Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Is Your Boss Not Interested In What You Have To Say?

Do you feel ignored when you talk to your supervisor or manager?

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.

May 2nd, 2011 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 5 comments

Get Out and Reach Out

  Hiding Won’t Help

It’s not just managers and supervisors who hide out and don’t communicate with others. Many employees do exactly the same things–then wonder why they feel out of the loop. If you want to be part of things you can’t be apart from things. (Which is easier said than done in some cases, but worth making the effort. )

Purposely make time every day to move about and say hello to your own section and to people in other sections of your work as well. Not long ago I was talking to someone who kept referring to the lack of communication with the people on the “other side.” I almost thought she was referring to those who have passed on from this life because she seemed to be mournfully certain she was unable to communicate with them. It turned out it was the other side of a partition in the room, which required walking out the door and immediately back into an adjacent door. But, she said, those from “the other side” rarely communicated with her group and vice versa. What a shame!

Consider those in other sections or units to be your internal customers.  Commit to establishing positive relationships and showing your value and the value of your team.

Be reasonable and thoughtful about the time you use and take. A very brief and smiling greeting for only a few minutes once a week or so is about all that is needed. Avoid long conversations and conversations that take the focus away from good work. A man to whom I was mentioning this idea said complained that he didn’t mind a few minutes of greeting but that many people just come in and hang out to either joke around or complain about business. He’s removed the chairs to reduce that tendency.

You’re busy, of course. However, effective work is about relationships. Take the time to build those and many other things will work out better. Give it a try starting today. Get up, get out and reach out.

April 25th, 2011 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 2 comments

Your Potential From Someone Else’s Perspective

What Could Someone Who Appreciated It, Do With Your Life?

Try this to gain a renewed energy for what you can accomplish, just as you are: Write a description of the most positive attributes about yourself, your life, your personal situation, your health, your fitness, finances, friendships and the other main aspects of your life. Leave out anything negative and only describe the positive. (As if you were writing a description for e-Harmony or a new job!)

Look over that list of the best things about you and consider what a reasonable person would say could be accomplished with the person you have described.  Are there some people who would love to be the things you are and to have the things you have? What would a highly motivated person do with your life? What could you do in the next few hours, few days or few weeks, to make the most of the best parts of the life you have?  If someone else was going to take what you have to the optimal level, what would they need to eliminate, replace, do more of or emphasize?

Another Exercise To Get You Moving 

If you hired someone to manage your life and maximize your chances for health, happiness and success, what would they likely suggest that you do, not do, do more of or do instead of, what you are doing now?

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Our chief want in life is someone who will make us do what we can.” Be that person for yourself.  Consider working with a coach or counselor, a friend or group who will remind you, guide you and push you when you need it.

The main thing is this: You have enough in your life that someone would envy you. You have enough that someone with good judgment and focus could do great things with it. Appreciate that and resolve–then follow through–to do as much as possible with what you have.  There is a thought, attributed to several writers, most notably Mary Anne Evans (George Eliot): “It’s never too late to become what you might have been.”  Believe it and keep moving toward your best dreams and goals.

April 2nd, 2011 Posted by | Keeping On!, Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 5 comments

Secretary–Administrative Assistant–Administrative Professional–Whatever, Show Appreciation.

No, it’s not Administrative Professionals Day (that is on April 27th in 2011). But, the work of an “admin” goes on…and on…and on, every day.  I’m not suggesting you run out today and buy flowers, a plant, or take the AA in your office to lunch–although those are good ideas. Instead, I’m suggesting that everyone who works in a workplace with AAs, secretaries, clerks or other administrative functions, should be aware of the quantity of work being done, sensitive to the hassles, frustrations and irritations that are often part of that work, and should take overt action to include administrative specialists as a respected part of the team.

Times have certainly changed since this supposedly genuine advertisement, which appears to be from the early 1960s. (I don’t usually trust these unless I have taken them from the magazine myself, but this one seems to be real.  If you have information about it, let me know. I can verify that it reflects some of the thinking of the era.) For many employees (usually females) the general philosophy still continues, along with a  much lower salary than for those who rely on them for a wide range of work. Those AAs don’t need patronizing sympathy or to be told they’re Wonder Woman. Nor do they need new titles (Managing Associate of Administrative Technology). What would mean more to them is a salary that reflects the importance of their roles and respectful treatment by coworkers at all levels.

