What to Do When Your Message Falls on Deaf Ears

602px-The_Sower_-_painting_by_Van_Gogh

The Sower by Vincent van Gogh
via WikiMedia Commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Sower_-_painting_by_Van_Gogh.jpg

Years ago, I was invited to speak at a conference. My topic was internet marketing, but I realized this particular industry was not known for being tech savvy. I asked whether attendees would have websites to improve or if they would be wondering why they should start an online presence at all. I was assured the audience fell into the former group. I prepared accordingly.

Of course, you know how this story goes.

At the beginning of my talk, I asked how many attendees currently had a website. Only a few hands were raised. About 90% of the room did NOT have a website yet. My talk was irrelevant to them. As much as I tried to adjust my message, I could tell what I was trying to plant in their minds was not taking root. I left feeling frustrated and like a failure.

Whether you’re marketing, writing or speaking; one of the greatest frustrations of communicating is when your message falls on deaf ears. There could be several reasons for this which may have nothing to do with the quality of your content. About 2,000 years ago, a man walked through his homeland speaking about hope and a new way of living. His following was growing, but he also knew not everyone had taken his words to heart. He described why he thought some people didn’t receive his message.

The amazing thing is how these words still apply today. It is brilliant advice for anyone who wants their ideas to take root and grow.

Listen. What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled among the weeds and nothing came of it. Some fell on good earth and came up with a flourish, producing a harvest exceeding his wildest dreams.

Mark 4:3-8 (version from The Message by Eugene Peterson)

Jesus didn’t randomly choose these examples. Each explanation for the seeds not surviving has a different and specific meaning.

  1. The Road: Some people are hardened.
    This audience is not ready to hear what you have to say. You’re trying to persuade someone who still has a hard outer layer. They aren’t prepared for it. They haven’t been tilled. Therefore, your words never penetrate and something else swoops in and carries away your message before it can ever sink in.
  2. The Gravel: Some people are fickle.
    These folks may hear what you say and seem excited on the outside, but deep down – they don’t “get it.” Once it becomes tough to follow through, they they move on to the next exciting thing and forget your message.
  3. The Weeds: Some people are overwhelmed.
    This group also hears what you say, but they have a lot going on. Their other commitments and concerns use up all the oxygen and choke out your message. This is a big issue for today. The always escalating pace of life makes it terribly hard to stay top-of-mind with soccer practice and bills and dinner and dental appointments and…

So, what do we do with all this?

First, acknowledge that when people don’t respond to your offer/pitch/request/etc., it may have more to do with them than with you.

Second, be intentional about seeking out people who are ready for your message – the “good earth” mentioned by Jesus. People who have a deep conviction for what your proposing. People who will make the time to follow through.

Last, make sure your message is strong enough to resonate with and galvanize those who receive it.

What experience have you had with people not receiving your message? How did you respond? Did you take it personally? Did you change your approach?

Dustin Staiger is a business consultant and speaker in Houston, TX. He addresses team and individual effectiveness, communications, creativity and branding for global corporations as well as non-profits and start-ups.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.