Someone's Not Listening...What to Do

Steven Gaffney Is someone in your life not listening to you? Is this causing friction and difficulty? Are you struggling to get along with this person?

I had a participant complain that his teenage daughter wasn’t listening to him. I asked him simple question: “If your daughter was in the next room and I asked her if she thought her dad listened to her, what would she say?” He grinned and candidly admitted that she probably would say he didn’t listen to her. I then asked him: “What is the likelihood of your daughter listening to you if she feels that you don’t listen to her?” After careful consideration, he agreed it was unlikely.

People are unlikely to listen to us until they feel that they have been heard, really heard. You might be tempted to say, “But they started it!” and that may be the case, but since we can only control ourselves we must take the first step to really listen to the person first.

You can begin to significantly improve the situation by using the following process: The Five-Step Relationship Checkup Process™. Just as you go to a doctor for periodic checkups, you need to perform a check up on your relationships. This check-up can reveal hidden problems as well as provide the appropriate solutions to resolve these problems. This process is especially great to do when you feel someone isn’t listening, you’re not getting helpful feedback, or the person is close-minded to what you are saying.

The Five-Step Relationship Checkup Process™:

1. Be direct and ask, “Do you think I listen to you, really listen to you?” The point is to ask a very direct, clear question.

2. Admit the truth if you don’t listen.
If you take an honest look at yourself, you would probably admit you are not always really listening to the other person. Once you realize this, you may be afraid to admit it to the other person. Don’t worry. They already know. Can’t you tell when someone isn’t listening to you? By proactively admitting the truth to the other person, you will have the person stand up and take notice that the different conversations are more honest and upfront than they were in the past. Also, being truthful will also encourage the other person to be truthful with you (see Law of Reflection on page_____).

3. Ask, “What can I do (or we do) to improve things from this point forward?” By asking the person this question, it has them focus on exploring solutions rather than focusing on whom to blame.

I had a participant in one of my seminars take her ten year old daughter through this process. When the mother asked what could she do to improve things, her daughter responded, “It would be great if you could look me in the eyes when you are asking me how school is going, rather than cooking dinner.”

Remember, when you are asking for feedback, some people may have a hard time admitting things to you, especially if you have challenges with them. Do the best you can to create a safe environment for the person to provide you with honest feedback. To create this environment, do not debate them when they start to give you feedback. Instead, be a sponge and try to soak in their feedback. This will allow the person to really tell you what they are thinking. It has been my experience that the initial feedback comments are really just “tests” to see your potential reactions. The real golden feedback will follow once they feel safe with your reaction.

4. Make commitments
Unilaterally commit to some action that can be taken to improve the relationship. This will often inspire the other person to take action too. Even if they don’t, you can still move things forward by making a commitment and being proactive. For example, you might tell the other person that from now on you will admit when it is a bad time to talk instead of pretending to listen or that you will not watch TV or read the paper while you are listening. At work you might tell them that you won’t file and/or type when they are talking.

5. Follow Up
Plan a time to check in to verify that the committed action items were accomplished to everyone’s satisfaction. This will give the relationship positive forward momentum and likely inspire additional action to be taken. Also, when following up, if needed, go back to step one, repeat the Five-Step Relationship Checkup Process™, as needed.

No matter what, don’t wait to follow up. It is better to do this sooner rather than later even if it is not the most opportune time.

Remember, difficult relationships do not happen over night. They are a result of repeated problems that are ignored or left unresolved.

If relationships have experienced a lot of issues you may need to run through the Five Step Relationship Checkup Process™ several times. Until the people in our lives truly believe we hear them, it’s unlikely they’ll be willing to hear what we say to them. Better to check in now than to have major problems later. By using these strategies, you can further develop healthy, productive and fulfilling relationship that you deserve!

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