It Works Both Ways

It is also true that there are some administrative assistants who seem to have taken on the authority of their bosses and reflect it poorly. So, if they work for someone who has the organizational clout to give orders, they do as well, only in disruptive or unhelpful ways. Most of us know someone in an AA role who is avoided and tip-toed around even though she’s unpleasant, because she works for someone high up. That’s as wrong as going to the other extreme and should be handled as we would any habitually discourteous behavior. (Just be sure you’re equally quick to halt the behavior of those who are discourteous to the AA.)

Administrative Staff Are Part Of The Team

*Show some sensitivity and empathy about how and when you ask for assistance or assign work. The fact that you’ve procrastinated isn’t a reason for the AA to stay late or miss a break or lunch.

*It’s irritating and offensive to repeatedly toss something on someones desk as you breeze out the door for an early and long lunch time or when you’re going home early but they have to stay to keep the office open. Think about timing and tone of voice as well as your overall demeanor when you require assistance.  

*Don’t let anyone be rude to coworkers who don’t have the same organizational standing as they do. Most AAs tend to feel they can’t speak up or push back, no matter how rude someone is to them. Those that do can be labeled as difficult to deal with. (See It Works Both Ways, above.) Don’t just sympathize about it, say something if you have the status to do so or at least encourage the AA to talk to her own manager about it–or talk to him or her yourself.  

*Be respectful about what is expected of AAs in your office, especially when other employees could just as well be doing the work. For example, not all administrative staff members want to put up holiday decorations. That’s almost certainly not part of a job description and not the best use of time.  In some offices AAs are expected to get all of their work done while still preparing birthday parties, promotion ceremonies and similar functions, without any significant assistance. You be the one who assists or gets others to help you. Better yet, do it all without the AA for a change and let her enjoy the function.

*Avoid the 1960-and-before-approach that the AA’s job is to make the life of others easy, especially about manual labor, domestic type activities or unpleasant chores.  For example, a middle-manager purposely took time off while his office was being re-carpeted and repainted and left the AA a long list of instructions for taking everything down and moving it out, then having it all put back exactly right when he returned. Because of the painter’s schedules the AA had to get child care and come in on the weekend to make it perfect before the manager walked in the door on Monday morning.  I realize that task could be considered part of her work, but doggone it, that’s just not right!  

*When the administrative employee is likely to have insight about various aspect of work, include her or him in your conversations about it. At least ask and listen. Often administrative people have a much bigger picture than others, because they see it from a variety of perspectives.

The bottom line is to think about your administrative team as an integral part of the larger team. Think of individuals as strong contributors in many ways that can benefit effectiveness. Don’t diminish that by reducing their status, even inadvertently and even now and then.

Nice idea, but horrible poetry!

March 19th, 2011 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers, Supervision and Management | 11 comments

How Did You Get So Smart?

To Improve Your Credibility, Cite Your References

• Most serious conversations are peppered with opinions, ideas and general thoughts, but rarely with verbal footnotes.  

• Most casual conversations are about interests and activities but rarely include even a hint about how the participants learn anything new–if they do.

• At work, we are often quick to say how things should be done or done differently, but we don’t cite anything to support our suggestions.

• We start on a new project or are given a new assignment and anyone hearing us talk about it would assume we are learning by doing, not by studying or researching.

• We’re interviewed for a job, promotion or in-house assignment change and we answer questions without referring to the training, reading, researching or self-initiated experience we used as a basis for our responses.  So, for all the interviewers know, we just pulled the answers out of our hats–or elsewhere.

Let Others Know How You Know What You Know

All of those situations are reasons why we should keep ourselves informed, aware and knowledgeable–and let others know about our efforts when it’s appropriate to do so. You don’t have to drop book titles and college classes in every conversation, but you certainly can let people know, now and then, that you keep yourself informed. Let them know you are continually expanding your perspectives.  At the very least, introduce some new topics into your conversations.

