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March 27, 2017

My Boss Heard, But Was She Listening?

Ian Moss

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You are having a difficult conversation with your boss and are confident that he or she is listening closely – then comes the sting in the tail, "I hear what you're saying, BUT…"

It dawns on you that she hasn’t been listening at all. In fact, as things stand, the opposite of what you would like may be just about to happen.

I experienced this sort of communication breakdown a few years ago. And it was not particularly pleasant.

Having shown interest in a challenging new offshoot of my job, I was asked by my boss to attend a week's training course to learn more. I was flattered to have been singled out. Plus, this could do my career no harm at all, could it?

So off I went to pick up what knowledge and operational skills I could over the five-day course. I enjoyed the experience and gained a reasonable knowledge of the software needed for the job .

The trouble was that, from the moment I had said yes to going on the course, I had harbored reservations about the feasibility – not to mention the desirability – of adding this task to my already full agenda.

Hours of Practice

It turns out I was right to be cautious because these doubts were confirmed by my experience in the classroom. What I was learning – video-editing – was very technical and required not just a few whiteboard sessions, but hours of practice to master.

While learning the theory was great, it was not something that could be added easily to my skillset and done successfully from day one. Even the team leader in the video department had warned, "Look, this isn't something that you can just pick up by going on a week-long course."

In a nutshell, doing the video editing alongside my main job was a non-starter – as I found when I was asked to complete a live task as well as my usual work. The sheer amount of time that I had to spend applying my new skill meant that my regular work went "on the backburner."

There were simply not enough available hours to get both jobs done. Stressed out, I tried talking to my boss. I said that I didn't feel I could add the role to my workload in this way, and apologized.

Good at Listening

But what my manager seemed to hear was, "Can I have extra tuition so I can do this new job quicker, and fit it into my schedule."  Because her response was that she would try to get me more training from the video department. To me, she had not heard what I was saying at all: that I was too busy already. Far from it.

A boss who was good at listening may have said, "So what you are saying here, Ian, is that you can't do this extra task in the way we are proposing. We need to abandon this project immediately."

Several uncomfortable meetings later I was eventually heard. But it was a pretty painful process. As a result, video-editing was no longer seen by the company as a task that could just be tagged on to an existing, busy role.

One part of me claims this as a victory. How I got my boss to listen. Another part of me says,"Don't bite off more than you can chew…"

And if I faced a similar situation today I may politely suggest we both try this Mind Tools quiz on listening before proceeding any further!

Have you ever felt as though your boss/colleague wasn't listening, or have you taken on an unmanageable task? Let us know in the box, below.

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