How to get people to listen to you and be heard

How to get people to listen to you and be heard

by Jacquie Wise

What’s worse than being on the wrong side of an argument?  Being on the right side with nobody listening.

What does it take to get people to listen to you?  What turns them off?

These pointers should help you be heard and have your views respected.

In a business context, you’re probably often using persuasion techniques when dealing with clients or colleagues.  But how good are you when it comes to personal issues?

The trouble starts when the suggestion we put forward is limited to our own perspective.  So we argue, each yelling louder, trying to convince the other person to accept our viewpoint, often without giving them the courtesy of listening to theirs and at least making an effort to meet their needs.

We respond to anyone who helps us meet our needs and we resist anything or anyone that prevents us from satisfying those needs.  If, for example, we have a strong need for acceptance, we may avoid speaking our minds in confrontational situations.

Identify their ‘What’s-in-it-for-me’ (WIIFM)

See every persuasive argument you want to make as a sales pitch.  To get your listener to ‘buy-in’ to your argument, they need to see the benefits of agreeing to your proposal.

Find a way to present your case in terms that enable others to clearly identify the benefits they (not you!) perceive as important.

Most people are open to hearing the truth when it’s said in a way they can hear it.  People can’t hear you when you make them wrong by attacking the weak aspect of their argument.

If there is one thread of judgement, criticism, or denigration in what you say, they’re not going to hear you.  They’ll be too busy rehearsing a defence, if they can even think clearly through the mounting resentment against you.

When each person is making a judgement from his or her own frame of reference, there’s really nothing that could be called communication in any genuine sense.

Many years ago, I was involved in mediating between a couple in conflict, as their counsellor.  The husband was seeking a divorce.  The fact that his wife had married him only for his money had become painfully clear to him, which was one of the reasons why he wanted to end the relationship.

Her denial of the situation had led her to avoid taking part in any discussions that might have improved their relationship.  The husband was doing his very best to be fair in his dealings with her.  He wanted to involve her in discussions and ask about her preferences, rather than dictate his intentions to her.

She, on the other hand, didn’t want to know, and resorted to threats, blackmail, fits of fury and hysteria, and goodness knows what else… I had my job cut out for me.

At one point she’d left the discussion in sobs, intending to drive off.  Concerned about her safety, not to mention others on the road, I needed to a) stop her from driving off in this state, and b) get her back into the discussion so that they could move forward.

If I’d tried to reason with her with any of those arguments, or tried to appeal to a sense of fair play to which she couldn’t relate, I would have achieved nothing.

Her ‘what’s-in-it-for-me’ had always been money.  So I persuaded her to return on the basis that if she took part in the discussion, she would be better placed to have her say and perhaps gain more financially, than if things were decided without her presence.

She paused, the tears dried up as if turned off by a tap, and she quietly returned with me.  From then on, she was cool-headed and we were at least able to arrive at a conclusion that suited them both.

Your ability to communicate convincingly and persuasively will depend on your ability to address someone else’s priorities.

The principles that facilitate this process are simple, but applying them can be tricky if frustration is allowed to build to anger.

When an argument arises, whether between a couple or within a small group, the first step is to stop the discussion and make this rule:  Each person presents his or her view only after he or she has first restated the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker accurately and to that speaker’s satisfaction.  This is a good strategy for family discussions.

Each person needs to demonstrate they understand the other’s thoughts and feelings well enough to summarise them for that person.  Taking the trouble to do that can significantly alter your own position, or at the very least, it takes the emotional charge out of the discussion and allows you to discover exactly what it is you do disagree on.

Paraphrasing the message you’ve heard is the best way of clarifying that you’ve understood correctly, as well as encouraging the other person to clarify their own feelings and trust you enough to express them to you.

Here’s what it sounds like:

  • It seems to me that you feel …
  • As I understand it, you believe …
  • You mean it is important to you to/that …

Never assume!

Always double-check that you have the right impression, or that you have correctly guessed what the other person is thinking or feeling:

  • In other words, what you are saying is … is that right?

If there are fewer assumptions, there will be fewer misunderstandings, and less build-up of tension.

If you would like some one on one personal assistance with understanding how to identify someone ‘what’s-in-it-for-me’ or practice your paraphrasing, contact me to arrange a convenient time.


I’d love to know what you think of what I’ve said here.

You can give me your feedback, ask a question by email or post a comment below.

If you or someone you know would like a personal consultation, please call +61 3 9690 8159.

Take charge of your life with Jacquie Wise.

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2 thoughts on “How to get people to listen to you and be heard

  • Thanks for your feedback Grace, it is always nice to get positive reinforcement.

    Let me know if there is any particular topic you would like me to write on.

    Jacquie

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