Are Your Employees Listening to What You’re Saying? Look for These 7 Signs to Find Out!

You and your business are only as good as your employees. Quality workers who come in every single day, put in a solid shift and stay productive are the lifeblood of a healthy company. However, what happens if they are not putting in solid shifts? What happens if you, as the boss, ask them to do something and they refuse? Or perhaps whatever you tell them goes one ear and out the other? All of this has the possibility to not only drag down production, but it may lead to additional problems with employees. Knowing whether your employees are listening to what you have to say is difficult, which is why you need to keep your eyes open for these seven signs.

1. Take a Look at Yourself

Yes, this is about whether your employees are listening. However, one of the best ways to determine what your employees are doing is to look at yourself. Many problems within the workplace stem from management and you, the boss. Take a step back and consider whether you’re actually listening to what your workers have to say. Do you give them the opportunity to speak their mind or share their suggestions? If your employees never have the chance to say anything, or if they do tell you something and you don’t pay it any mind, your employees will do the exactly what you’re doing to them. Yes, you are the boss and they should do as you say. However, if they don't feel respected or feel like what they have to say is important, it's going to lead to disgruntled workers. A disgruntled worker cares less about what they do on the job, and they also become less likely to listen. Before pointing fingers at workers that you assume are not taking in what you have to say, consider first whether you are taking in what your employees have to say.

To go along with not listening, consider how you give instructions. Are you making it all about you, or are you making it about your employees? You are the head of the company, yes, but it is a team effort. A team isn’t about one, single player. It doesn’t matter how great, valuable or important that person is, every other team member needs to carry his or her weight. So, don’t make it all about you. Make it about everyone within your company. This helps your employees feel appreciated. It also helps maintain their attention and ensures they listen to what you have to say.

2. Watch Their Face

One of the best ways to determine if someone is listening is when you’re talking to them. During a meeting, conference room gathering or a one on one conversation, there are ways to determine if your employee is listening to you or not. First, look at their eyes. Eye contact is important, but are their eyes fixed? Maintaining direct eye contact is challenging, so people will look away every few seconds. If you think about it, you do the same. You don’t just look into someone’s eyes non-stop for an entire conversation, which becomes a bit awkward. You look around and shift your gaze from time to time. If you’re in a room with your employees and you notice someone’s eye contact is too fixed, it means they are either daydreaming or they are not making eye contact, but instead looking at something close to your eyes (forehead, eyebrows, or anything else).

Perhaps they are not comfortable with eye contact. That happens. Some people are not comfortable with eye contact. However, combine fixed contact with still heads and it could indicate they are not engaged. A real conversation, even in a group setting, is relaxed. Stiff heads and fixed eye contact is tense and demonstrates they likely are not taking in everything you have to say.

3. Watch Their Hands (and Feet)

The human body demonstrates emotion and ideas through body language before verbally responding. This is because it takes time for the brain to mentally process the information and generate an audible response to it. It is eyebrows raise from surprise, arms cross when upset and feeling closed off, shoulders move, and weight is shifted, all based on a physical response to what is said. While what you are telling employees likely is not earth shattering or life changing, there should be some sort of demonstrated physical response. Everyone responds differently, so gauging the level of physical response is difficult (and should be left up to behavioral specialists). However, if someone is tapping their fingers or fidgeting, it is a good sign they are not listening to you.

What should you watch for with their hands? Are they tapping their hands against their legs, clicking on a pen, drawing randomly or checking their phone? Checking their phone is a bit more obvious, as it shows they blatantly aren’t listening to you. However, the other hand movements demonstrate a physical impatience. The body knows something is being said but if it isn’t paying attention it doesn’t know how to process the information and transform it into an adequate response. Tapping, fidgeting, doodling or really doing anything else with hands shows they are not paying attention mentally, otherwise their bodies would respond in a different way (and just another reason you shouldn’t have those clicky pens in a conference room).

