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.


Why it’s important to put your best foot forward

We all know that beauty is more than skin deep and that a person’s clothing doesn’t necessarily reveal their true character. Nevertheless, people form strong impressions about us based on how we look. Maybe that’s not fair or accurate, but that’s the way it is. And there’s a good reason that first impressions are so important: once upon a time, quickly being able to judge characteristics like aggressiveness and trustworthiness, whether someone is a friend or a foe, kept us alive longer; it was an important survival mechanism.

A couple of million years later, give or take, we still make instant assessments. In the blink of an eye, people can, or think they can, sense whether we’re friendly or forbidding, uneasy of confident, an ethical, truthful person or a deceitful, lying snake-in-the-grass.

And we never get a second chance to make a great first impression. Whether they’re right or wrong, first impressions stick. They play a powerful role in how we treat other people and in how they treat us. They strongly influence our friendships, promotions, pay raises, responsibilities and career paths. They affect how much support and help we receive from others and whether others accept our ideas. So it behoves everyone to learn how to make a great first impression.

Two types of first impression
There are actually two types of first impression. The first is formed in a tenth of a second (that’s twice as fast as the blink of an eye) and it’s based on looking at someone’s face. Looking at a person longer than that doesn’t significantly alter your first impression, (although looking for a full second probably gives you more confidence in your assessment).

It takes about seven seconds to form the second type of first impression and this one is based on the rest of the ‘package’ you present, particularly your body language and what used to be called ‘deportment’, or carriage, and the way you’re dressed, including the accessories you’re carrying and wearing. This package is four times more important in forming the first impression than anything you say.

Not convinced? How you look reflects your innermost self, your skills and your confidence and indicates how much appreciation and respect you give yourself and expect others to give you.

How to put your best foot forward
You want to look cool, calm and collected, so watch your posture and don’t fiddle with your hair, your tie, your pen or anything else. Don’t twist and turn, shuffle, shift or sprawl and don’t tap your foot or jiggle your leg.

Height and space–standing tall, shoulders back, head straight–signal confidence and competence, so adopt an upright posture. (Good posture doesn’t just look good–it helps you breathe and think better, too.) Empty your mouth and hands to look composed and take your hands away from your hips so you don’t look aggressive, hostile or defiant.

Smile to signal friendliness and approachability–not a fake smile that shows nervousness, arrogance or couldn’t-care-less, but a genuine smile that shows ‘I’m a really nice person you’d love to get to know‘. Make eye contact to transmit your positive energy and indicate interest and openness. Shake hands to establish rapport and show you’re professional, polite and confident. Lean in a bit to show you’re engaged and interested–but respect the other person’s space.

Lower your voice to be taken more seriously. Take a deep breath and keep breathing to produce a clear, steady voice and relax you enough to speak at the right volume. Breathing also delivers oxygen to your brain so that you can think clearly about what you want to say and say it clearly and confidently.

Believe it or not, people can pick another person’s attitude instantly and you make a better first impression when your attitude is positive; for more about the importance of a positive attitude, see my earlier blog called Is your glass half empty or half full?

Discussion questions

Are the messages you’re sending about yourself the ones you really want to send? How can you use this information to present yourself in a stronger, more competent light?

How to persuade people without pressuring them

In both their personal lives and in work, successful people are persuasive people. Can you convince people to see things your way or do things they might not really want to do? You can, when you follow a few basic principles.

  • Engage your ears before engaging your mouth.
    Persuading people is really about give and take and that means listening, learning and negotiating. The best way to persuade people to accept your point of view is:

    1) Listen to them first to understand their point of view.

    2) Then put forward your great idea in a way that takes what’s important to them into account, and

    3) Then listen to their thoughts about your idea.

    When you listen first, you can state your case in terms of the other person’s viewpoint, their concerns and desires and describe it in a way that highlights your proposal’s advantages to them. Benefits persuade.

  • Don’t expect to always get your way.
    Unless you’re a body builder with big stick in your hands, you’ll seldom get your way straight away! Convincing people to climb aboard and cooperate whole-heartedly takes time, and usually involves talking things through and compromising.
  • Think long term, and stay flexible.
    Use these four good ways to persuade:

    1.  If … Then… If you will do this, then you’ll get that thing you want. We use this with children all the time: If you finish your vegetables, you can have some ice cream. It works with grown ups, too. If you could give me that information by this afternoon, I’ll be able to finish my report and then I can spend some time showing you how to [do this thing I know you want to learn].

    2.  Present your ideas as a modification to the status quo rather than as a radical changePeople generally accept adjustments and small changes more readily than big changes.

