The More You Push, The Less They Listen


Does it sometimes seem like the more you try to make a point, the harder it is to get across?

It can be so discouraging – when you’re trying your best to get others on board, and all that effort just seems to be doing the opposite. I’ve been there, and I know how it feels. Tiring, frustrating, and pretty confusing. But honestly, you’re not alone. “The More You Push, The Less They Listen” is a well-known phenomenon to communication specialists, and it’s even part of several established frameworks.

Here’s what it looks like, why it happens, and how you can deal with it.

Meet Lucy

Introducing Lucy, a very content-focused lady. She’s a manager who loves quantum physics. Quantum physics is her pet passion.

When Lucy is enthusiastic – let’s say a new experiment needs to be conducted – she becomes very talkative. When meeting with her equally-passionate physicist friends, the chatter is unstoppable. Details, opinions, and arguments fly around. They’ve all got the same passionate (quantum physics) interests, and all of them get energized from a solid in-depth discussion and so they’re all perfectly matched. 

BUT, at work, it doesn’t always go down so well. In some situations, Lucy finds it hard not to get stuck into very detailed, laser-focused discussions. Especially when she’s feeling pressured – if time is tight or if the stakes are high, for instance, Lucy simply can’t stop talking, arguing and convincing.

Needless to say, when she pushes so intensely, her colleagues often find their minds wandering…

So What? The Pitfalls

What can we see here?

The short answer: Lucy is losing contact with those around her. Wrapped up in explaining her hypotheses and all the nitty-gritty of her experiments, she often doesn’t notice. When she does notice that her teammates are no longer on the same page, she tries to reel them back in with more explanations and content.

It would be far better for Lucy if she could step back in these situations. It’s plain to see that from here, and now, but this can easily happen to anyone who’s somewhat of a stickler for details. Psychologist Timothy Leary first described this in his famous framework, Leary’s Rose, and we’ve integrated it into the Sphere of Influence 360:

When someone is overly focused on content, they trigger behaviors in those around them. Other people will either adopt a similar content-focus (like Lucy’s friends), or they’ll be pushed away (like her teammates).

How To Stop Pushing People Away

When you catch yourself falling into the same patterns as Lucy,’ here are two things you can do to get people back on board.

Let Go of the Content

The reason we’re often so reluctant to let go of details is that sometimes, it work. It helps to be clear. Being super knowledgeable is something that others appreciate, and it feels good when people see you as an expert. An excellent reason to show more detail-oriented behavior. But when you feel like you’re losing people, it is time to figuratively stepping back. To lay off the details and explanations. If you are not absorbed with your own story but still making your point, you automatically create space for other’s input.

Move Over to the Relationship Side

Besides stepping back we also encourage you to move over to the other side of the Sphere of Influence – the Relationship side, to be precise.

Try being more relationship-focused during your interaction instead, and focus on what other people have to say. Listen to them, ask them questions, explore how you can help by inviting them to contribute to the conversation. In Lucy’s case, she might try something like: “Ted, have you done a similar experiment before?” Or “What was your motivation for trying that technique?” If others feel like you’re also open to their thoughts and ideas, i.e. when you’re not making them feel like it’s “my way or the highway,” there’s a very good chance you’ll get back in contact with them.

What Do You Think?

I’m going to put Tip #1 into practice and wrap up here, but I’m curious to hear what you think. Do you ever find yourself over-explaining or giving others too much detail? Or perhaps you’ve been on the other side – zoning out while a colleague drones on and on about particulars? What was it like, and what tips do you have?

Nicolien Dellensen

Nicolien Dellensen, Senior Consultant and behavioral specialist and creator and owner of the ’Sphere of Influence 360º’ a comprehensive concept and (360) online tool about interactive dynamics.

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