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Why People Don’t Do What You Say

By Randy Hall

Last updated: August 5, 2022

Why people don't listen to what you say

Sometimes, we forget how much influence leaders have. And as leaders, we often leave much of that influence completely unused. It’s easy to get so focused on the outcome we want, that we miss the opportunity to help our employees make changes that are best for them and the practice.

Are you communicating in a way that increases commitment, or just expecting it to happen in spite of you?

Consider every meeting we lead, conversation we have, and interaction in which we are involved. Those events will either have a positive impact, a negative impact, or no impact on the others involved. Every exposure to us ends in one of those three possibilities. How we choose to have our conversations largely determines which one of those outcomes happen. Have you ever delivered a message that actually has no impact or even a negative impact on others?

Great leaders focus on the impact they have from the other person’s point of view, not their own. We are intensely focused on what we want to say. This is natural, especially if we are the one initiating the conversation. We may have been thinking about all the stuff our employee was messing up for days or even weeks. What we are less focused on is how we help them think differently, draw a different conclusion, or consider an alternative solution. We also miss the opportunity to learn something about why they are choosing their current set of actions.

Telling People What to Do Won't Create Lasting Change

Telling people what to do doesn't help

As I work with leaders, I consciously listen for phrases that change conversations and help leaders communicate and lead differently. One of the most destructive phrases I hear during a coaching session is, “you need to. . .” This phrase focuses solely on the communicator’s wants. Recently I heard, “you need to be more responsible” or “you need to find a way to get it done.” When was the last time any of us changed behavior because someone else thought we needed to? How often does someone else telling us that we need to change positively impact our commitment to that change?

Some bosses think because they have the job and the title, people should simply do what they say. It’s a nice fantasy. However, people ultimately decide what they are going to do based on their own beliefs about what they should do. It’s far too simplistic to believe that, as a boss, we can alter their convictions simply by flexing our authority.

When working with managers I often hear, “Why won’t they just do what I tell them to?” If they did, would we really want them in our practice? That would mean we hired people who couldn’t think for themselves, weren’t accountable, and were content to let all responsibility lie squarely on their manager. Unless you are truly smart enough to have all of the answers, that’s a recipe for disaster. Even though I’ve met many managers who believe they are infallible, I’ve yet to meet one who actually is.

Your Interactions and Communications Make a Difference

The way you communicate, the questions you ask, and the collaboration you cause is the source of your influence. It’s the way you help people get better at what they do. And that’s far more important than having them do what you say. Despite the fact that many managers work on expanding their control, influence is what really matters. People leave interactions with you either positively or negatively influenced. The choice on how they leave, and to some degree what they do next, is yours.

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