Don’t you hate it when people don’t listen. You tell them something, something you think is important, and a few days later they’ve forgotten.
A CFO complained to me last week that no-one seemed to hear her warnings of not hitting forecasts. In fact, they acted surprised when the numbers were missed, as if it came completely out of the blue.
This is the challenge for the financial professional. You have the data. You’ve drawn some conclusions about what is happening. You even have clear ideas about the actions that need to be taken. But it’s hard to get people to listen.
There are five general barriers to be overcome:
- Attention – people are busy, they need to get on with their own things, so their ability to stop and take on board new information is limited.
- Context – what’s happening around us has a big impact on how we receive information at any point in time. Come to me with ideas for investing to improve long-run EBITDA when my unit made a big loss month and I’ll hear and react to the suggestion differently than if I’ve just turned in three solid months on target. People under pressure can absorb only a fraction of the information of those that aren’t.
- Belief – everyone has a set of beliefs that affects their perception of what you have to tell them. If someone believes that IT improvements never deliver the savings they promise, then that’s their starting position when you bring the proposal for the new expenses system to the Board.
- Ease – taking on board new information or ideas takes mental effort. The more effort it is to understand what you are saying, the less likely it is that people will absorb and retain it. Not surprisingly, people understand messages better if they are put across more clearly! Investing in the design of reports and presentations means your audience will more easily work out what you are telling them.
- Trust – people will listen more if they trust you. They will tend to trust you more if they like you. And if you keep your promises. And if you help them with their problems.
So five barriers to overcome.
Where to start? Try some ‘people watching’. Take some time to understand the people you are trying to influence. What are their beliefs, how will current events be affecting their thinking, how easy do they seem to find it to work with numbers? Look around your colleagues/bosses/staff and think about how they see the world. You already know they are a diverse bunch, but spend a few days trying to spot what makes them tick when it comes to hearing your ideas.
Make the effort to understand a bit better who you are talking to and you’ll find they end up listening a bit better.