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Imagine, the first panel of a cartoon showing a medieval castle under siege. The second panel shows a salesman trying to sell a machine gun to one of the knights.   The third panel shows the boss telling the knight to send the salesman away, he doesn’t have time to see (listen) to some sales person.  

The late Dr. Patrick Scanlon of Loyola University’s Medical School continuously told his students that if you listen to your patients, probably as many as 90% will tell you what is wrong with them.  Yet many doctors don’t actually listen to a recitation of your ills. This same practice is equally widespread in business.   

Why doesn’t the boss listen?  Is s/he too busy to pay attention?  Or is s/he too focused on something else?  Is it possible that they don’t want to hear the news they’re being told?

In a Masterpiece Theater performance, the Virgin Queen (Elizabeth) of England says to her key confidant on her ascendancy to the throne, “you must tell me the truth even if I am upset with you for doing so.  I will try to never hold your message against you, for you are my most important confidant.”

In William Manchester’s book, Goodbye, Darkness, he describes an incident that happened to him during World War II in the Pacific. Marine Sergeant Manchester and his men were pinned down behind a sea wall, waiting for the Japanese automatic fire to stop. A green young officer tells him that they are going over the top to knock out the enemy pill boxes.  Manchester tells him that neither he nor his men are going to “go over the top” regardless what this officer says.  They are combat veterans and they know better. The officer called Manchester and his men cowards. He then leads the non existent charge and is killed within a few feet.   Manchester says that he should have listened to the combat veterans, but he “knew” better than they.  His unwillingness to listen got him killed.  

 If you are the boss/supervisor/president/or parent, how can you elicit legitimate input?  You need to be PRESENT for the persons in your life, whether at home or the plant or office.  If not, someone will ultimately tell you that you weren’t there for them.  You simply weren’t listening.  Commonly people hope that you will accept their input, but may not necessarily anticipate that you implement their particular point of view. But they do want to feel that they have had a chance to state their opinions.  
I have spent a good part of my professional life dealing with senior executives.  I cannot recall very many of them admitting that they didn’t listen to their subordinates.  Most seem to feel that they listen carefully to their staff. But their staff members privately tell a different story, theirs are “They don’t listen.” Many times the supervisor believes his own “press clippings”; that he has all the answers. The supervisor may make comments like “I don’t want to hear about losses.” Why? Because it doesn’t fit their narrative.    

Wouldn’t you think that the boss who is paying good salaries throughout his organization would want to hear other insights and opinions?  But frequently subordinates report that they find that the boss is preoccupied, inattentive, distant or distracted. There is no doubt that you need to be more attentive to your subordinates and the information they are providing you. Bob McCoy, a former EVP with Dominicks Finer Foods says that 90% or more of bosses don’t get solid input from their subordinates.
Listening to your subordinates clearly pays off.  The McDonald Corporation states proudly that a great number of their products have been developed by their franchisees. They developed products because they understood their processes very well.  And their bosses listened.  How about your company?

The boss needs to make himself available to the employees of the organization, without any barriers.  S/he needs to walk the plant floor.  S/he needs to be seen as vulnerable.  S/he should make it quite clear that a contrary idea can be as helpful as one in  total agreement with the boss’ view.  The boss has a lot of power over his employees: salary level, job security and career advancement.  Think about it, who is going to challenge that unless they believe it is permissible.  Many employees are risk adverse; particularly in these volatile times.   

Now if you are on the other side of the desk trying to get your boss’ attention, you might consider these few thoughts.  You need to establish your credibility early and often. You need to reinforce your image as a positive contributor.  You want the best for the total corporation.  You want to help to make your boss feel secure. You are not trying to undermine anyone.  Rather you are striving to help the boss reach higher levels within the organization. You are working in the best interests of the boss. Of course, your ideas may not be accepted the first or second time, but persistence will pay off. Stay the course; pick your battles carefully,.
    
Always use a respectful tone when you disagree with the boss.  Such deference does not mean that you don’t believe in your position 100%, but rather it is to your advantage to always be courteous and well spoken in stating your position.

Work out a logical approach on how you are going to present your data.  Have a written agenda for any meeting of more than just a few minutes. Demonstrate that this meeting is important and you are well prepared; this is not a casual hallway conversation.  Think carefully about how to frame your comments, so others can readily accept them. Clearly state how your approach would help the company. Apply the KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid).   

So if you are a boss or have a boss or wish to be a boss, you must learn to be sensitive to the communication needs integral to the process of human interaction. CARPE DIEM.

FOR YOUR FURTHER CONSIDERATION:  
“Success is never final; failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”  Coach John Wooden

James F. Fitzgerald is the president of
James F. Fitzgerald & Associates, Inc.
a Naperville, IL based Senior Executive Coaching and Career Transition firm.  
Jamesffitzgerald.com This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 630-420-0362 

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