Louise Metcalf acknowledges is can be tough to listen to staff.
If you regularly find yourself moaning that your boss is a dud at chewing the cud, you are not alone.
Almost one in two Australian employees think their managers are bad listeners, according to the latest employee engagement survey results by the Australian Institute of Management.
The institute polled 2,200 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.
One of the reasons Gemma Moore now works for herself is because previous employers couldn't hear her.
What's your experience? Does your boss listen to you?
Tony Gleeson, the chief executive of the Victoria/Tasmania branch of the AIM, 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.”
About 50 per cent of MBA programs today do not address this essential management requirement, Gleeson says.
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.”
Gemma Moore left bosses for good in 2011 to launch her own business, Shout Consulting, 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, says she has worked under “quite a few managers more concerned with making sure they looked good” than listening to their teams' suggestions and acting on good ideas.
One example that stands out occurred soon after Moore started working 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 all 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 and so had this manager, which made it so frustrating, but this sort of thing happened all the time.”
Dr Louise Metcalf is an organisational psychology specialist and runs her own business, PAX Leader Labs, with a staff of 15.
She admits there are times she cannot listen to employees due to a super tight schedule that “fails me miserably”.
“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.
“I have had people tell me I need to communicate more to them and every time they say that I can feel myself mentally nodding that they are right.”
How do you raise serious issues with the 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 – avoid all guerrilla-style assaults.
- Research the employer's bigger picture objectives and ask yourself "does this contribution fit 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,” Gleeson says.
- Don't expect an answer on the spot – “Most bosses need time to go away and decide and if you push they'll dig their heels in,” Metcalf says.
- 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.