Why People Just Don’t Listen… And What to Do About It


Have you ever received unsolicited advice—perhaps from your best friend, spouse, mother-in-law, a sibling, or your teenager? Did you feel happy about being told what to do? In over 30 years of business in a variety of situations, I have found very few people enjoy receiving unsolicited advice…although it is often well-meaning…and even if you are a direct supervisor. As a professional executive coach, I also know from a few corporate contracts that have funded coaching for a leader or manager (sponsored with the personal development dollars in their annual training budget) that you can be “assigned” to coach someone, yet they have to be willing to embrace change for any growth to occur. Around seven years ago, I was assigned to “coach” a middle manager, who was, by my assessment, “un-coachable.” Although the organization funding his coaching fee had advised him that the reason he was receiving “an opportunity to work with an executive coach” was to help him develop his leadership style to be in closer alignment with the company values and mission, he was unwilling to engage in the conversation. Although coaching helps to improve people management skills (58 percent) and an individual’s job motivation (53 percent), according to The Association for Coaching (https://researchportal.coachfederation.org/Document/Pdf/ab stract_685), many organizational leaders still see coaching as a remedial activity, with an external coach brought in to “fix” someone or something that is broken. However, progressive firms who look at the glass half full make wise investments to provide a coach for those people who have already proven their worth (as demonstrated by their commitment to the corporate values, their work ethic, their referral of bringing new clients to the table, or referring professional colleagues to the firm). Staff who are not engaged do not refer others from outside the organization. As Daniel H. Pink points out in his book titled, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, those team members who are putting in discretionary are showing a high level of employee engagement. High engagement is what prevents turnover, and when people voluntarily leave an organization there are significant replacement costs incurred (from staffing agency fees to time invested searching and hiring, interviewing, orientation and training). Staff turnover costs time and dollars, and they all add up. So, what if people listened to advice? If you don’t like others telling you what to do, or giving you unsolicited advice, then stop doing the same to others! Instead, use a “coach approach.” Have you received professional coaching before? If you have, then you know that when you’re asked how to solve a problem and you’re allowed to come up with your own answer or solution (even outside the work environment), you are much more committed to it. After all, it was your idea! When I was writing Words, Women & Wisdom: The Modern Art of Confident Conversations, I gave an example of how I had much better communications with my step-daughter after using the power of questions (versus telling), combined with the energy of reciprocity, to ask her to clean up her room. It worked like a charm! Read about how it works: When you want to direct someone to do something, find a way to wrap a question around it, rather than giving a directive. If you want your teenage daughter to clean up her room for example, you may give an incentive, and ask “Do you want to go to the mall? As soon as you have your room cleaned up, we can leave. What time do you want to head out?” Or you could wait until your teenager asks you for a ride, then use the power of reciprocity to ask them to do something in exchange (Newton’s law of cause and effect in action). That conversation could be: “Mum, can I get a ride to the mall?” Response from you: “Sure, I can take you a little later this afternoon, if you can clean up your room before we go. How long will that take?” The likelihood of your teen saying “no” to your request, when you just agreed to do something for them, is very low. Give and take, positive and negative, yin and yang — Newton’s third law in action. The energy of reciprocity is powerful. So is the energy of innovation. If you think of an idea, you own it—it is yours to commit to. If someone else has an idea, you may think of ways it might not work, and play devil’s advocate, especially if the idea is too risky, too crazy, too bold, too —– (fill in the blank here), as as you are determining the validity of the idea based on your personal values, risk tolerance, willingness to embrace change, as well as layering on top your beliefs and life experiences. While you want to “save someone pain and suffering,” often you forget that their growth often comes through the struggle. I often look at lessons from nature. Take the emergence of the emperor moth, a majestic moth with its wide wingspan showing magnificently during flight. Before it can become a full-grown moth, it is a pupa in a cocoon, taking quiet time to rest in the dark before gathering enough strength from its transformation to emerge into the light. The restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the moth to wiggle through the tiny opening forces fluid from the body of the moth into its wings. However, with-out the struggle to escape through a tiny hole made in the cocoon, which causes the fluid to be squeezed out, the moth remains puffy and weak. A good example applies the moth’s experience to parenting —an activity where advice giving has happened for eons. When you encourage your children to take accountability for their actions, to struggle to figure out their own solutions (while showing they are loved no matter what choices they make)—this gift of independent problem solving is one of the most powerful gifts you can give them. Their struggle to independence leads to developing resilience and strengthen-ing their confidence. So, if you cut open a larger hole for the moth (or child!) to emerge from, to make it easier for them to get out of the cocoon, they cannot fly, as they have not built up the strength during the struggle to do so. So, stop telling others what your opinion is, or how to do something, and find ways to let them discover their own answers. Find a way to wrap a question around what you would like to encourage the other person to solve for themselves, then stop talking, and let them find their own solution, based on their willingness to change. If you feel they are thinking too small for their potential, plant an idea (like a seed) in their minds, water it (with permission), and step back to let nature take its course and watch the solution appear. Nature always gives us significant problems and valuable solutions that educate everyone through observation.