Some ideas:

“I just started (or finished or are reading) a really interesting book about ____ .”

“I’ve talked to four or five other supervisors to help me figure out the best way to deal with this.”

“I wanted to refresh my thinking on this subject and I saw they were going to do a show about it on TV, so I watched it.”

“I had been hearing about _______and I did some Internet research on it. It was a lot of new information for me.”

“We were taught that technique in training a few months ago so I tried it and it worked!”  

“I know that ________suggests handling this in a different way, but I’ve given it a lot of thought and read as much as I could on it, and I think we should ____.” 

“Over the years I’ve watched how supervisors like ___, ____ and____ have handled conflicts. I’ve developed responses that I think combines the best of all them.”

Those kind of attributions and acknowledgements may not present you as the genius who thought of everything yourself, but they let people know you are aware of the need to keep learning and to apply what you’ve learned. That’s even better!

March 13th, 2011 Posted by | Assessment Centers and Interviews, Personal and Professional Development, Training, Technology, Blogs, A/V etc. | 6 comments

Socks And People That Make You Miserable

You can’t knit people to fit your wants, needs and plans for them–but you don’t have to accept socks that don’t fit well or that make you miserable, either.

This could be about accepting people, identifying the challenges of similarities and differences between us and them or just about the fact that we’re all a mixed bag. We aren’t what we want to be most of the time and we wouldn’t know how to make the perfect person for us–at work, as a supervisor or manager, in personal relationships or business contacts–even if we had the raw components and were given Cosmic power to do it. We think we do, but we probably don’t.

Given that fact, we have to accept the other facts: No one is the right kind of person for us all the time. No one says, does and responds the best way all the time. Even the best people can disappoint you and even the worst people can positively surprise you. The key to surviving and thriving is to know when to accept, when to shrug off, when to forgive, when to adamantly complain, when to re-train, when to warn of consequences, when to sanction formally and when to exit them or exit yourself.

One thing is for sure: Although we can insist upon some changes and make them happen if we have enough authority or influence (come to work on time, don’t gossip about coworkers, get your work done in a one day turn-around, don’t use that language, don’t treat me in that way again, flush, etc.), only the individual can change his or her mind and basic character and approach to life–and often that is not very successful.

If you want to know how difficult it will be for you to change someone, try changing yourself. If you want to know how difficult it will be for the other guy to change himself or learn new habits, try changing yourself or learning new habits. Translate your fifteen pound weight gain over a lifetime–the one you can’t seem to get rid of now because you eat too much and don’t exercise enough–into some of the habits and behaviors of the employee who doesn’t get work done on time or does poor quality work, creates conflicts in the office or gets repeated complaints from customers. Do you think he or she will change unless the penalities are so great there is no choice?


Decision times are tough. But once you’ve made the decision, keeping at it is all it takes. In my classes about working with challenging employees I often have each participant talk to their desk partners about the most challenging employee with which they are dealing. They are supposed to end that conversation by saying, “Here is what I am doing about it when I get back to work.” Invariably some participants laugh through that part as though they know it’s impossible and it’s a joke to even consider it.  It becomes obvious that one or two want tips and techniques that don’t require them to do anything overt about the employee’s behavior or performance. Sadly, they will require everyone else to put up with a problem employee in order to avoid the discomfort of doing something about it. So, who is the biggest challenge in that situation?

The bottom line: Ask for changes when you can. Insist upon them when it is possible. If you are a coworker, document your complaints,  go to the right person about them and ask for an investigation with the goal of change;  if you are a supervisor provide assistance, encourage and support, correct and encourage again. But, if those things aren’t at least starting to work after a reasonable amount of time for the situation (sometimes that’s a brief amount of time, sometimes a longer amount) you will need to do something that might make the other person uncomfortable, resentful or very angry. You may have to unravel his life and work, to use the sock analogy, to get the change that is required.  That is when it’s time for the Davy Crockett advice: Be sure you’re right, then go ahead. 

March 6th, 2011 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 9 comments

Marketing Yourself Truthfully

 Are you as effective as you say you are?

When most of us talk about our work we are the equivalent of a workplace eHarmony self-description. We are effective, hard working, have a good sense of humor, dislike gossip and have a better understanding of the job than most other people. We certainly know more than the boss.

