How To Talk So People Actually Listen To You

Ever get the feeling you may as well
be speaking a foreign language? Contributions unerringly shot down in meetings? Husband afflicted by a
mystifying case of selective deafness? Learn how to talk so that people not only listen to you, but pay attention.

1. Amplification, amplification, amplification…

When self-identified feminist Barack Obama took office, a hefty dose of unconscious bias was still at play in the upper echelons of power, according to his female aides. In a story which will sound depressingly familiar to those who have spent time in virtually any boardroom across the globe, Obama’s female advisors found that their suggestions were routinely ignored until repeated by a male colleague. Their solution? To band together, repeating their female colleagues’ suggestions, whilst giving credit to their coworker as the original source of the idea, until their contributions were acknowledged, in a process they termed ‘amplification’. Help your colleagues to gain recognition for their ideas and, not only will they be more likely to offer a helping hand in return, but you’ll have taken a step towards stamping out bias in the workplace.

2. Be willing to use the magic word

According to Professor Elizabeth
Stokoe, who has analysed hundreds of hours’ worth of audio and video
of conversations ‘in the wild’ and taught a rapt audience of Latitude
festival-goers ‘how to talk so people listen’ earlier this year, a
single word could make all the difference. Here are our top 7 tips on
talking so that people actually listen to you.conversations run on metaphorical ‘race-tracks’.
What does that mean? That the wrong word choice can derail them
entirely. For example, a cold-caller who asks their victim if they are
‘willing’ to try their services tends to receive a positive
response. If, on the other hand, they ask the person whether they are
‘interested’, they’ll almost undoubtedly be met with a ‘no’. But this
phenomenon isn’t confined to interactions with double glazing sellers,
according to Stokoe: “There’s something about
that ‘will’ that works,” she says, because an affirmative response says
“something about the type of person” that the respondent wants to be.
So… “Will you do the washing up tonight, darling?”

3. Take it inch by inch

Trying to convince somebody not to do something is one of the
trickier conversations to handle successfully. In her analysis of
suicide prevention negotiations, Stokoe found that a softly softly
approach worked best (“But it doesn’t need to happen now,
does it?”). The idea is to talk the other person down a ‘spiral’,
gradually decreasing the intensity with which they cling to their
intention. This technique may take a bit of patience to master but, once
you’ve honed the skills required to (metaphorically)
prise that phone/golf club/car key out of his hands at will, you’ll be
thankful you did.

4. Talk process, not ethos

Stokoe found that straightforward, functional explanations of services
were better received than more idealistic propositions. So if you’re
trying to convince hubs that you both deserve a week in the Caribbean,
it might be worth bypassing the ‘paradise’ rhetoric
and getting straight onto flight times and all-inclusive extras.

5. Yawn more

What you say may be more important than how you say it, but, as we all
know, a monotone drone or high-pitched whine can turn off the most avid
of listeners. Varying your tone and maintaining an open, tension-free
throat creates a more attractive sound. If you
want to stop your listener drifting off, voice coach Patsy Rodenburg
suggests having a little yawn yourself (preferably beforehand, and in
private) to release the tension which can give your voice a ‘negative’

6. Be brief, specific and positive

If you want someone to do something, get to the point – quickly, clearly
and amicably – don’t bury the point in a pile of accusations, apologies
or general waffle. And remember, concrete requests beat subtle hints
and sly digs for results hands down.

7. Own your feelings

Expecting friends and partners to be mind-readers is unrealistic and
adds unnecessary pressure to your interactions with them. So do spell
your feelings out, but don’t give the other person responsibility for
them. “You always make me feel unimportant” will
automatically elicit a negative, defensive response – “I feel
unimportant when…” is far less confrontational.

8. Show understanding

As important as it is to express your own feelings, respecting those of
the person you are talking to is equally key. Try to show that you
understand (or are willing to understand) their point of view, that you
accept responsibility for any part you have played,
and that you are willing to work with them and make concessions to
help. So you could try, “I know you don’t like going downstairs to put
your dirty towel in the washing machine after a shower, so I’ve put a
laundry basket in the bathroom to make things easier…”

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