What if your boss won’t listen?

Boss doesn’t listen to you?

Try 7 communication tips. 

“How do I get the boss to listen?”  That’s a question I often hear from clients.

Perhaps you have the same problem. Is it sometimes hard to move forward because you can’t get the boss’s attention?  Do you head home feeling frustrated because your boss won’t listen to you?  Or, even worse, does your career feel off-kilter because you and your leader are out of sync?

No boss is perfect, most leaders are too busy, and some are flat out weak.  But complaining won’t get you anywhere, and you have too much at stake to just throw up your hands when the communication process breaks down.

Part of your strategy as a successful professional is to communicate smoothly with your bosses and clients, no matter how difficult it may be to reach them.  Your goal is to assure delivery of your key messages even when it doesn’t seem fair that you have to do so much of the hard work.

Even if communications with your boss seem OK, these tips may make your messages sharper:

1.    Be succinct.  Assume your boss is busy and won’t want to waste time.  If you ask for three minutes to discuss something important, but then talk for five before reaching your point, the boss could be feeling impatient or annoyed by the time you make your case.

 2.    Plan ahead.  Before your conversation, be clear in your mind about your message and ready to state it simply and directly. To prevent confusion or distraction, limit the number of points you intend to raise.  If you’ve requested a meeting where you’ll discuss several items, propose a brief agenda. A simple email with a sentence about each topic can set up your conversation in a good way.

3.    Be clear about your goal.  Sometimes you have to choose between having your say and having your way.  It can be tempting to use your face time for venting about your problems, but that might not lead to solutions.  Be strategic in the way you frame your issues, and focus on positive proposals that will support your specific objectives.

4.    Understand their communication preferences.  If you don’t get through, it may not be your message so much as how and when you deliver it. Different people take in and share information in different ways.  For example, bosses who are extroverts may be “external processors” who want to use you as a sounding board while they explore their own thoughts.  While in processing mode they might not pay much attention to your agenda, so you should wait. And introverts may find listening to be tiring so don’t make your pitch after they’ve been through exhausting meetings.  The Myers-Briggs© assessment is a useful tool for exploring your communication preferences and seeing how your style may differ from others.  A workshop for your whole team could enhance communications all around.  And you can take the assessment for yourself, on-line.

5.    Be a mindful listener.  Strong communicators are active listeners. Your bosses expect you to listen carefully, and good listening helps you understand what they want.  But sometimes when we think we’re listening we’re mostly focused on something else, like what we want to say next.   You’ve probably experienced someone who is not listening in a mindful way, like the colleague who keeps glancing at his phone throughout your  conversation.  When listeners are mindful, they come across as centered, respectful of the speaker, and engaged in the moment.  To practice mindful listening, resist the temptation to worry about the past or the future, and keep bringing your focus back to the conversation you’re in right now.

6.    Let go of frustration.  If the boss doesn’t seem to listen, you actually have two challenges.  The first, of course, is to break through the logjam by becoming an even better communicator.  But there is only so much you can do, and much of this is about the boss, not about you.  So the next challenge is to learn how to not let it bother you so much.  Writing in a journal is one way to examine your emotions and let some of them go.  Meditation techniques like a few deep breaths can help you release some of the tension.

7.    Be a courageous follower.  At times you may need to deliver difficult messages, like when the boss is on ethical thin ice or about to make a major strategic mistake.  For excellent suggestions on how to stand up to your leader, read the classic book, The Courageous Follower,” by my insightful colleague Ira Chaleff.

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Bev, a former lawyer and Fortune 500 executive, is an executive and transitions coach, and a leadership consultant with a broad and varied practice.

Posted in difficult people, listening, workplace issues Tagged with: ,

Beverly E. Jones

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Links to occasional colleagues

ECCA - Website
ThreeJoy - Website
Kerry Hannon - Website
Ohio University's Voinovich School - Website
Senior Entrepreneurship Works - Website
Congressional Management Foundation - Website
WOUB - Website
ShadowComm LLC - Website

Books with Bev’s Tips

Bev’s tips on career change are featured in the books and other writing of leading journalist Kerry Hannon. If you’re thinking about a career transition, try:

What’s Next? Find Your Passion and Your Dream Job in You Forties, Fifties and Beyond


“Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy and Pays the Bills”


Bev at Ohio University,
where she is a visiting
executive with the
Voinovich School of
Leadership & Public Affairs



Bev's garden at Buckeye Farm