How to Get Your Boss to Actually Listen to You

How to Get Your Boss to Actually Listen to You

As an employee, you have valuable insights and ideas to contribute to your company‘s success. But it can be frustrating when it feels like your boss never listens to you. Maybe they shoot down your suggestions in meetings, or your emails go unanswered. How can you make your voice heard?

Why Bosses Don‘t Listen
First, it‘s important to understand some of the common reasons why a boss might not be receptive to employee input:

  1. They‘re extremely busy and don‘t feel they can spare the time to hear you out. In back-to-back meetings all day, their mind is always on the next thing.

  2. They think they already know best. As the leader, they may feel they have the most complete picture and discount differing opinions.

  3. They don‘t recognize your expertise on the subject and think you don‘t have the knowledge or experience to advise them.

  4. There‘s a lack of psychological safety on the team, so they bristle at anything that could be perceived as criticism or a challenge to their authority.

  5. They have poor active listening skills in general and tend to talk over people or interrupt.

While these are understandable human tendencies, they can lead to dysfunction and resentment festering on a team. As an employee, you owe it to yourself and the company to (diplomatically) speak up if you have an important point to raise or problem to solve.

Strategies to Get Your Message Across
So what‘s the best way to approach communicating with a boss who doesn‘t seem to listen? Try these tips:

  1. Prepare ahead of time. Jot down concise talking points so you can stay focused when you meet with your boss. Think through potential objections and how you‘ll respond.

  2. Lead with solutions. Frame your input in terms of how it will solve a problem or benefit the company. Avoid simply complaining or criticizing.

  3. Back up your perspective with facts and data if possible. These lend credibility and are harder to brush off than opinions.

  4. Highlight your relevant knowledge and experience on the topic. Remind your boss of your previous successes and insights.

  5. Choose your timing wisely. If you know your boss is slammed at quarter-end or right before their board presentation, hold off. Find a moment when they‘ll have more bandwidth.

  6. Ask questions. Instead of barreling through your entire pitch, pause and ask for their reaction. What concerns do they have? What else would they need to know to consider your suggestions? Engaging them in two-way dialogue keeps their attention and makes them feel heard too.

  7. Summarize key points at the end and follow up in writing. Recap your main points and agreed-upon next steps so your boss has something concrete to refer back to.

  8. Utilize other avenues to reinforce your message. Raise the topic again in your next 1:1 or team meeting. See if collaborators can echo your points in their own meetings with the boss.

When a boss hear something repeatedly (without it coming across as nagging), it starts to sink in that it‘s a significant issue worth examining further.

Building a Strong Relationship
Of course, getting your voice heard shouldn‘t be a one-off occurrence. To become a trusted advisor to your boss, focus on building a solid working relationship over time:

  • Have regular 1:1 meetings to keep them updated on your work and discuss any concerns.
  • Demonstrate your reliability by consistently meeting deadlines, keeping your word, and delivering high-quality work.
  • Look for opportunities to support their goals and make them look good to their own superiors.
  • Understand their communication preferences (e.g. email vs. phone vs. in-person) and adapt your style.
  • Provide periodic unsolicited positive feedback on things you think are going well. It shows you‘re not just coming to them with problems.

As you demonstrate your value and commitment over time, you‘ll build trust equity. Then, when you do need to raise a concern or pitch a new idea, they‘ll be much more receptive.

Picking Your Battles
That said, there‘s an art to knowing when to speak up and when to let things slide. If you‘re always playing devil‘s advocate, your contributions will start to be tuned out. Pick your battles by weighing the importance and urgency of the issue.

  • How much does this matter to the success of your project and the company?
  • How difficult would it be to reverse course later if it‘s the wrong call?
  • Are there workarounds you could implement without needing their approval?

Sometimes the prudent path is to make the best of the direction you‘ve been given. You might vent to a peer over coffee to get it off your chest, then move on. Save your dissension for the truly mission-critical issues.

Knowing When to Escalate
But what if you‘ve tried all these approaches and your boss still won‘t listen to a crucially important issue? Perhaps they dismiss your warnings about an ethical breach, illegal activity, or an impending crisis. Maybe the problem is their own abusive conduct. In these cases, you may need to go above their head:

  • Bring your concerns to HR and ask for confidentiality as you report the situation.
  • Speak with your boss‘s boss to make them aware of the issue and your prior attempts to resolve it.
  • If you‘re a senior leader, consult the board of directors.

While this should be reserved for truly serious situations, the ability to escalate can be a relief. It ensures problems don‘t get indefinitely swept under the rug.

The Win-Win of Open Communication
Getting your boss to listen to you can feel like an uphill battle some days. But by communicating strategically, building a strong relationship, and escalating when needed, you can ensure your voice is heard.

The benefits go both ways. You‘ll feel more empowered and valued in your role. And your company will gain from hearing diverse insights, spotting problems sooner, and retaining employees who know they have a real say. That‘s the kind of healthy organization and team we all want to work for.