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6 ways to get people to listen to you

Know your audience, build your credibility, use empathy, stay strategically silent, and other essential ways to make sure that you get your message across.

6 ways to get people to listen to you
[Photo: Cameravit/iStock]

For more than a decade, communications executive Stephine Poston has been advising clients on how to break through the noise of the news cycle and get their messages heard. As founder and CEO of a boutique communications firm specializing in marketing for Native American entities, Poston has worked with a range of clients, from the Navajo Nation Water Rights Commission to the National Indian Gaming Association. She’s based out of the Pueblo of Sandia Reservation in New Mexico, and whether she’s focused on broadcasting strides in water protection or spreading the word about the historic election of two Native American women to Congress, the battle for visibility is often uphill.

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“We’ve got to show up 10 times stronger than anybody else. It’s exhausting, but it’s where we’re at right now,” she says in reference to the ways indigenous communities have been misrepresented, overlooked, and erased throughout history.

The good news? Poston has learned that getting through to others is often more about how you express your thoughts than how loudly.

Be it an organization championing a campaign, or an individual pitching an idea in a meeting, here are five effective communication strategies Poston recommends using to get your voice heard.

1. Always show up and be ready to pitch

Failing to show up is one of the easiest ways to perpetuate the feeling of being ignored, says Poston. Simple as it may sound, getting people to listen to you begins with being present–both physically and mentally–at the table alongside those you’re looking to reach. Poston encourages building your credibility through your continued presence and thoughtful participation in environments where you want to make sure you’re being heard. That means getting relevant meetings on your calendar and preparing beforehand.

Assume that your audience is busy, your window to get through to them is narrow, and then make it your homework to optimize their time, she says. If you are hoping to raise a specific challenge to colleagues in a live meeting, for example, arrive with a few concrete ideas around potential solutions you’re ready to propose as well. Your presence and preparedness will help demonstrate that you are reliable, respectful, and open to listening, which should in turn make others more likely to listen to you.

2. Hone your EQ

Even when your end goal is to get through to others, start by thinking about what the people you’re trying to reach value. A little investment in your emotional intelligence (or EQ) can go a long way in helping you focus your communication.

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Ask yourself: How would the audience I’m trying to reach want this framed? What have they been responsive to in the past?

By expressing yourself with empathy in mind, you’ll likely get a better response than if you solely focus on getting others to see where you’re coming from. Poston also recommends being attuned to your interpersonal skills and leveraging the power of kindness. “Being kind and courteous across the board is such a powerful vibe,” she says.

Show people you appreciate them. She has seen the fruits of genuine kindness and expressions of gratitude in the context of running workshops for clients. Just by expressing that she’s coming from a space of gratitude and thanking people for participating, she sees people’s willingness to listen go up.

3. Know your weaknesses

To lessen the barriers to being heard, self awareness is key. As you practice meeting others where they are, Poston says it’s equally important to be willing to look in the mirror and work on addressing your weaknesses. As you prepare to present to a group or have an important conversation with your boss, identify your own ticks or tendencies that may prevent your audience from seeing you as you wish to be seen. For Poston, that means acknowledging that she has a tendency to speak too quickly, which can make it difficult for others to follow. “When you start going there, catch yourself,” she says. “Ask: Is the content I’m presenting and the way I’m presenting it intentional and purposeful? And does it move the needle forward for the work ahead?”

4. Use silence as a strategy

Making good use of your audience’s time doesn’t have to mean filling every moment of face time with dialogue. Poston urges everyone to make a habit of “throwing in a ‘think’ before you speak.” A good rule of thumb in meetings: Pause after you share a complete thought. That’ll give you a chance to read the room, hear reactions, and focus on being mindful and purposeful. “It’s always a good time to take a couple of deep breaths. That does so much for the body,” says Poston, adding that it’s rare that something’s so urgent that you have to speak without first taking a moment to think. That pause can also help you avoid reacting impulsively or emotionally.

When you’re frustrated, use a pause as an opportunity to remind yourself what will actually be most helpful. “You don’t want to be the person who goes from zero to 100 over something really small,” says Poston. “Wouldn’t you rather hear out and accommodate a colleague who is calm, collected, and thoughtful than someone who’s impulsive and unaware?” Wait until you’ve reconnected with what you want to communicate before breaking that silence.

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5. Follow up and through

It’s important to be reliable and follow through on any action items you’ve committed to, but especially if you’ve felt ignored or overlooked. Poston says it’s equally valuable to tactfully let those you’re trying to get in front of know you’ve done so.

If, after a meeting with your boss where you said you would reach out to XYZ colleague post-meeting, make sure  you do so, and let your boss know it has been done. “No need to write a lengthy book on it–just a quick two lines relaying the action and the result,” Poston says. Before sending updates, ask yourself: Is my communication intentional and purposeful? Does it move the needle forward for the work ahead?

6. If you aren’t able to move forward, consider moving on

Finally, Poston encourages people to have faith in their individual gifts, talents, and skill sets. When you come from that space and you express yourself with the above in mind, she has found that people are often willing to listen. However, if you feel you’re consistently crushing it and taking thoughtful steps to make your voice heard, yet still aren’t garnering the visibility you deserve, Poston advises that you pull back and review your options. “If you’ve tried and tried and it just doesn’t seem possible to be seen for your worth in your current environment, remind yourself that this is not the only dance,” she says. “You have the wherewithal, skills, and passion to go to a space where you’re celebrated and your voice is respected. Having that faith allows you to operate out of confidence, versus fear. That’s when your impact goes up.”

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