It’s frustrating to try to share an idea or opinion with a manager and feel that he or she is only half listening or not really listening at all. Here are some reasons supervisors and managers may seem unapproachable, disinterested or unimpressed.
1. Your manager is unapproachable, disinterested or unimpressed. (I thought I might as well get that one out of the way, first thing.) The truth is that some managers are self-absorbed, excessively focused on their own work, or don’t want to give anyone the impression they could learn something from someone else. You may never get the attention of that person. However, I’ve known several people like that who listened and remembered–and were even gratifyingly complimentary, months later. Don’t give up. At the very least, it keeps you in practice for discussing your thoughts with others who are more receptive.
2. You take too long to get to the point. Some employees make every conversation a long, dramatic story with too many unnecessary details. Just as business letters, reports and emails benefit from a summary first paragraph, so do business conversations. When time is limited and you have a lot to say, see if you can boil it down to the essentials to present first. Then, if you sense your audience is zoning out, you at least have presented the essence of your thoughts. Follow up with an email or a document attachment, with the full information.
3. Your timing is off. An effective supervisor or manager shouldn’t have a “good time” or “bad time” for employees to talk to him or her. But, if that’s the way it is with your boss, that’s the way it is. Most people don’t like to be hit with big news the moment they arrive or as they’re walking out the door. Consider setting up a time that works best and remembering that time for the future.
4. You often have a hidden agenda. Few people can resist the urge to push a personal agenda when they get face time with the manager. Most managers resent being manipulated in that way or they find it irritating. Avoid using the time to take a shot at a rival, report petty wrongdoing or self-congratulate excessively.
5. You’ve said it all before. If you have a favorite topic you may find that it’s the only thing you talk to your manager about. That may especially be true if you’re trying to get managerial permission to expand your work, buy new items or start a new program. Unless you have brand new information, you probably won’t be well-received if you harp on it time after time.
6. You don’t have credibility. Ouch! That hurts! But it may be true. A number of things may contribute to the situation: The quantity and quality of your work, your reputation, what you have said about your manager or others, your history with the manager or even your appearance if it is unkempt or inappropriate. Credibility takes time and effort to develop, but it is required if you want people to listen when you talk.
7. They’re listening, they just don’t show it. I often advise supervisors and managers to turn away from their computers, stop looking at their phones and give employees full eye contact and attention. Nearly always someone will assure me that he or she “multi-tasks” and is able to listen and process mentally while doing other things. Even if that is true, it looks rude. However, it may be good news for you, if you think your supervisor isn’t paying attention while he or she is doing something else.
The bottom line: There is no effective way to tell a boss that he or she should pay closer attention to what you’re saying. Your best approach is to consider the circumstances and see if you can change those in some way. Make use of written material–still using the idea of brief and concise. The important thing is to keep the communication channels open, even when you don’t think you should have to make the effort. If you intend to be in your job for awhile, it’s important to be a full participant. That means being able to talk to people at all levels comfortably, appropriately, using good judgment about timing, topic and personal presentation.