My boss doesn’t listen!

Do you know what occurs to me when someone complains that their manager doesn’t listen? It’s this: Perhaps you don’t give your boss a reason to listen. Perhaps you’re not speaking in your boss’s language, the language of what’s important to him, what’s uppermost in her mind. Or perhaps you tend to bring problems rather than solutions. Or maybe you’re one of those people who bring joy whenever you go, not wherever you go.

Or maybe not. But think about this: You need to be in harmony with your manager and when you have different working styles and different preferences for giving and receiving information, staying ‘in tune’ can take a lot of work.

George Bernard Shaw said, ‘In the right key, one can say anything. In the wrong key — nothing. The only delicate part is establishing the key.’ Which is the right key for your boss?

Is your boss task-focused or people-focused? That gives you your first clue on how best to communicate so your manager listens. Try walking up to a task-focused person and say, ‘Hi! How was your weekend? How’s the family?’ and watch them tap their foot with impatience. Conversely, try walking up to a people-focused person and say, ‘Hi. I’ve run into a problem and I need your advice’ and sense them bristle with irritation at what they consider your ‘abruptness’.

Here are a few other points to consider:

  • How does your manager prefer to receive information: in writing, verbally, in summary form or with all the details? With illustrative examples, statistics or diagrams?
  • How often do you need to up-date your boss so she’s comfortable you’re on track?
  • What concerns and pressures are uppermost in your boss’s mind that you need to be aware of? How can you best assist your boss in these matters?
  • Does your boss prefer to think things through before acting or roll up his sleeves and get stuck in, adjusting as he goes?
  • How do you demonstrate your dependability and trustworthiness? Your understanding of your boss’s and organisation’s goals? Your understanding of what your customers — internal or external — want from you and your team and from the organisation? How do you demonstrate the value you add — to your boss’s work, to your team and to the organisation? And do you demonstrate these in ways that your boss cares about and that ‘resonate’ with your boss and ‘ring true’?

Unless you know the answers to questions like these, you’re flying blind. And you don’t want to do that because, when you think about it, probably the most important working relationship you have is with your manager. It’s worth taking the time and energy to develop and nurture it.

The easy way to reach a goal

My father used to say ‘He’s a real Walter Mitty’ when he was referring to someone he thought was just a day-dreamer who never took any concrete steps to reach their goals. (Walter Mitty was the sad sack loser character in ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’, a short story by James Thurber first published in 1930, which was later made into a film in 1939 and again in 2013.) It turns out that research backs up the plot line that when you just fantasise, you don’t achieve much at all.

What does work, though, is holding positive expectations regarding achieving your goal. That’s because positive expectations are based on experience, and so are more realistic, while fantasies and just wishful thinking. Just thinking about the outcome makes it seem like achieving it will be easier than the reality, so you kid yourself you don’t need to do much work.

What about visualisation, I hear you ask. Yes it’s true that lots of research-based advice says visualisation works. But it needs to be the right kind of visualisation. Using your mind’s eye to project yourself into the futures and see and feel yourself achieving your goal is one kind of visualisation. That’s the fantasy kind that doesn’t work.

Visualising yourself doing what it’s going to take to achieve your goal is visualisation that does work. You can imagine yourself stepping up to the podium to receive your qualification (lessening the odds that it will actually happen ) or you can see yourself studying in the evenings or saying ‘No’ to a tempting night out in favour of hitting the books, for example, which vastly improves the odds.

There are two main reasons that visualising the process works. The first is that it helps you ‘see’ and plan out the steps you need to take to reach your goal and encourages to think about all the many barriers in your way and how to overcome them. The second is that feeling the emotion lessens your nerves.

No excuses now. Think about, and visualise, the process, not the outcome. OK, reaching your goal may not be easy, but it’s a lot easier to reach this way.

Three tips for easier learning

This first tip shouldn’t come as any surprise, but I have a suspicion that a lot of students are so busy juggling the many facets of their lives that they feel they just don’t have the time to do it. What am I talking about? The simple but hugely learning enhancing technique of simply reflecting on what you’ve just learned. Yes, just spending some time resting and reflecting on what you’ve learned really helps it stick. So from now on, instead of thinking of R&R as Rest and Relaxation, think of it as Rest and Reflection.

One way to reflect on what you’ve learned is to re-explain it in your own words to yourself. Or to an imaginary friend, if you have one. Or to your cat. It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re ‘teaching’ it to ‘someone’. Another way is to reflect on how you can put the information to use. Or you can think about how you’ve seen what you’ve learned put to use by someone else. Or think of a time when what you’ve learned could have been effectively put to use. Or review the key points and any new vocabulary you’ve learned.

Here’s another tip: Before learning or studying new material, think about what you already know about the topic. That’s called metacognition and it’s a really important learning tool. One of the reasons is that it gets the neural circuits in your brain, where information ‘sits’ about the topic, firing off and readies them to accept new information about the topic. It also gives the new information about the topic a ‘home’ to nestle comfortably into, so you remember it more easily.

Here’s the third tip: When you’ve finished studying, grab a few ZZZZZZs. When you sleep, your brain cells connect with other cells, which makes information flow more easily. And somehow those connections made while you sleep hang around, so that what you’ve learned stays there — provided you keep those connections active by putting what you’ve learned to use or at least, keep reviewing it. Another benefit of a nap is that when you’re sleep deprived, you can’t earn as easily. Check out a study published in Science.

Is it ever OK to lie to a customer?

If you’re like me, probably your first instinct is to say, ‘NO!’ But read on. I will tell you a true tale.

A couple of weeks ago, I popped into the Health Food shop to buy one of those little sticks of salt that you use as a deodorant. They were sold out of the one I like (made in Queensland–support home-made and it’s a good product).

The man behind the counter said, ‘Yes, we seem to be out of that one. I’ve ordered some and they should be in next week.’

I let two weeks go by and stop in again. A different man and a woman are behind the counter this time. The place on the shelf for my little salt stick is still empty. ‘Not in yet?’ I say?

‘I told you you should have done an order!’ barks the man at the woman.

‘Oh, that’s OK,’ says I. ‘They were ordered a couple of weeks ago so they should be in soon.’

‘Oh? Who told you that?’ says the man.

‘The other man’ says I.

‘Huh! He doesn’t know how to do orders!’ and turning to the woman says again, ‘I told you to do those orders ages ago. Now look.’

At which point, I crept out of the store.

Back to my question: Is it ever OK to lie to a customer? My answer is yes, when it stops you and your business looking like total dills. No need to make the other employee look stupid. No need to start a blue in front of a customer.

What I think they should have said was something like, ‘Gee, you’re right we’re out. I’ll phone the supplier and see if we can have some shipped quickly. Can you wait until next week?’

Have I gone back there to buy my salt stick? Nope. Went to another Health Food shop.