The reality may be far from all of that, but that is what we tell our friends and family. If they believe us they probably wonder how we are able to tolerate being the only brilliant person in the organization–especially when we are treated so unfairly.

I’m not suggesting that you tell the exact truth to those you want to impress. “Actually, I’m an obnoxious, malingering backstabber who drags everyone down.” I’m suggesting that you become as good as you say you are. 

*Do you think you are the kind of person who can solve problems? What’s a problem you’ve effectively solved in the last few weeks? (The key word there is effectively.)

*Do you think you work well with others? When has been a time in the last few weeks when someone else might not have handled a situation well but you were able to work effectively and build a bridge instead of a barrier?

*Do people think of you as a leader? What is a positive thing you have led others to do or be?

*Do you say you believe in personal and professional development? What is a negative trait you have overcome? What is a trait you are seriously working on right now? What have you done to learn more about your work and be more effective in it, other than learning from the mistakes you’ve made?

*Do you think you are an effective supervisor? What are some specific things that you have done in the last week that could provide proof of that?

The bottom line is simply this: Anyone can say how good they are at work.  They may even intend to be as good as they say they are. But if there aren’t any ready examples, it probably isn’t reality.

There is as time and place for confident statements about what we do and what we can do. Just be sure you can prove it with examples of what you have done.


February 12th, 2011 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 6 comments

Is There An Acceptable Excuse For Bad Work?

Unacceptable  Excuses

* “I know I said I’d remove your ruptured appendix today. But, with the holidays and taking some time off and things like that, I’ve been really, really busy. So, it looks like you’re going to need to give me a couple of weeks extension on that job. OK?” 

* “Herman felt really bad about not fixing your brakes, what with you having the accident and getting the broken neck and pelvis and all of that. Just between you and me, I think he’s having some problems at home right now, so you know how that goes.”

* “Yeah, I know you were overcharged $32.75 on your groceries. But, I think you’re overlooking all the times you’ve been charged the right amount.”

* “I know, I know, Mildred shouldn’t have gotten so busy that she forgot to issue your paycheck again this week. But, she said you really frowned at her when you asked her about it. So, it sounds like no one is blameless in this situation.”

Don’t you get tired of hearing excuses for
late work, bad work and no work? 

You don’t want to hear excuses when it comes to being a customer, client or patient.You sure don’t want to be blamed for problems! What you want is the work you paid for, done in a respectful way. That is what everyone wants, whether they are an internal or external customer. Some ways to ensure it:

*Don’t even consider the option of not doing work well and on time. If you are a manager, never let employees think it will be OK to do substandard work or to miss deadlines. If training is needed, work loads adjusted, time managed better or resources provided, that’s something you should work with employees about. But, the final work product should be done correctly by someone.

*Don’t let there be problems with your work. If you see problems developing, do something to fix them well before the deadline. Learn the knowledge and skills needed to do your job right, on time and in a way that builds good relationships with others.

*If you are responsible for the work of others, have an attitude of expectation that work will be done right.You can do that in a pleasant, professional and friendly way. Isn’t that what we think of leaders doing?

*Question a bit, to find out exactly what prevented work from being done correctly and on time. Don’t accept vague, non-specific excuses without finding out the facts. Then, work with the employee to develop the solution for next time and ensure it is implemented.

*Investigate when you are told that some other person or group caused the delay or the mistakes. Find out for sure what happened. If there were problems caused by others, do something to keep your employees from having to deal with that again–or help them learn to work through it.  However, don’t let them develop the habit of blaming, to get off the hook themselves.

*Don’t lower standards of performance and behavior. Do not, in the name of being understanding, allow poor work or late work to be acceptable, just so long as the employee has a reason or an excuse.  That’s not being unreasonably harsh. It’s what you’d want at the factory that made your car, the pharmacy where you get your prescription, the person who provides care for your children or the restaurant that prepares your food.

Make excellent work and effective communications the norm–not a surprise. Make excuses an unacceptable alternative for yourself and others.

“Oftentimes excusing of a fault
Doth make the fault the worse by the excuse.”
Shakespeare, in King John.

