How Can I Get My Team to Listen to Me the First Time, Every Time

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How Can I Get My Team to Listen to Me the First Time, Every Time?

I love this question – it is honest, sincere, and you can probably identify with the frustration behind it.

In fact, the question in its original form comes from a mother of three asking about her children, and she qualified her questions: “Oh wait, wrong type of leadership?”

To which I respond…not at all. Influence is influence and every leader of any kind I’ve ever known can identify at times with the frustration of not being heard.

Ask Yourself…

When I coach leaders, sometimes I challenge them to reverse the situation…to put yourself in the team member’s role and think about how you would respond in a similar circumstance.

It’s powerful – you transform your perspective and often learn you have the answers within you.

So let’s try that here:

When you are a team member, what has to happen for you to listen to your leader the first time, every time?

If you’re a human being, your answer is likely:

Um…nothing. It’s not possible for me to listen to them exclusively and do what they want immediately, every time, without exception.”

That’s the bad news. In my harsh truths that every leader needs to know, harsh truth #5 is that once is never enough.

It’s not enough for you and it’s not enough for your team.

Remember: you are not the center of anyone else’s universe (unless you have a dog…and then it’s a maybe.)

Improve Your Odds

The good news is that you can be influential and persuasive with your team.

Here are 10 questions to ask when you feel like your team is not listening:

1) What do you really want?

Ask this before looking at anything else. Be clear with yourself about what you’re really seeking. There is a big difference between wanting what is in the best interests of the team and what is in the best interests of the leader.

If the answer is submission – “when I say jump they better ask ‘how high?’ on the way up” – then you’re never going to have a team that listens. They will act out of fear when they have to and ignore you when they feel it’s safe.

However, if your desire is for the team to succeed together, to make an impact…then keep reading.

2) Are you speaking their language?

Do the words and concepts you’re using mean to your team what they mean to you? Are you sharing numbers and facts when stories and demonstrations are needed?

3) Are you listening?

If you’re not hearing what people are telling you, they begin to think you don’t care, they lose heart, and they stop caring. If you want to know, 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. You don’t have to agree, but you do need to hear.

4) Do you have credibility?

If your team can think to itself, “You don’t know what you’re talking about”…and they have evidence to back up their conclusion, expect to be ignored.

Credibility is built, not demanded. Can people trust you? Can they rely on you?

5) Do you know what matters to them?

Everyone values something. If the values you’re promoting conflict with your team’s, you’ll have trouble being heard. (See #3)

6) Are you ordering or inviting?

I don’t mean the literal phrasing of the words (although that can make a difference too), so much as the attitude behind them.

Are you communicating that you’re better than everyone else and they should serve you? Or are you inviting participation as people with mutual dignity?

7) Have you explained the whys?

Even military briefings include the reasons and objectives behind the orders. Sometimes lack of response comes from people not understanding the consequences of their action or inaction.

8) Are you checking for understanding?

An idea is rarely as clear to the listener as it is to the speaker. Check for understanding. Ask your listener what they heard, what they understood you to be asking, and what they understand the consequences to be.

9) Are you saying it often enough?

Often I have been coaching frustrated leaders who complain that their team is insubordinate or unresponsive. When asked if they communicated the issue to their team, they say yes.

So then I ask “When was the last time you communicated the item?”

In response I’ve heard: “Last year.” “At that off-site year before last…” “We were in the hallway six months ago…”

If you’ve communicated something once – you haven’t communicated.

As hard as it is for our ego to take, our teams have lives beyond us. They have constant challenges facing them on a daily basis.

To realistically think that something you said two years ago is on everybody’s mind when they wake up every morning is just silly.

10) Are you saying it in different ways?

People learn differently. Some are visual, some auditory, some through practice, some by reading, and so on. As you practice #9, use different communication techniques.

Your Turn

Take a moment to leave your answer in the comments:

How do you ensure you’re communicating clearly with your team?

What do your leaders do that helps you hear and respond?

Take care,


Image of David Dye Leadership SpeakerWant to get more done and increase your influence?

Contact David today for personal leadership coaching.


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