    3.  Keep at it. Far from breeding contempt, familiarity breeds acceptance. Just as unfamiliar ideas produce negative reactions, the more people are exposed to an idea, the more positively they feel about it.

    4.  Make sure the person is in a good mood to get a more positive response to your ideas. Every teenager knows that one – or they should!

  • Make sure the person you’re trying to persuade likes you and sees you as credible.
    It’s easier to persuade people when you have a good relationship with them. This means they see you as trustworthy and similar to themselves in terms of the values you share and what you consider important.

    When the person you’re trying to persuade knows that you have relevant experience, expertise and knowledge, they’re more likely to listen to your point of view and take it on board.

  • Use emotion.
    People accept ideas, to some extent, based on emotional factors. That means you need to connect emotionally with the people you’re trying to convince. One way to do this is to show that you are emotionally committed to what you’re proposing. (Not too emotional, or people will doubt your objectivity and level-headedness!)

    Your heart as well as your head needs to be behind your proposal — when you’re not a believer, no one else will be, either.

  • Collect your thoughts.
    Don’t just start chatting and hope for the best. Think through what you want to say and how you want to say it. There are a couple of important points here:

    1.  Explain why as well as what and fill people in on any background information they may not have realised. This helps them see things from your point of view and understand things as you understand them.

    2. Use vivid language so the other person can really see and feel what you’re on about. This helps your ideas hit home.

  • Forget the ‘hard-sell’.
    It’s pushy and invites resistance. Railroading people or making a strong, loud, logical argument in favour of your case without taking into account their thinking won’t convince anyone.

    Softly does it. Present your case so that it takes the other person’s position and ideas into account.

Discussion questions

How much more could you achieve by using the information in this blog to help you persuade people without ruffling their feathers? What other techniques are you aware of that help persuade people to another person’s ideas?


Good numbers begin and end with effective workplace relationships

Miyuki Suzuki is a remarkable woman. Raised in Japan, Australia and the UK and educated in the UK, she has worked in a variety of roles in both Western and traditional Japanese organisations in Britain, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, the Middle East, New Zealand, North America and Singapore.

Now running Jetstar in Japan, she and her 100 staff have notched up remarkable successes, culminating in Jetstar’s inaugural flight taking off five and a half months ahead of schedule.

Suzuki delivers a weekly message to all her staff in both English and Japanese, updating them on what has been happening in the company and employee achievements, complete with photos. Her underlying message is ‘I am watching. I am recognising all your hard work.’

To rally her staff and ensure they’re all pointing in the same direction, Suzuki pays attention to people, their aspirations and what motivates them, and keeps an eye on group dynamics. ‘It takes a bit of time to do that’, she says. ‘Once you get that sorted out, team building is much easier.’

She also works out who shares the same values as her own; when you do that, you know who will support you and help you meet your goals. She also works out who will be her detractors so she can turn them into supporters.

‘Relationships make business success possible. If you ignore relationships and focus on the numbers, you won’t get anywhere.’ When you get the relationships right, you get to take off five and a half months early.

Source: Damon Kitney, ‘Taking Flight’, the deal, The Australian newspaper, July 2012.

Discussion questions

‘Look after the people and the numbers look after themselves’ is a common catch cry. How true is it, in your experience? Do your communications send the message ‘I am watching and recognising all your hard work’? Do you know what motivates your team members, which of team members, peers and senior managers share your values and who your potential detractors are?

What is team culture?

Here are five reasons that your team’s culture is important:

  1. Culture guides employees’ discretionary behaviour – whenever people have a choice about what to do or say, they adhere to expectations.
  2. Culture tells people how to handle problems and difficulties, whether to hide them or fix them.
  3. Culture keeps employees engaged and loyal.
  4. Culture helps you recruit the employees you need.
  5. Culture greases the wheels of performance.

Stand back and watch how team members choose to spend their time. Listen to how they speak to each, about the organisation and about customers. When was the last time a team member alerted you to a problem or a potential problem? When was the last time a team member suggested a better way of getting a result? These are all products of a team’s culture and directly affect productivity and performance.

Discussion questions

What steps can you take to build a high-performance culture in your work team?

Staying on top of your game

 Rosabeth Moss Kanter recently wrote a great blog on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network. It’s about five self-defeating behaviours that ruin companies and careers, and how to avoid them:

  • Demanding a bigger share of a shrinking pie
  • Getting angry
  • Giving in to mission creep
  • Adding without subtracting
  • Thinking you’ll get away with it.

As usual, her thoughts are insightful, practical and worth reading.

Discussion questions

What lessons does this blog hold for you on managing your career and your work team?