No one listens. It’s one of the most common complaints across workplaces, industries, jobs, even in our personal lives. It doesn’t matter how much detail we give or how many times we say things, it seems like people keep coming back with questions about things we’ve already addressed.
So, how can you improve communication and resolve this frustrating problem? One piece of advice you’ve likely heard is to over-communicate if you want people to listen to you. Explain it once, and then explain it again. Keep hammering away until you break through.
Have you tried this? Are they still not listening?
Why Over-Communicating Doesn’t Work
The suggestion that you should over-communicate assumes that more is better. But the reason people don’t listen doesn’t have anything to do with how many times you’ve said it. If anything, over-communicating is probably causing people to tune you out even more, especially when you add in all the other information that’s continually flooding everybody’s inboxes, browsers, phones and ears.
When people don’t listen—when the information doesn’t “stick”—it’s because their attention hasn’t been fully engaged. And while it’s not certain if attention spans really are shrinking, attention is certainly at a premium in today’s fragmented world. Context, distractions, and how we receive and process information all play a role in whether a message gets through. As psychologist Dr Gemma Briggs puts it, “How we apply our attention to different tasks depends very much on what the individual brings to that situation.”
Of course, as a communicator, you can’t control how other people react to the information you’re delivering. But you can control how you deliver it. And by understanding how your audience processes information best and what types of communication naturally engage their attention, you can improve your communications the first time. No need to over-communicate.
How to Improve Communication at Work with Thinking Preferences
So, what’s the best way to communicate with your audience? Information processing starts with the brain. By understanding how different people prefer to think, you can adapt your messages to improve communication with any audience, whether you’re communicating one-on-one or with a diverse group. Here are some easy ideas for engaging different thinkers.
Is your audience…
- analytical and technical in its thinking? Get to the point, be clear and have the data ready, because they’ll want to see the facts to support your arguments. A warning: If you meander or go off-topic, they’re likely to tune you out.
- practical, organised and detail-oriented? Go through it step by step, have your references handy, and be ready to discuss all the finer points and contingency plans. Before you communicate it verbally, communicate it in writing in advance to allow for extra processing time.
- expressive and interpersonal? Instead of dwelling on the dry, impersonal facts, engage them with stories and examples. Consider communicating it in an open forum that gives everyone the opportunity to participate, provide input and discuss concerns.
- highly imaginative and conceptual? They’re looking for the big-picture view, so don’t drown them in details. Emphasise the “why,” and get creative about it. If you really need them to pay attention, try turning it into a game or fun quiz.
More often than not, you’ll be communicating with a diverse audience, or you may not be absolutely sure what someone’s thinking preferences are. In those situations, a Whole Brain® approach is always the best strategy. (Tip: Since most people have varying degrees of preference for more than one thinking style, we recommend using a validated assessment like the HBDI to uncover thinking preferences.)
The Whole Brain® Communication Checklist
One way to appeal to and engage a variety of thinkers is to apply the Whole Brain® Communication Walk-Around Model to the significant points of your message. It’s a problem-solving process that forces you to review your communications in each of the four thinking quadrants.
The four-colour, four-quadrant graphic and Whole Brain® are trademarks of Herrmann Global © 2019
This is a quick, proactive exercise you can try any time you’re preparing communications for a diverse audience or as a way to check yourself when communicating with those who think differently than you do.
Remember: More isn’t always better. If people aren’t listening to you, you’re probably not communicating in a way that actually engages their attention. Thinking it through upfront will only take a small amount of your time—and you won’t have to keep repeating yourself.
How to Incorporate Whole Brain® Thinking For Better Communication in Meetings
If you’re struggling to be heard by the people you work with, no doubt your meetings aren’t operating as effectively as they could be. Proper communication is the key to impactful meetings, and without this, you’re just wasting everybody’s time. Download our Meetings That Actually Work toolkit to receive tips, strategies and worksheets for making your meetings more engaging, useful and productive.