By Guy Harris
About half-way through the second day of a two-day workshop, a frustrated new leader blurted out: “All this talk about how to work with my team is great, but that’s not my problem. My problem is that my boss won’t listen to me. How do I get my boss to listen to me?”
After sitting quietly for most of our prior discussions, she could not take anymore discussion of how to communicate with, coach, encourage, and resolve conflicts in her team. She had a big problem with her boss, and she wanted help.
The level of her frustration caused me to pause. I could see that she was fully invested in the question, and that she was at her wits end. She looked tired and stressed. So, I slowed down and asked a question:
“Can you tell me what makes you say that he doesn’t listen?”
She replied: “Well, I keep telling him about the problems his changes are creating for me and my team, and he ignores me. He keeps pushing ahead with what he wants to do no matter how it affects us.”
Her reply told me why her boss “wasn’t listening to her” – her efforts to convince him to change his approach were based on educating him about the trouble other people had with his decisions rather than on how his decisions hurt the team’s ability to create the results he wanted.
She was trying to sell her boss on a decision for her reasons rather than for his.
As we continued to talk and she started to feel like I had fully heard her concern, we got to a place where it seemed safe to ask this question:
“Since the ideas we are discussing apply to interactions with all people, does it make sense that the concepts that work with people who report to you might also work with the people you report to?”
She paused, thought for a moment, and said: “Yea, I guess it does.”
The key insight from this interaction is that bosses are people, and any people principle works equally as well when you are trying to influence your supervisor as it does when you are trying to influence someone on your team.
If the key principle for “getting a team member to listen” is to slow down, listen, and then to confirm your understanding of their concerns before you ask them to listen to your concerns, then the same principle applies to “getting your boss to listen.”
Stated more generally, a communication/influence principle that works when you are leading your team also works when you are leading your boss. The context might be different, and the wording/tone might change. The principle remains that same.