3 reasons why people tune you out—and what to do to be heard

If you’re frustrated that your message isn’t getting through, you should ask yourself if you’re guilty of one of these common things.

3 reasons why people tune you out—and what to do to be heard
[Image: Mingirov/iStock]

If you think you’re not being heard, the natural reaction can be to keep talking. But the more you say, the more likely it is that people will tune you out, says Joe McCormack, author of Noise: Living and Leading When Nobody Can Focus.


Part of the problem is that many workplaces are filled with noise, such as emails, texts, meetings, notifications, and more. It’s an uphill battle for any message to get through.

“Noise is an issue of information overload,” says McCormack. “When we try to hear everything, we hear nothing. It’s one of the big implications why we’re being tuned out.”

But noise is just one of the problems. It could be your content or delivery. To get through, McCormack suggests asking yourself if you’re guilty of one of these three things:

  1. You’re not giving them a reason to listen. You jump in and talk about your ideas without answering their question: What’s in it for me?
  2. You’re long-winded. You have a hard time getting to the point, or you don’t know when to stop. As a result, people avoid you and delete your emails. This has the potential to stunt your career growth.
  3. You’re talking at them. You need to talk with them. Lectures and monologues don’t capture a listener’s attention. No one likes one-sided conversations for very long.

Once you recognize your faults, adjust your communication style to connect with your listener.

Know your audience

People want to listen, and information consumption is increasing, says McCormack. “People are waking up and their phone is the first thing they check,” he says. “They’re online all the time, afraid of missing out. What ends up happening is that they go up and down the dial, but never stop and listen. When someone is skimming, they’re only going an inch deep and a mile wide.”


Understand your audience and tailor your message directly to them, says McCormack. It will give them a reason to stop and tune in if they realize what you’re saying is relevant and important for them to hear.

Do your homework

Before you open your mouth, assemble your thoughts and create a plan for what you’re going to say. It can help to write down one or two important points and stick to those.

“Most people don’t prepare; they just start talking,” says McCormack. “They don’t give thought to what they’re saying, why it’s important, and how it affects somebody.”

Beware of overexplaining

Don’t overpack your message with excess details that aren’t important to your message and the action you want after you share it. You steal real estate from the vital details, and it all starts to sound the same, says McCormack.

Omit needless words that sap someone’s attention, cut the jargon, and say what you mean, says McCormack. “Let’s call a moratorium on phrases like ‘strategically leverage platforms to scale growth’ or ‘turnkey solutions to optimize enterprise impact,'” he says. “These words are meaningless and cause a listener’s eyes to glaze over.”


Speak in headlines

Lead with your most important idea; the shorter the better, says McCormack.

“Most people force their listeners to search for the point,” he says. “Think like a journalist, and give them a headline. If you need to give someone an update, for example, what’s the point? Then get to it. Don’t assume they’re going to pay attention long enough to figure it out.”

Our instinct is to keep talking when you feel that others are tuning out, but it creates a cycle that increases your risk of not being heard, says McCormack. “When you’re difficult to talk to, people don’t want to talk to you,” he says. “It contributes to avoidance. You can get a reputation of being complicated or difficult to follow.”

When you’re brief and purposeful, however, you make it easy for someone to pay attention and listen.

“It’s the difference between giving someone a bicycle that’s already assembled or one that’s in a box,” says McCormack. “Both are gifts, but one is easy to ride and the other has to be built. When you make your words easy to hear, the irony is that they’ll want you to stay longer and talk more.”