Why People Don't Respond When You Talk to Them

why people don't respond when you talk to them.

Next time you’re on a plane, watch what happens when the flight attendant reviews the emergency procedures and safety information.

Answer? Not much.

Most people are tuned out, dozing, reading or otherwise distracted. I’ve always felt for flight attendants. I’m sure they realize most people aren’t listening. Some have even adopted the monotone of a person who is saying something for the thousandth time to a disengaged audience.

It’s not that the information isn’t important, it’s just that it doesn’t seem urgent. So people tune out. The likelihood of a crash is small, so why listen? Even though I’ve flown thousands of miles over the years and heard the warnings many times over, I’m not sure I would know exactly what to do in the event of a crash. I’m nit really listening either.


When urgency is low, so is the motivation to listen or respond.

Now imagine (I don’t want to worry nervous flyers…so you can stop reading or just remember that we’re imagining) the captain comes on mid-flight and says “Passengers, this is your captain speaking. I’m afraid we’re facing a critical situation. The flight attendant is going to review crash information with you. Fasten your seat belts, turn off all electronic devices, put your seat backs up and listen carefully.”

How carefully are you listening now? How quickly are you responding?

The only thing that’s changed is urgency. Somehow information that was of possible use at some point has become essential at this point – maybe even life-saving. You’re going to remember and act on every word you can.

Leadership is no different. You might be sharing what you think is critical information with your team or entire organization, but if there’s no urgency, the motivation to listen to and act on it is low. Very low.

That’s why effective leaders learn to establish a sense of urgency when they speak. While there are many factors that make up effective communication, leaders almost always communicate with a sense of urgency. Urgency creates a hearing. And urgency demands a response.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll look at three important strategies leaders use to create a sense of urgency. But in the meantime, ask yourself a critical question:

How deep is the sense of urgency when I communicate?

If the answer is ‘not very’, then don’t be surprised when people fail to respond.


  1. Patrick on October 25, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    Isn’t there a danger of overusing urgency? The “urgent” should stand out. If everything’s urgent, then nothing stands out (like everything in the news these days is “breaking” and “urgent”).

    I don’t think it’s the urgency expressed in the message that makes the captain’s speech heard, but the urgency of the situation and how important the information is for that situation. If there’s no “imminent crash landing”, then the response to the captain’s message will be no different than the response to the flight attendant’s. (Unless the captain SAYS there’s an emergency when there’s none only to create a sense of urgency, which is a completely different ball game).

    If the plane is going down and the flight attendants come with the same message, people will listen. If the plane is going down and the captain comes out and tells passengers about what’s on the menu, people will not listen because it’s not relevant.

    So, I think that more than conveying urgency, conveying relevant information with the appropriate level of urgency is key.

    Just my 2 cent’s worth.

    • Carey on October 27, 2012 at 2:23 pm

      Patrick, it’s a great point. You can overuse urgency. I think the dialogue with Victor helps with this tension. Authentic urgency is maybe what we’re shooting for. Thanks!

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