Listening is such an important skill. Nothing worse than taking the time to offer constructive feedback only to have an employee ignore it or disregard it.

(No, actually, I enjoy talking to myself. I like the sound of my voice.)

Here are ways to manage people who aren’t picking up what you’re putting down.

Say it again, but in writing.

They say you need to say something important seven times and in seven different ways. The most efficient way to say something is to say it in writing from HR. When you are at the end of your rope, it’s time to call your local HR business partner and ask for some help. You don’t want to issue a legal brief, but you do want to light a fire.

Say it slowly.

In stressful situations, employees hear every third word if you’re lucky. It’s worse when adrenaline is high, and the shame spiral is in full effect. Your direct reports will hone in on negative words, fill in the blanks, and jump to crazy conclusions. When you speak, speak slowly and softly. Breathe. Help your employee hear you by using a deliberate, contemplative tone.

Say it differently.

Here’s a crazy idea. Avoid sports metaphors, buzzwords, and conclude your conversation by saying, “At the end of the day.” At the end of the day, you’re not clear. Want better outcomes? Choose your words wisely and avoid clichés that don’t motivate anybody.

Say less.

When I’m anxious, I get chatty. That’s when I lose power. It’s amazing how fewer words make all the difference. Drop the filler, be concise, and avoid babbling and explaining yourself. If you explain a decision, you undermine it.

Finally, hold your employees accountable for not listening.

I once watched a plant supervisor look a line operator in the eye and ask, “I know you hear me. You don’t seem to understand me. Are you stupid or slow? Which one?” I’m still not sure if I understand the difference between stupid and slow, but I guess there’s no right answer. You don’t have to insult your employees, but you can ask why someone is checked-the-hell out and not listening or accepting feedback.

Sometimes all you can do is wait for someone to quit. I’m not the first HR lady to suggest that turnover is good. At the end of the day, you have two choices with employees who aren’t listening: you can put up with it, or you can fire ’em.

Some people just won’t listen, and it’s just not worth the time to figure out if they are stupid or slow.


  1. Listening is indeed an important skill. And it shouldn’t be wasted on those who have nothing to say. Being the boss shouldn’t command attention on its own. You should earn the right to be heard, by being both clear and competent. Not insulting employees is sound advice – and that includes their intelligence…

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