How to get a new boss to listen to you

In addition to death and taxes, what is certain is that at some point in our careers, we will be handed a “new” boss. Getting him or her to hear us is not always easy.

The Myth

There’s a myth out there that we need to put an end to right now. Here it is: “If I just do my job, keep my head down and fly under the radar, my new boss will eventually see my value and reach out to me with compliments and clarity on what else I need to be doing.” While it might work out, that’s a hefty gamble to make with our careers. Here’s just one example of what can happen if we operate with this myth as our guide:

Scott was a Director of Marketing for a large financial institution. After much turmoil in the upper ranks, Susan was hired as Scott’s boss. Scott was a big proponent of the myth I laid out above and believed that the less he spoke with Susan in the beginning, the better. He figured his results should speak for themselves and eventually, Susan would reach out to him after she saw how dedicated he was. Scott began working later and later into the evening as well as on weekends to get all the work done. He was feeling tired and exhausted but also quite satisfied with what he was getting accomplished. I’m sure you can imagine the shock Scott must have felt when after 9 months into Susan’s tenure, she pulled Scott aside and said things weren’t working out and let Scott go.

What went wrong and why is this myth the culprit? Scott’s mistake wasn’t with his work ethic or his level of commitment. Scott’s mistake was his failure to keep a constant pulse on what was expected of him from Susan and what she valued in her team. After Scott’s dismissal, Susan later told me “Scott was a hard worker, but he was working in the wrong direction and did little to clarify what was expected of him. Things are changing so quickly around here that he quickly became irrelevant.”

The 3 Critical Conversations to Have with a New Boss

Are you in danger of this happening to you? There are three conversations we need to be having with our new boss as soon as possible to avoid the same fate as Scott. Consider asking your boss out to lunch ASAP. Here they are:

  1. What do you expect of me this year? Do you know what is expected of you? If you believe the answer to that question is your job description, you are perilously close to becoming irrelevant like Scott. The only way to truly get an answer to this question is to have the conversation with your boss and ask him or her what is expected of you this year. You might be surprised how different their answers are from your job description or title!
  2. As best as you can tell, how am I doing? This is an important question, because the answer you get will shed light on your reputation and what he/she values from his/her direct reports. One of the worst things we can do at work is to assume we know what our boss thinks of our performance. That’s a risky gamble and I don’t know about you, but every time I’ve ever visited Las Vegas, I’ve always left with less money than when I arrived. I’m not a fan of gambling at work, so don’t. Ask the questions and have the conversations.
  3. What’s expected of you (your boss)? What are the pressures and expectations placed on your boss? They are new so clearly something has changed to warrant their arrival. Get curious about the expectations placed on him / her to gauge how you adjust your own goals. Of the three questions, this last question is by far the least frequently asked. And yet, if you don’t know what is expected of your boss, how can you do a good job of aligning your work to support him or her? I was working with a client a few weeks ago and when we came to this question he said, “You know, I never thought of asking my boss what is expected of her? And yet, if I don’t know her goals and pressures, I may make a decision that actually does more harm than good.” Treat your boss as if he or she is your most valuable customer and start getting curious.

“If I just do my job, keep my head down and fly under the radar, I’ll be o.k.” – That myth has taken too many innocent lives. Get with your new boss ASAP, get curious and inoculate yourself from the unfortunate fate that too many have suffered. You might be surprised with their responses.


How to get a busy boss to listen to you

Busy bosses are all too common these days. I consistently hear managers of all shapes and sizes, good and bad, tell me that with the immense amounts of work on their plate, they simply don’t have time to meet with their direct reports. So, whether you are a Vice President looking to get time with the “head honcho” or you are just starting out your career, time with the boss is a rare thing. And just because you get time with him or her, with all of the distractions at work today the odds they will truly “listen” to you drop even more dramatically. So, what can you do?

I’m an analogy guy (if you haven’t already figured that out). The approach to getting a busy boss to listen to you is just like the approach a master chef might take in preparing the perfect irresistible three course meal for his or her most valued customer. Get your apron on and your pots and pans ready. We’re off to the kitchen.

Know Your Boss and His/Her Palette

Understanding your boss’ information “dining habits,” is the first step. What does he or she like to talk about? When do they like to talk with you (when they do)? How much do they like to get from you (portion size)? Understanding these basic but important traits will help us whip up the perfect menu that will leave them sitting on the edge of their seat, begging for more.

Plan Your Menu and Offer a Taste

Understanding what your boss likes to talk about is the second step. Our goal is to use this to tantalize our boss with a juicy “starter” to get their attention. In other words, you want to lead the conversation with what he or she wants to talk about. If he or she always is asking about the status of a particular project, start there. If he or she always wants to talk about sales numbers, make that first. You get the idea. When in doubt, consider numbers. As one colleague reminded me, “few things attract more attention than cold, hard numbers…good or bad.”

Send out this “appetizer” in a very small portion in the version of an e-mail or voicemail to flag that you want to talk more about this and provide them just what they are looking for. For example, “I’m looking forward to reviewing the status of Project X with you. To date, I’m pleased to report that we are 14% ahead of target. I’d like to fill you in on the details and give you my estimated projections when we meet…” Get them hungry, not full.

Pick the Ideal Dining Time

Picking the right time to meet with your boss is also important. In your “appetizer” e-mail, request a time that you know will be the most productive for your boss. In other words, consider times / locations that will be free from other distractions (for example, don’t pick a time right after they are scheduled to meet with their boss. Those meetings almost always run over and can leave your boss in an unhappy mood). Also consider times that are less likely to get moved or bumped by other meetings or emergencies. Good “bump free” times include: first thing Monday morning, end of the day Friday or in the early morning hours / early evening hours.

