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.