January 19th, 2011 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers, Supervision and Management | 11 comments

Colleagues, Co-Workers Or Fellow Inmates?

Who is most like you and least like you at work?  

Think about the people who work with you directly or indirectly and do a bit of an analysis. Don’t take the time to worry about the why of your responses, just put faces and names to these questions.

  1. Who do you most look forward to seeing when you come back from time away? 
  2. Who do you most dread seeing?
  3. Who works about the same way you do? (Time management, communication style, attitude, skill level, etc.) Is that helpful to you or not?
  4. Who works in an almost completely different way than you do? Is that a problem or not?
  5. If you were given an office to share with someone, who would you choose?
  6. Who has helped you the most in the last six months?
  7. Who has purposely or inadvertently hindered you from getting your work done effectively? 
  8. Who have you complained, griped or grumbled the most about while at work?  
  9. Who do you think of as a strong ally?  
  10. Who is the person with whom you can share thoughts when you want to discuss improving work or being more effective?  
  11. Who is an unknown quantity to you?
  12. Who do you think understands you and your motivations and concerns the best?

Answering those questions may only reinforce what you already know about who you like and who you don’t. Or, the answers may encourage you to reach out more, build a bridge or repair one and say thank you to the person or people who have supported you over time.

Look around at work and you’ll realize that most are co-workers, although not particularly close ones. A few seem like inmates in a particularly bizarre asylum. A very few are colleagues who will watch your back and make your time at work better.  Have you said thanks to those (or that one) lately?

January 13th, 2011 Posted by | Keeping On!, Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 7 comments

Give It A Rest

Yes, everyone knows about your knowledge or skill area. They know your likes and dislikes. They know what you are passionate about. They know what you are most interested in at work. They know. But they may be tired of having you interject the topic into every conversation or attempting to make yourself and your work relevant to every project or program.

There are several reasons most of us tend to bring things back to our areas of interest–sometimes to the point of being irritating.

  • It is on our minds a lot, so it’s just natural that it comes out in our conversations.
  • Because of our knowledge we may realize how the subject fits and can see the value of others being aware of it.
  • We may want to sell ourselves or our department or section so we never miss a chance to mention the importance of our work.
  • When it comes to philosophies and ideas, we may be so committed to a cause that we think others agree and want to discuss it as well.
  • We may think that just one more logical argument from us will persuade someone we know doesn’t agree with us.
  • We may be a one-tune person or employee without much else to talk about or without other areas of expertise.
  • We may incorrectly think everything revolves around us or our work.  

Whatever is the reason for you, it may be irritating to others. Listen for hints–maybe said with a joking tone–that people were just waiting for you to bring the subject around to your pet topic. Watch for smiles, rolled eyes, heavy sighs or other indicators. If it seems your comments are often met with, “Yeah, yeah, we know. Let’s move on”, consider if you are becoming very predictable in your remarks. Even if your comments are valid, once you’ve lost your listeners, communication isn’t taking place. 

Alternatives To The Same Old Song

  • If you believe your comment or expertise is really needed but others are not listening, acknowledge that you may sound repetitious but you believe it’s important. If you continue to be shut down, talk to your manager or supervisor in private about it and ask for advice.
  • Talk to someone you respect about their suggestions for how to express your thoughts in ways that don’t get remarks like, “I wondered how long it would take for you to bring it around to that.” 
  • Review your conversations and ask yourself if you simply have run that topic into the ground with everyone. If there is even a chance that you have, give it a rest.
  • Wait and see if others bring it up and ask you about it–always the best indicator of influence and acceptance.
  • Purposely measure out the number of times you mention your recurring issue or topic.
  • Purposely look for other examples, situations or illustrations. Gain expanded perspectives so you have more than one viewpoint or one experience.

Of course, when lives, ethics, big money or other serious consequence are at stake we may need to push every time to make sure the right things are done.  However, those situations nearly always involve more than a routine meeting or conversation. In most work situations we don’t need to sound like a broken record to get ourselves noticed, our work valued or our opinions expressed. If you think you do, deal with that first.

January 8th, 2011 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 12 comments

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