My Boss Doesn’t Listen to Me

You probably consider yourself to be an excellent employee, student, contributor or active participant in your life but there still may be one area you’ve overlooked.my boss doesn't listen to me

Listening is an art that starts with you.  It’s ironic but actually true. Be a good listener first; they will follow.  I know sounds counter-intuitive but if you just shut up and listen…I mean really listen… you will end up with followers.  So you want to lead by example; listen by example.

So you’re in the staff meeting and have a brilliant idea on how to address the revenue short fall.   Or your boss is unloading on you about the operations manager from the plant in Detroit.  You probably want to stand on the conference table and get everyone’s attention- bad idea.  Frequently it is just best to bite your tongue and do nothing.  We’ve all worked with the “someone” who constantly interrupts, who has to have the last word, who just can’t let a topic, an argument or really anything go.  Don’t be that person.  Be the listener and they will follow.

Here are the 6 steps to being a better and active listener:

1. Seek first to understand.  If you focus on understanding (instead of your rebuttal), you will be much more engaged with what is being said.  As David Rock writes in “Quiet Leadership”, listen for potential.  Ask questions to expand on your boss’ ideas.  Help her gain insight. She’ll appreciate the space to develop ideas.  I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to vent, merely vent about a work situation and my husband jumped to give me advice. I just wanted someone to vent to; someone to understand.

2. Don’t drift.  If you are thinking about your grocery list or if you forgot to record American Idol – You.Are.Not.Engaged.In.Listening.  Turn off your cell notifications. Put your technology away.   Be in the moment and just listen.  And if you find yourself drifting; ask a clarifying question.  Apologize and say you were preoccupied for a moment and get back into the listening mode.

3. Let there be silence.  It’s amazing how we all feel obligated to fill space up with the sound of our voice.  Let there be an awkward silence.  There is power in silence and more importantly time to reflect and understand (refer to #1).  In fact, those who prefer introversion will appreciate the time to reflect.  Don’t drive the bus over someone’s time to reflect; be comfortable with the silence.

4. Reflect.  Ask questions to expound on your boss’ ideas.  Seek clarity.  Is there something you don’t understand?  Do you really understand the rationale? “So what I hear you saying is that we need to make some difficult cuts and you’re not completely sure where to make them.   How much time do we have to make the decision?”  Reflecting keeps you in the present.

5. Check assumptions.  It is amazing how quickly our mind works and how our internal dialogue will immediately jump to the worst-case scenario.  Like “yeah…this idea will never work.  Last time we did this it was an epic fail”…meanwhile we are smiling and nodding.  Or we immediately discount someone’s ideas, “Nah, tequila shots for lunch is a horrible idea.” Yes, this is a bad idea, just don’t say it and shut down the idea machine.  “tequila shots…OK, what else….” Check your assumptions to stop your inner dictator from running its mouth; and killing the idea before it ever gets launched.

6. Don’t interrupt.  If you are interrupting, you are not listening.  You just put your agenda first.  You just shut the other person down and basically said…”my idea is way better than yours so shut up”.   Your boss’ idea, your partner’s idea, your child’s idea….are all the best ideas, because they own it.  They will see it through. Your idea? Not so much.  Interrupting stops your boss from finding insight.

Full disclosure.  I’ve been working on this for years and it’s not easy.  It won’t happen overnight but if you keep this at the forefront with every interaction you have, you will improve and others, including your boss, will start to follow.

Pointing Fingers

I’d love to know how much time and energy gets wasted pointing fingers.  We seem to be constantly searching for Fault, who to blame – The fall guy. We feel so vindicated once that football coach is fired, that worthless sales guy is let go or your daughter finally drops that no good boyfriend. Now it will all be better. But it isn’t.  Pointing fingers can be….er, pointless.

I’m not trying to assert that root cause analysis isn’t important. It certainly has its place when figuring out what went wrong with a plane crash. I’m just saying it’s not very productive in everyday life.  If the stakes aren’t high, what is the point of all this finger pointing?  It creates camps of co-workers on one side or the other; it creates division.  The assumption mill goes crazy along with the gossip mill and, worst of all, the complaint mill.images

I recently joined a peer to peer group and one of the rules of engagement is to not ask “why”. Well that seemed a little unorthodox, my Human Resource filter is always looking for the “why” but what was astutely pointed out by our leader is that “why” is all about blame. We are in the group for solutions and that is all about “what, how and where”. Makes you think doesn’t it.

So how do we get off the blame train? Here are some ideas:

1. You. It starts with you. Forgive yourself.  Calm down your inner critic.  I’ve seen co-workers blame themselves and then beat themselves up for months. I’ve seen managers bring up the doofus they hired ten years ago and waited two years to fire. This is not going to instill confidence in yourself…or anybody else. Don’t live in blame mode.

