story though and in fact, here are three reasons they don’t listen and 2 ways you can help them to listen more.

They hear too much “Noise”

In communication there is an element of noise and it’s not just the loud stuff in the background. There are three types of noise and leaders need to be aware of how much of it is ringing in the employee ears. Noise will sometimes keep them from hearing, but more so, keep them too distracted to listen.

  • Decibel Noise: This is the loud stuff; the jack hammer, the plane flying overhead and the speaker in the other room whose microphone is patched into yours. The higher decibel the noise, the harder it is for them to listen. This one is fairly obvious.
  • Emotional Noise: These are the loud voices in their head on a bad day. If you’ve ever had an argument or break up before you got to the office, a frustrating call before a meeting, or a child with a cold at home while you were at work, you are familiar with emotional noise. It’s the voices of concern or irritation or annoyance that roll around in the background and keep you and them from really being focused. Choose the time for an important conversation when this kind of noise is at a minimum or non-existent, if possible.
  • Psychological Noise: This is much more serious. These are the deep fears, tragic sadness, and rage that will divert ALL of one’s attention, raise blood pressure, sit at the root of deep depression, and completely block out the messages of anyone else. If you are in the midst of a major crisis chances are you’re not hearing, much less listening to much, and neither are they. Choose the time for an important conversation AFTER this has passed.

You Need to Say Less

Remember the EF Hutton commercials in the US? They depicted a financial advisor who said little to nothing, but when he did the entire room went quiet. People stop listening if you’re constantly talking, even if you’re their boss or respected leader. It’s a function of attention span, interest and simply bio-chemistry. There is only so much information we can take in before the brain says “I’m done”. It is also a function of training them on the value of what you say. If you talk all the time or yell often, they will start to say “that’s just Jim having a tirade”. If you don’t say much, ever, you capture their interest and create a little mystery and they’ll want to hear what you have to say because you saying anything at all is still a novelty. There’s something to be said for good leaders leaving a little mystery and being a little novel.

They’re On to You

In some organizations the truth is employees are on to their leaders. In this case, I mean the leaders who only recap conversations, restate what others have already said, or even steal the ideas that they just heard and make them sound like their own. If you’re that leader, who instead of adding something new, speaking YOUR mind, and giving credit where credit is due, then they’re on to you. The gig is up and they’re not listening to you anymore.

Some of these reasons may exist if employees aren’t listening and many of them can be overcome, IF what you want is to become a better leader and get more done! I’m Monica Wofford and that’s your Monday Moment. Have a great week, an even better Monday, and of course, stay contagious!


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