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  • Writer's pictureRussell Lookadoo

They Don’t Listen to Me

Updated: May 10, 2018

This scene repeats itself daily in some small business somewhere. The owner, head in hands, retreats to their office exclaiming under their breath, why don’t “they” listen to what I said. No one seems to get it. What is wrong with “them?” The source of the frustration could be over not achieving goals, not following processes, not acting on the right priorities, or just not following “simple” directions. In a calmer moment, the owner reflects that it is not everyone, all the time, but certainly it is all the people some of the time that just don’t “get it”. That makes the challenge all the more complex.

When communication occurs, there are a minimum of two parties involved, the sender and the receiver. The sender (the business owner) has content that the sender believes is essential for the receiver to have in order to act in accordance with the sender’s needs. When communication is not totally successful, the sender is the one who becomes frustrated and often blames the receiver as incapable of following direction. But who is truly at fault here?

It is always the sender who is fully to blame. For successful communication to occur, 100% of the responsibility for the communication lies with the sender, not 50/50, 70/30 or even 90/10. For some driven leaders, this principle is difficult. Let me give some examples.

In the 1970’s CB radios were a cultural phenomenon. Most radios broadcasted on 21 separate channels. If the receiver of the communication was on Channel 12 and the sender was on Channel 19 the message would not ever be picked up by the receiver. The sender could talk more, louder, or speak in multiple languages but if they were not on the receiver’s channel communication failed. In our times, if the sender wants to make a call or text and does not know the phone number of the receiver they will not be able to make contact. How effective is sending an email announcing that the email system is down? It is not the fault of the receiver in anyway since they may be unaware that the sender is even trying to communicate something of importance.

In interpersonal communications the challenge is even more complex. There are generational differences, receptivity differences, also slang, timing, pacing, intonation, body language, emotions, and relationships play a factor. But many business owners insist the others find their channel or adapt to their style of communication. This is a recipe for frustration at best, and at worst, failure. What is a business leader to do? Just give up and just do it themselves?

First, find the receiver’s channel. A core principle found in Steven Covey’s timeless work “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, Habit # 5 is “Seek First to Understand then to be Understood”.

Learn all you can about those receivers in key relationships. Invest in personality assessments that will help you understand the method they generally operate with. For example, are they single-taskers that get frazzled when interrupted? Are they high contact oriented and low data oriented? What core values motivate them? Is it money, information, power or status? Do they process information primarily in a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic manner?

Secondly, plan your communications. Determine who you want to communicate with, what you need them to receive and how you plan to get the message to them. Avoid “Drive by Management”. This is a major primary source of ill received communication. Make sure you clearly understand the intent of your message. Employ multiple approaches; vary the timing and the methods. The more critical the message, the more planning is required.

Finally, take full responsibility for communication and don’t make assumptions that your message was received.

Actively listen while communicating. Ask questions that transfer the message to the receiver in a manner that makes their brain begin to formulate actions. Pay attention to the receiver’s reactions. Prepare follow up and reinforcing communications using different methods. When the communication is not successful, challenge yourself to find out why and improve.

The best designed plans, the most amazing ideas and the hardest work will likely fail if not communicated. Effective communication is the #1 responsibility of leadership.

Russell Lookadoo is the HR Guy for small businesses. His firm, HRchitecture, specializes in helping business leaders accomplish their goals by effectively using their teams. Russell brings over three decades of experience designing Human Resources solutions that achieve business strategies in varied organizations ranging from a small manufacturer to the nation’s second largest bank. Russell holds the Senior Professional in Human Resources designation from the Society of Human Resources Management and earned the Certified Compensation Professional designation from World at Work. Russell attended the University of North Carolina on the prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Industrial Relations. Visit his website at

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