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How to Get Your Boss to Listen

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How to Get Your Boss to Listen

By Michelle Yozzo Drake

Remember how the adults always sounded to the Peanuts gang in the Charlie Brown cartoons? The unintelligible static that seemed to go in one ear and out the other?

Do you ever feel like that's what your boss is hearing when you go to him or her with a complaint? Are you standing there running through a litany of problems and all they're hearing is "Wah wah wah wah...wahwahwahwah, Wah?" And then after you've finished your entire list, they "yes-yes" you, smile and nod - and absolutely NOTHING changes?

The frustration that bubbles up inside of you can be overwhelming, not to mention the stress of having to deal with those same problems day after day without any relief.

But is it really all the boss's fault?

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Randy from Albany, New York has been struggling with this issue, too:

Dear Michelle,

My boss is a really great guy. Everybody loves him, and everyone gets along with him. He's a lot of fun to be with, but each time I go to him with an issue, he just agrees with me and kind of "yeses" me about the problem...but then does nothing.

It's getting me really stressed out. And it's really affecting my relationship with him. There are so many of my co-workers that do things that just create more work for me.

How can I make my boss take action, clean up the problems at work, and in general, make my life easier?

Well, Randy, it sounds to me like you're playing a little bit of the victim role. The first thing that you need to do is take control and recognize your part in this. Are you cooperative with other people? Are you communicating with your boss in a way that's basically just whining? You won't get very far communicating upline with that kind of behavior. You need to be bringing more than just the issues to your boss: you need to be bringing proposed solutions, too. And keep in mind that if your boss is very socially-oriented, he might not want to upset people in the organization by making radical changes, so your solutions have to take more than just your wants and needs into account. If you can do this, your boss might actually execute a little bit of change and alleviate some of your frustration.

So how do you figure out how you can communicate an execution plan that your boss will actually do? First, you need to look at it from his perspective. What's in it for him? Does it make him look good in his boss's eyes? Does it improve the bottom line? Does it allow him to "keep the peace" and keep his reputation in tact, or does he become the "bad guy" making it impossible for him to want to execute your plan? Keep these elements in mind and tailor a solution that will benefit all parties involved - even if it means making some compromises along the way.

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You also need to pay attention to your boss's communication style. How does he like to communicate? If you are continually going to his office and verbally going through your list of issues, maybe he can't remember the details later. Perhaps e-mail or voicemail is a better way to go: then you can outline the problem and your solution clearly and he will be able to go back to it again and again. If he prefers meeting in person, avoid spontaneous meetings; instead, schedule something formal so he will be ready to listen and take notes when you arrive in his office, rather than being caught off-guard. Learn how your boss process information, schedule that meeting, and package your issues and solutions accordingly.

Here's hoping your boss starts to hear the words coming out of your mouth, Randy, and not just a blur of "blah, blah, blah."


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“Courage is being scared to death – but saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne