Being heard is getting harder, say staff

A survey shows many managers do not listen, writes Caroline James.

A survey shows many managers do not listen, writes Caroline James.

If you regularly find yourself moaning that your boss is not hearing you, you are not alone.

Almost one in two employees think their managers are bad listeners, according to the latest employee engagement survey results by the Australian Institute of Management.

The institute polled 2200 professionals and found 42 per cent didn’t support the statement ‘‘management listens and responds to employee concerns’’, a rise of 3 per cent on 2010.

Its Victoria and Tasmania branch chief executive Tony Gleeson, whose career has spanned management roles at Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers and CPA Australia, says failure to engage staff by effectively listening is a growing and worrying trend.

‘‘Listening is an art, a skill, but lots of people get to management level without listening; they get there by doing and don’t automatically have the listening skill needed,’’ Gleeson says, adding about 50 per cent of MBA programs do not address this essential management requirement.

The consequences of managers who are poor listeners are dire for businesses: poor workplace culture, high staff turnover and inability to attract talented employees.

‘‘It is one thing to lose people but equally, if your company gets a poor name, it will struggle to attract the best people,’’ Gleeson says

Gemma Moore launched her own business, Shout Consulting, in 2011 and says the poor listening skills of past managers played a part in her decision to work for herself. The PR and marketing professional, who is based in Geraldton, Western Australia, says she has worked under ‘‘quite a few managers more concerned with making sure they looked good’’ rather than listening to their teams’ suggestions and acting on good ideas.

One example came soon after Moore started work as an events marketer with a local government office.

‘‘I was really pushing for the council to support this particular yachting event, as it would have brought more yachts to our town and would have been great for local business and community,’’ Moore recalls. ‘‘I told my manager repeatedly but he never did anything to progress it ... the mayor later caught wind of [the event] and got right behind it and it ended up drawing big interest from overseas. Unfortunately, I had already left the job ... which made it so frustrating.’’

Louise Metcalf, an organisational psychology specialist, runs her own business, PAX Leader Labs, with a staff of 15. She admits there are times she cannot listen to employees.

‘‘Just this week, there was an issue that required a long discussion between multiple people but we had to get it done in email just due to my lack of time, and I know that’s deeply unsatisfying to those I work with, so I have scheduled a meeting next week to really discuss the issue and find a solution,’’ she says.

How to raise issues with your boss

Bring a business plan to the table outlining your case.

Offer solutions. Your boss already has plenty of problems and may quickly tune out to any more.

Leave emotion at the door. Logic and solid evidence only.

Be succinct. “Your manager is likely to be busy and usually won’t have the time or patience for the detail so get to the point fast,” says Jane Benston, leadership consultant and coach from Focus on Leadership.

Pick a good time to approach your boss. Avoid guerrilla-style assaults.

Research your employer’s big objectives and ask yourself if this contribution fits into it.

Avoid emails, texts and tweets. “Digital messages can be completely misconstrued. It is usually far more productive to have a conversation and move on,” says Tony Gleeson, chief executive of the Victoria and Tasmania branch of the Australian Institute of Management.

Don’t expect an answer on the spot.

Attitude is everything. “We all like to spend time with people with a can-do attitude and your boss is no different and more likely to listen if you have a positive influence and presence around the office,” Benston says.

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