S., I suspect that your trying to get him to listen is tied to trying to get him to do something or not. Sometimes, they'll do something like hit you when you want them to just get their shoes on. The phrase "Use your words" became one of our household mantras.
There IS a secret weapon with boys, though. Ask me how I know this! I have 3 boys, ages 6, 9 & 16.
The "secret weapon" is competition. Its something that seems to almost be on a cellular level with boys. You can get sooo much more accomplished with a boy if you turn things into a game. The "winner" doesn't have to be more than the declared "winner," so don't think you have to start taking them to Toys R Us every week. In fact, that is a huge mistake.
The reward for winning can be something as simple as getting to pick where to sit at the table, whether they are going to have peas or corn for the dinner veggie, or some other thing that involves them making a choice and empowering them, NOT rewarding behavior with material things. That will set you up for a gigantic headache. Ask me how I know THAT.
You'd be amazed at what you can get away with. The trick is, the younger you start this game, the better. If you try this on an older child, they'll call you on it. They see through the game. But, a two or three year old will buy it hook, line and sinker.
So, if you want them to get their shoes on, for example, you stage a race. Who can get them on the fastest? Kid or mommie? If its picking up toys, then find 2 containers -- they can be a paper grocery sack or, my personal favorite, 2 laundry baskets -- and just say "Wanna see who can pick up toys the fastest? Let's race! Ready, set, go!" Make a good show of effort, but let the kid win. Then, go nuts! Make a BIG DEAL out of their winning the game.
You will begin to see a change after doing this only a few times. Believe me, he'll start listening to you more when you turn whatever it is you have been trying to get him to listen to you about into a game.
In the past, I've used time out's for hitting or biting. I've also used the tactic when talking to them of "That's just NOT allowed in our family." Also, "Don't let other people teach you how to behave. You know in your heart that hitting and biting are not right. I don't care what they do in other families, but in OUR family, we don't do that." In doing so, I think I've set some perameters for defining what we are as a family. What we believe in. I'm not a hugely religious person, but the basic philosophy with us is to be a good person. Be honest. Don't hurt other people. Hittin' and bitin' just don't fall into any of those categories.
I think the real change in OVERALL behavior came when I recognized the competition factor. Once I discovered how to utilize rather than tolerate it by creating excuses to reward good behavior, the good behavior soon just came naturally to them. At first, during the "training phase," they craved the kuddos from me and their dad. Then, they began to really take pride in their own inner voice guiding them to do the right thing, be helpful or kind. They began to self-reward. The result, from what I can see, is positive self-esteem.
Like it or not, this IS thinly veiled bribery. Its reward system behavior modification. But, remember, your best tool is applause. Your best tactic is empowerment. 3 year old's want to help. They want to have tasks that give them a sense of accomplishment. The key is, set them up. Stage little tasks and "races" and then praise and get excited about their success. Essentially, this tactic is similar to "noticing what they do right" and verbally acknowledging it to get more of the same.
When my kids were as young as two, I used to have him "help" by doing things as silly as fluffing the pillows on the couch. Only, I didn't make light of the task. Its training. I started him out with tiny tasks, then, as he got older, larger ones. The key was setting them up for a guaranteed success. It was totally manufactured and they never caught on. Then, I started working in the REAL stuff we needed to get done in life.
It doesn't matter if your family is you and one or ten kids or even with two parents, if you don't begin to plant the seeds of teamwork in your family life, you are setting yourself up for a lot more work as a parent than is really necessary AND you end up with a spoiled adult man. Do you really want your daughter-in-law to come to you later and say "Thanks a LOT, lady" when your son turns out to be a spoiled, incompetent, 30 year old "mamma's boy".
In our family we still do these races today! We use competition when setting the table, sorting laundry, sorting socks, putting cans of food away in the cupboard, putting away and sorting clean silverware in the drawer, picking up toys, teeth brushing, getting into the car, and more. My 16 year old even does some of these "races" with his brothers. Its pretty funny to see him use my tactics.
When you use the attention and positive rewards like a carrot on the end of a stick, you get more of the kind of behavior that brings the positive result. When you only punish the unwanted behavior, then you get more bad behavior. The reason is, they want your attention, ultimately. So, you choose which you want: helpful or not. Either way, they're going to do things to get your attention.
As a result of using this method, I have three pretty helpful, happy kids. Bad behavior from them has been rare, because making a big deal out what they do RIGHT has gotten me more of that kind of behavior. Bit by bit, the good behavior just started taking over. After a while, I couldn't remember the last time one of my kids acted up. Then, my KIDS started noticing other kids in public acting out. Now, they comment to me "Momma, what's WRONG with that kid? Why are they doing that?" That kind of behavior is so unusual to them now, even they can't fathom pulling it.
Now, the creative parenting part for you is, how can you tap into this natural boy-tendency toward competition to get your son to stop hitting and cooperate a little better with you? My game playing may not seem so on-target for you right now. But, believe me, it is. Its training. You'll see. And, it will begin to impact the other behaviors that are driving you nuts.
My suggestion is, set yourself up to win, not fail by using games and positive rewards (praise) way more than punishments for NOT doing what you need them to do. You'll also be setting your son up to win in life. I think you'll be amazed at the results!