2. Debrief with compassion.  The team should certainly review what went right and what went wrong at an event. Be careful not to attach anyone to the failures. “Well it was Joe’s decision to get the dancing Elephant, what an idiot!”  Don’t start driving the bus over anyone.  Learn from the failures and successes and move on. No corpses left behind. The team won’t be afraid of the debrief going forward.

3. Potential. Dr. David Rock advocates “listening for potential” in his book “Quiet Leadership”. It engages you as a listener. Instead of thinking for ways to respond or problem solve, you listen with the intent for the speaker to find their own potential. It’s so much more proactive.  It’s difficult to point the finger if you are looking for potential.

4. Stop judging. Half the time, people are pointing the finger because they want the spotlight off themselves. If they start judging others and their actions, they feel better. Put someone else down and then, by default, you raise yourself up. This may work for a while but eventually you will find yourself alone. No one hangs out with guy who is driving the bus over folks.

5. Commitment. There are going to be times when you hold your child accountable for failing grades, your assistant for the botched report or your dog for the “accident” on the carpet.  Keep it as confidential as possible, maintain their self esteem and show them confidence and commitment that we can move forward from here.

It’s easy to fall into finger pointing and this isn’t going to end anytime soon. Start in your corner of the world and see what effect it has on others. As Bob Marley said, “who are you to judge the life I live? I know I’m not perfect and I don’t live to be, but before you start pointing fingers make sure your hands are clean.”

Seeing the Forest through the Trees

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to develop great outcomes almost without effort?  As if they are omniscient? They see the big picture while the rest of us are slogging through the brush trying to find the path.  Dr. David Rock talks about “the clarity of distance” in his book Quiet Leadership.  He suggests that by “listening for potential” in those around you, you will be much more effective if you keep your distance or stay away from your own agenda, filter, too much detail or hot spots.

We all walk around with our own filters; sometimes we don’t even use them knowingly.  I run into this when I am coaching clients and a Human Resource situation comes up.  Say, the client talks about a situation that involves a co-worker potentially being harassed.  My human resource filter can easily turn on.  Suddenly, I’m not engaged in listening; I’m trying to resolve the harassment issue instead of trying to understand the client. images 3

Analysis paralysis is another solution killer.  In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, more data does not make for a better decision.  In fact, he says, “There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.” I’m not suggesting you send off the space shuttle without some engineering but when it comes to many decisions or solutions at hand, staying out of the details can be a real advantage.

So how can you start seeing the forest through the trees?  Here are some tips:

1. Step Back.  It’s much easier to make a great decision if you step back from the situation.  If you are too invested in the outcome or the person making the decision, you can definitely derail the decision making process.  My son is applying to colleges and recently decided to apply to my alma mater’s arch rival.  I’m not going to be a good listener or have his best interest in mind if I’m worried about him rooting against the Big Red.  If you can’t step away; at least bite your tongue.

2. Paralysis.  Don’t end up in analysis paralysis.  If you are helping someone make a decision, don’t create endless delays waiting for more facts and information.  I don’t suffer from this but I know a lot of people that do.  I remember an episode of  “This American Life” called Cat and Mouse where a man had been searching for over 20 years for the perfect couch.  It was a huge decision but he just kept gathering more data.  As of the airing of the episode, he STILL did not have a couch.  He’s in the forest and buried in a gigantic pile of leaves.

3. Taboos.  Acknowledge that there are areas where you just can’t be of any help and remain unbiased.  These are things that hold some emotional charge normally.  My husband can’t watch a movie that has adultery.  Therefore, he is not a good person to be a sounding board for someone deciding if they should stay with a cheating spouse. He cannot be unbiased…let alone control his emotions. Make sure you have the self awareness to know your taboos. You don’t want to be a part of the problem or to become the problem.

4. Lens check. When a team is trying to create solutions, everyone at the table has a different “lens”. Finance is trying to figure out how to fund it, Information Services is trying to figure out how to automate it and Sales is trying to figure out how to sell it. You’ve spent years of laying neuroplasty down in your head through education, work experience and making decisions based on that lens. It can be a unique perspective or completely out of your element.  Having Maintenance on the 401(k) Committee may not make a lot of sense. Yes, the perspective might be unique but duct tape isn’t going to help in most investment decisions. Make sure you know your own lens in order to see the forest.

5. Close Agendas. Depending on the situation, we all have agendas.  I speak some Spanish. If my daughter is researching study abroad programs, I’m going to push for Spain over China.  My son has a seafood allergy; he’s not going to be on board with a sushi restaurant.  My colleague’s friend owns a BBQ restaurant.  We end up with a lot of BBQ for catered events.  This is not a problem in a lot of situations but you want to be aware of your agendas if you are selected to be on the committee to decide the menu for the Annual Holiday Party.  If my son and colleague are on the committee, we’ll end up with BBQ. If you want to see the forest, make sure you are staying off the same old path through the trees.

To bring perspective to any situation, we need to make sure we know ourselves. Keeping our biases in check and knowing that, if we can’t, maybe we can bring our perspective at another time, in order to help see the forest through the trees.