Why People Don’t Hear You

Do you believe in the fantasy that other people should listen when you talk? Maybe your parents listened eagerly when you garbled your first words. After that, it’s amazing how many people just don’t seem to hear or understand you.

The truth: We used to think that information we speak entered people’s ears and then went into their cognitive, thinking brain. Then they acted on what data they received. It would be nice if it were that easy.

Now we know that all information is first filtered through the primitive brain and then the emotional, social brain before thoughts are formed. The brain collects chunks of words then searches for memory “threads” of what the listener knows and what he or she wants to know about what you are saying to weave together an interpretation of what you might mean.

Even if this tapestry closely resembles your intention, you are competing with the continuous running commentary going on in most people’s heads about the past, present and what to watch on TV tonight.

You need to connect BEFORE you talk.

Brain Tip #1: Don’t get upset when you think someone didn’t listen to you. Try something else. They obviously misinterpreted your intent or your statement didn’t make the right connection in their brain. Don’t repeat your words; reframe them.

Brain Tip #2: Start with the payoff. Tell them first why they should care about what you are saying. What are you trying to help them with or why is it so important to you that they hear what you have to say? State that first. Spark their emotions if you want to be heard. Explain that what you have to say is intended to create something good, for them and/or for you.

Brain Tip #3: When you are explaining why you are about to say something, don’t use fear and please tell the truth (i.e. don’t be manipulative). The primitive brain has an antenna for threats and insincerity. It will trigger the muscles to tighten and the heart rate to increase. Then either their mouths will spring into action to defend themselves or their brains will shut down in protection.

Brain Tip #4: Be clear about what you expect the other person to do with the information. Intention will not equal perception unless you make your request specific with clear deadlines if you have them.

Brain Tip #5: Check in on your feelings. The mirror neurons in people’s brains pick up on your feelings before you speak. If you are feeling fear, anger, irritation, frustration, or any type of stress, you will pass that emotion on to your listener and they will hear your words through that filter. Before you speak, choose the emotion you want to project and sink it into your body. Set the tone, then hold it there.


“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” -Carl W. Buechner

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