Managing Employees That Don’t Listen

Person sitting on a coach.

Tips To Manage Employees That Don’t Listen

It’s challenging when an employee doesn’t listen and follow instructions. Your emotions are flaring, and you are wondering what the problem is. I know most of the time, we point the finger at the employee. However, there can be several circumstances, and in this article, we’ll go over some you can consider. Let’s start by looking at the character traits of a poor listener.

4 Character Traits for Someone Who Doesn’t Listen

Conversation Interrupters

People who constantly interrupt during a conversation are considered poor listeners. Their thought process could be something like; you need to listen to what I have to say because it’s more valuable than what’s being said.

When focused on what you want to say, there’s no way you can effectively listen. So even though you hear the words, you’re not focused on the message.

Close-Minded Individuals

People who aren’t open to ideas from others are poor listeners. In their thinking is along the lines of, it’s my way or nothing. So they’re not open to what someone else has to contribute.

It isn’t easy to try to get close-minded people to listen to an idea or your point of view; their mind is already set before the conversation started.

Conversation Hijackers

I’m sure you’ve come across conversations when you’re telling a story, and you’re cut off by someone who takes over the conversation and relates a similar experience. Your story has been hijacked, and it’s no longer your story. Now you’re listening to a similar story but coming from someone else.

People Who Easily Get Distracted

People who focus on other things while others are talking are considered poor listeners. For example, you’re speaking to someone about a certain topic. However, they’re focused on their phone. As a result, they are not interested enough to stay focused on what you have to say. Likewise, you’re probably not interested in continuing the conversation because the person is distracted.


Define Your End Goal

It’s important to define the outcome when dealing with an employee who doesn’t listen to you.

Some end goals could be as follows:

  • Do you want to make an example and make a stand?
  • Do you want to send a message to your other employees that you’re in charge?
  • Do you want to set standards?
  • Do you want a solution that works for everyone?

When you set a goal, you can achieve it because you know what you want. However, without considering the outcome, you end up with vague results.

How To Deal With Someone Who Doesn’t Listen – Problems and Solutions

Understanding is the key to finding a solution. So let go of emotions and try and find the root cause of the problem.

The problem might be you, your employee, other circumstances, or a combination of all three.

Let’s get started with the areas to look at:

Are You Speaking Clearly?

It could be the employee doesn’t understand your instructions and therefore can’t follow them.

If you have worked with an employee for a long time, they can understand what you want without much effort. However, if your employee is new, they may not understand what you want.

It’s your responsibility to speak clearly and make sure they understood. Look for signs, such as a nod of the head, a smile, a verbal such as; “Got it,” etc. You can also ask them to repeat the instructions.

If they repeat the directions in their own words, then they understood. If not, go over the instructions again, give them time to write them down, or even better, give them a printout of what you want.

Are You Intimidating?

It could be that you’re coming off as intimidating. As you’re giving instructions, they aren’t focused on what you’re saying but looking for a way to get away from you.

Have you ever had a boss where you could be yourself and say what’s on your mind without watching your step? I had a boss like that for a while. He would always speak in a loud and demanding voice.

One time my boss was giving directions to the team on a delicate issue. After the meeting, he looked at me and said, what’s wrong with them? Don’t they get it? I said it’s not the group didn’t understand. They were terrified of you. They weren’t focused on your instructions. Instead, they were focused on how to get away from the situation.

He just had a blank look on his face and said, really? So I looked at him and replied, yes, really!

You may not be doing this intentionally, but your body language may say otherwise.

If you come right up to them and start rattling off instructions, they may find you intimidating.

Once, HR talked about me and said, Acey is the nicest guy in the department. He only seems intimidating, but he’s not.

Moving forward, I started to smile more and work on my people skills.

Even though I’m a serious person, I don’t mean to be intimidating. In my book, scaring people is not a good management tactic. The farthest I would go about scare tactics is helping the employee realize the consequences and decide what they want to do.

Are You Rushing When Giving Instructions:

When you give instructions, do you rush through them? It is easy for you to go through it quickly, but the person listening can miss an important point if you’re rushing.

You have to give that extra minute or two to verify if the employee understood.

Are You Giving Too Much Information?

Could it be that you’re giving too much information at once? Information overload makes people shut down. Are you giving them a chance to write down the instructions? Or even better, provide them with a printout.

For example:

Hi Jack,

How’s it going today?

