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They're Not Listening to You


This completes thoughts expressed in a post September 24, 2010 at JimMillikenProject.blogspot.com

  Those who didn't start it are the only ones who can finish it. That's communication. The effectiveness of any communication transaction is totally determined by the receiver.

  You can say what you want as frequently as you want, as loudly as you can. If they don't hear it, understand it, accept it, buy it . . . it has failed. If I've told you a thousand times and you still aren't doing what I want you to do - who's at fault? Well, I am. I, the sender, haven't gotten through.

  I initiated this matter by attempting to convince you to pay attention and do something you would not otherwise do. This establishes the character of conversation as a persuasion event - a sales pitch. Whoever makes the first move in conversation does so with the intent of getting the attention of the intended receiver and motivating that person to do something, know something, believe something.

  That's the essential question in communication. Why should they respond as desired?

  Go to the case of the project manager whose repeated attempts to get problems solved by his manager go nowhere. He makes frequent, urgent representations. The manager patiently waits out the meeting, the project manager returns to the job . . . and nothing happens.

  Why doesn't it work? This communication transaction fails because the project manager doesn't understand he is engaged in a sales attempt. People buy only objects of value to them. I don't buy something because the salesperson values it greatly. I buy it because the value I place on it is appropriate to the price you're asking me to pay. You, the proposer, need to learn my value system well enough to convince me that this item is worth the price. In my terms.

  In the case of the project manager, the initiator of the multiple conversations presented the issues to his manager in project manager terms, not manager terms. When the first try or two don't work, the salesperson needs to tune up the process and improve the product. Our guy didn't. So, actually, each succeeding attempt only deepened his boss' conviction that nothing needed to be done.

  You're asking the manager to change processes, reallocate resources, cause discomfort to people. That costs the manager. If he is going to pay the price, what management value does he see in doing so?

  You, the project manager, must know your manager well enough to understand which values of that person are in play in the situation. Certainly, keeping you happy is a value to your manager. However, the early history of this matter has shown that your first arguments didn't move the manager. Then, when he saw that you would continue working well if he did nothing . . . why should he do something?

  Now you must think through -- or find out -- which other values of your manager are in play. What, in the situations that bother the project manager, are the factors that matter to his boss? Those factors must be researched, then presented persuasively so the manager sees -- in his own terms -- reason to act.

  Now THAT'S communication.


Organizations need frequent tune-ups to maintain effective workflow amid change. Jim has long experience – plus creative tools -- to help executives analyze their organizations, then design and implement better ways.
Project Management is the 21st-century model for managing complex, risky innovations to on-time outcomes within budget. Jim Milliken offers workplace-tested designs in customized formats for onsite implementation and classroom training.
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