Some people don't fidget with their hands, but with their feet. Perhaps they tap their foot as if moving to the beat of a fast song. They might constantly shift in their seat or play with their hair. Some of these are nervous ticks they might do without knowing it (such as playing with hair). Just be aware of a person's bodily movements. If their movements are not in sync with the information you're providing, it may be because they are zoning out and not paying attention.

4. Ask Questions

One of the very best ways to determine whether or not someone is listening to you is to simply ask follow up questions based on what you were saying. As a leader, don’t just give the standard “any questions” question. This doesn’t really do much. The employees may want to get back to work and, even if they have questions, put it off to return to their job (or what they were doing before the called meeting). Ask very specific questions based on what you said.

Asking specific questions will do a few different things for you. For starters, it helps point out who may or may not have been listening. Second, if employees become accustomed to you asking questions about meetings and instructions, they will pay closer attention to what you said. Consider back when you were in school. You probably had a teacher who would randomly call on students and ask questions based on what they were talking about. Chances are, you were more likely to pay attention in these classes than to other teachers who didn’t ask questions of the class. You’ll keep your employees on their toes while ensuring they listen to what you have to say if you engage them with questions.

5. Consider Your Own Feelings After a Conversation

You bring an employee in for a one on one, or maybe you hold a small group discussion. At the end of the meeting or conversation, consider how you feel. Do you feel things went well, or do you have a less than satisfied feeling? If you have a less than positive feeling following a conversation with an employee, there’s a good reason for it. The human brain is great at picking up subtle hints and emotions from others we communicate with. Even if the brain doesn’t know how to process it completely, it can leave you with an unsatisfied feeling. Some might call this instinct while others might just say, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” So, if there is a strange, un-fulfilled feeling after your conversation or meeting, process it and then monitor what you and your employee(s) discussed closely. This should provide you with the answers as to whether what you had to say is considered, or brushed aside.

6. Distractions, Distractions, Distractions

What you have to say will not always be the most exciting thing in the world. As a boss, it's your responsibility to focus on every aspect of the business. Not everyone will find finances enthralling. Others may not really care why keeping a certain area of the workspace clean is important. Or they may simply not understand what it's a big deal. Everyone comes into your work with his or her own thought process and interest. You can't force everyone to have the same interests as you. However, you can help avoid dwindling attention spans by removing distractions from your conversations.

For starters, if you need to talk with more than one person, do it away from a computer. If you give a pep talk or hold a discussion with employees while they are at workstations, they may have their emails open, smartphones handy or photographs of their vacation in Barbados up on their desk. Each and every one of these items is a distraction and may cut down on their attention spans. So, hold these discussions in a conference room or away from these distractions.

In an episode of the television show The Office, Regional Manager Michael Scott held a meeting in the conference room. A television in the conference room displayed a bouncing icon screen saver. While he talked, his employees paid attention to the bouncing icon, to see if it would hit the exact corner of the screen. It illustrates a small, yet big problem with distractions. Just about anything can be a distraction. Movement, especially, is distracting when attempting to talk with employees. So be mindful of your surroundings and try to eliminate as many distractions as possible.

7. Suspicious? Toss in Something Unrelated

Let’s say you’re suspicious an employee isn’t listening to you. You might be in the middle of a conversation, or perhaps it’s just the way they carry themselves around you whenever you talk. One of the best ways to determine if someone is listening or not is to toss in something completely unrelated to your conversation. Add something about your favorite restaurant. Or what you would do as a kid. Maybe bring up vacation spots or anything else. If the person's body language doesn't change to the sudden shift in conversation points, it means they are not engaged with what you've been saying. This little trick may just catch them red-handed with not listening.

It is extremely important for your employees to listen to what you have to say. However, you can’t always just ask, “Are you listening?” as it comes off a bit childish, especially if you’re in a group setting where there are employees paying attention. So, consider these seven indicators and tips. By mastering these helpful tricks you’ll almost always know who’s paying attention and who isn’t, all while discovering a few ways to cut down on distractions and improve worker focus on what it is you have to say.

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Written by Mike Williams

I am a serial entrepreneur with more than 20 years of business experience. My goal with this blog is to pass on some of what I have learned in order to help you achieve success in business.

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