I need you to take care of something for me. I was hoping you could go to the stock room and find all the packages with supplier code AXJT2021.

There should be seven of them. Can you place them on a skid, shrinkwrap them and ship it back to the supplier?

Print Attention: Jack Culligan, on a sheet of paper, tape it to the top of the skid. I need it completed by 3:00 PM. Please send me an email with the tracking number once the skid is sent.

I have all the details here on this sheet of paper. Do you have time?

As you can see, the above has a lot of detail that an employee can miss. Providing instructions or allowing the employee to write down your instructions is a good way to reduce errors.

When it comes to important matters, I prefer sending out an email to a team member and verifying in person or on the phone if there were any questions.

Is It Your Way or the Highway?

Are you allowing an employee to give you feedback, or are you firm with your decisions?

If you don’t listen to what they have to say, your instructions may not be carried out as expected.

It’s good for someone to be firm in their decision-making. After all, you don’t want to waver every time your given advice. However, getting other people’s input is something you can benefit from before a decision is made.

Does Your Request Make Sense? Is It Doable?

Have you considered if your request is something that one could find difficult to achieve? For example, is it simple for the employee that’s not listening?

Sometimes you’re asking for something that an employee can’t handle. It may be part of their job duty or outside their skill set. Suppose it’s within their job duties and they can’t perform. In that case, that’s something you’ll need to look into, whether that’s moving them to a different position, retraining, or other methods.

On the other hand, if it’s outside their skill set, then it’s not fair that you make them do something they can’t.

Does Your Employee Not Care?

Some employees don’t care about their job or what you tell them. They are there to put in the hours and do the bare minimum. It isn’t easy to get someone to do something when they don’t care for their job.

In a situation like this, you have to look at the character traits of that person.

I have had jobs I didn’t like. You may have been in jobs you hated as well. Even though I didn’t like the job, I did my work, and when the opportunity came up, I moved on. If your employee doesn’t like the job and isn’t listening, then there is not much you can do, and do you want them as an employee, or is it better to part ways?

More in the next tip.

Is The Problem The Job position?

In addition to the above, your employee may not like or be a good fit for their position, which could be the problem for not listening and underperforming.

If you think the employee could be a better fit in another position, it’s worth a try.

Does Your Employee Thing They Know Better

Sometimes the reason an employee won’t listen could be because they think they know more than you. It’s irritating, but at the same time, it’s an opportunity to determine if they may have a few good ideas. You could get their point of view.

An example may be similar to the following:

Jack, I noticed you aren’t following my instructions. Do you have a better way of doing this? If so, I would be happy to listen.

If they say yes, then take some time to listen. If it’s a better plan, then consider it. If not, let your employee know why it won’t work.

If they say no, I don’t, then you would say then what’s the problem and go from there.

Cheat Sheet for Managing Someone Who Doesn’t Listen

Step 1.

Make sure they understand.

Step 2.

Monitor the results.

Step 3.

If it’s resolved, then you’re done. Note the process so you can use it in the future. If the problem persists, go to step 4.

Step 4.

Try the understanding step one more time. Say I want to help you to understand what I need from you. Calmly explain what you want again. Now ask the employee to repeat the instructions. Tell them why it’s important they follow you’re direction.

Step 5.

Monitor the results.

Step 6.

If it’s resolved, then you’re done – And note the process so you can use it in the future. However, if the problem persists, go to step 7.

Step 7.

Does the employee have a better way of doing something? Ask them how they would handle the process. If it makes sense, then it’s something to consider. If not, tell them why.

Step 8.

Monitor the results

Step 9.

If it’s resolved, then you’re done – And note the process so you can use it in the future. However, if the problem persists, go to step 10.

Step 10.

Look at The Job

Maybe they are not a good fit for this job. Could this employee do better in doing something else? If something is available, it’s worth a try. If another position isn’t available, go to step 13.

Step 11.

Monitor the results

Step 12.

If it’s resolved, then you’re done – And note the process so you can use it in the future. However, if the problem persists, go to step 13

Step 13.

If your employee doesn’t care enough about their job or follows the chain of command, your solution could be disciplinary action. When the disciplinary action is repeated, it may be best to terminate them.


Well, there you have, my views on dealing with employees that don’t listen.

One of your main tactics is to use clear communication and keep your emotions in check, which can be challenging with an employee who doesn’t follow instructions.