Leave Them Wanting More

Once you have them committed to a time and place, be thoughtful about what you are going to serve and when. If you stay in control of the kitchen, you are more likely to get them to hear what you want them to hear. Above all, keep your portion sizes small. It’s better to have them wanting more than for them to leave feeling like they want to throw up. Consider the following sample menu (including portion size):

  • First Course (Appetizer) – What they want to talk about. Less than 10 minutes
  • Second Course (Main Course) – What you want to talk about. Approximately 10-15 minutes
  • Third Course (Dessert) – Offer a menu of possible next steps. Ask them what they would like to do next based on the conversations you’ve had. Approximately 5 minutes

Always set up the meetings to be less than you would like (small portions). And as any good chef would, send the “menu” (agenda) ahead of time and manage it as tightly as you can. If he / she starts to go off of the agenda, don’t be afraid to say, “I notice that our conversation is turning in a different direction. I’m sensitive to your time. Might I propose that we quickly conclude what’s on our current agenda and then use the remaining time for this additional topic?”

Thank Them for Dining with You

After the meeting, send a follow-up e-mail that outlines what you covered, what they / you committed to doing based on the conversations and proposed next steps / meeting times. This not only reinforces your message to ensure “stickiness,” but it more likely guarantees a future meeting.

There you have it: the recipe for getting a busy boss to hear you. One final note, just as a good chef would never serve “rotten” food, avoid outdated information or irrelevant content. The last thing you want is for them to spit out what you’ve served them, push themselves away from the table and walk out. Getting them to dine with you again will be nearly impossible.

So, what are you waiting for? Get cookin’!


Signs your boss isn’t listening

Is your boss listening? Do you feel heard? Before we start down the path of how to get heard, we need to assess the situation. How bad is it and is it the boss that’s the problem or is it you? Consider the following signs:

Signs Your Boss May Not Be Listening

Consider the following telltale signs that your boss is a poor listener. Any of these signs by themselves are indicative of poor listening habits, however in combination the results could be disastrous. Note how many behaviors you see from your boss.

  • Your boss never asks your opinion
  • You meet with your boss less than once a month
  • Your boss never does what he / she agrees to doing in your conversations
  • When your boss paraphrases what you said to him / her, they almost always get it wrong
  • When your boss asks you a question and you answer it, they ask it again as if your answer never happened
  • When you talk, your boss does any of the following: stare at you blankly, type, check their phone, simply get up and walk away
  • Your boss talks and talks and talks… at you

Signs You Don’t Feel Heard

Equally important is how you experience this behavior. To what degree is this behavior affecting you, your performance and potentially your career? Note the following “costs” of having a boss that is a poor listener. The more statements you answer “yes” to, the more likely your mild frustration will turn to feelings of not being valued, cared for or seen. Deep stuff for certain.

  • Your ideas go unrecognized or unacknowledged
  • Your are only seen a certain way in the organization (your job / role… not what you are capable of)
  • Your career progression has stalled
  • You don’t think your boss cares about you

Looking in the Mirror

Now that you have assessed your boss’ listening skills as well as your own experience of being heard, there is one last question to ask yourself: Is it your boss that’s the problem or is it you? That’s a complicated question but an important one. It could be that there are things you aren’t doing to get heard and as a result you are really to blame for this dynamic. Or perhaps you are projecting historical patterns and beliefs onto your boss. In other words, do you have a life pattern of no one listening to you? As one client shared with me, “I grew up with stable but disconnected parents that never really listened to me. They never put forth the effort to get to know me as a person and what I thought. On top of that, I was the youngest of six children so my siblings never listened to what I had to say. As a result, I walk in the world doubting any one really wants to listen to what I have to say. Believe me, it has caused me more than one problem at work particularly with bosses.”

How do you tell if the problem is really you? Simple. Look around. If you co-workers have the same issue with your boss, it’s probably not you. However, if you seem to be the only one struggling with being heard by your boss, look in the mirror. The culprit may be staring right back at you.


And for a video example of note being heard, I think this FedEx commercial hits the mark.

“My boss doesn’t listen to me”

This month’s dysfunction is a subtle variation of one of the most challenging situations we experience in our careers: The Boss. Boss-related dysfunctions are not new and definitely aren’t new to our conversation. In past months we’ve discussed dysfunctions related to not trusting our boss as well as situations when we don’t think our boss likes us (click here for the all-time most read post). This month, we are going to take the theme of “boss” in different direction. Maybe you like your boss just fine and you trust him or her. However, no matter what you try, you can’t seem to get your boss to listen to you. Whether it’s getting your boss to hear your brilliant ideas or to listen to your needs, a boss that listens is a wonderful thing. A boss that doesn’t listen is, well… not.

This month we are talking about ways to get heard by your boss. Amongst other topics, we’ll be covering:

  • Signs your boss isn’t listening to you
  • How to get a busy boss to listen to you
  • How to get a new boss to listen to you
  • Your prescription for maximizing being heard

At the end of the month, if we haven’t got you fully heard, you should be on your way. And if you done everything you can and nothing seems to be working, then you may need to look at this past dysfunction of the month for the next step. But let’s don’t get too hasty. With a little work and a good plan, getting others to listen to us isn’t impossible.  Fun, no.  But possible?  Yes.