“They don’t listen to me!”

You’ve heard and said those words a million times yourself. It’s an expression of frustration because someone has something of value to say, but don’t believe they are heard.

During a recent cup of coffee with my friend Sally, she said something that turned the light bulb on in my head regarding not being heard and gave me a tool, which I’ll share with you to help you when you communicate.

We usually blame the receiver of our communication, it’s their problem, they aren’t listening. It’s never the fault of the communicator. I’m tired of that because I’m actually better at listening than others might give me credit. I accept that I have a flaw (one I’m always working on) that gets in the way of my listening. My brain processes quickly and I struggle when someone can’t put into words what they want to say, or they aren’t speaking “my language”. Yes, people do need to be better at listening, but the person most responsible for being heard is the person communicating because they control the message.

The message must be in the language of the person or group you are speaking or writing to. It’s like you (the sender) speaking German and the receiver only knowing French. They won’t understand a word you’ve said.

Leaders often make this mistake in communicating with their employees by using their language, i.e., growth, margin, strategy, share price, etc., and then wonder why employees don’t get it or aren’t excited. They need to speak the language of their employees, which is usually about how it impacts their daily work, decision making autonomy, their team, job security, etc. Once those concerns are addressed, they’ll listen to what the leader wants them to hear.

Sally’s background is in Global Client Management and Professional Sales.  In building and maintaining relationships over the years, she’s needed to speak the language of the client, which was often about the impact on their bottom line. Her 4-word communication guide is:

Bottom Line Up Front

She’s learned if she doesn’t quickly address what clients are looking for, they won’t hear anything else she needs to tell them. By focusing on their impact first, she prepares the client to hear the other information she wants to share, and they need to hear. It’s simple and I know she’s right because I’ve sat in countless presentations over the years with a salesperson talking forever on what they wanted us to know, closing our ears by putting us to sleep. This doesn’t mean you only tell people what they want to hear, it just means focus first on what they need to have addressed.

Sally’s phrase can be used in non-sales conversations too. The phrase “bottom line” represents what’s most important to the person you are talking with.

If you need support from the person you report to on a new idea, ask yourself what their “bottom line” is, what do they focus on. Then shape your pitch to help them see your new idea helps what’s important to them. If you can’t make that connection, you probably won’t get the support you want. And when dealing with leaders, recognize there is no recipe on what’s most important. It could be cost, profit, sales, employee engagement, etc. You need to know the person and make your communication about them.

When you communicate with their needs in mind, the chances you’ll be heard increase dramatically.

An unreliable messenger can cause a lot of trouble. Reliable communication permits progress. Proverbs 13:17 (TLB)

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