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.

A note from Brandon
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4 replies
  1. Pros says:

    The biggest problem with the whole looking in the mirror is it leads to a lot of self doubt. People end up beating themselves up and thinking they are the problem when i reality its a two way street.

    Many times your other coworkers know they aren’t heard by the boss, but fail to speak up out of fear. At some point don’t you have to stand up for yourself and clear the air with your boss? There is nothing more empowering than standing up for yourself in this situation.

    Can’t you go to your boss and state clearly “I notice some things I said in the past haven’t been addressed this concerns me.

  2. Brandon Smith says:

    I agree completely that if we aren’t careful, we can think the whole dynamic is in our head and that’s not productive. However, if it is a dynamic that is rooted in our life patterns, we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to it. And while I believe that “standing up for yourself” is a wonderful thing, when talking to the boss, we have to be careful to not position it as accusatory or judgmental. If we inadvertently become accusatory and judgmental, they’ll become defensive and in the end, we won’t get what we want. If you want to take the route of direct confrontation with the boss, put their needs first and then turn to your needs in a non-accusatory way. So, rather than saying, “I notice some things I said in the past haven’t been addressed. This concerns me,” state, “I know you are tremendously busy. I totally get it and the last thing I want to do is add more to your plate. At the same time, for me to do my very best work, it will help me to get the following things from you…” This approach typically works better because it acknowledges their needs first, softening them to hearing yours second.

  3. Pros says:

    Aha, that makes sense. Treat the boss like your most valued customer and say what you need to get the best of what he or she wants. I like that. Addressing it as a whats in it for him or her scenario and that you benefit too.

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