The Tricky Task of Managing Upward

Question: My boss is a lousy listener. Every time I try to talk with her she has her mobile device in hand and one eye on it. When I ask her to please not read email when we are talking, she gets cranky and says that she is perfectly capable of “multitasking.” Yet half the stuff I tell her she later claims I did not say.

Alice Waagen says: Ah the curse of mobile technology. You have a real challenge here because what you are really talking about is upward coaching and feedback. Some bosses welcome getting feedback from their staff, others get defensive and belligerent. Sounds like you have one of the latter.

One thing you could try to get through to your boss would be to ask her to grant you a “trial period” where you talk without electronic interruptions. Ask if you can go one month with focused conversations and see if you can demonstrate how more productive your communication was. Carefully note agenda and follow up and see if you can demonstrate that you covered more ground and that retention of information improved for both of you. During these meetings, you need to model effective listening behaviors such as occasionally summarizing what has been said, asking probing and clarifying questions and maintaining eye contact and an open facial expression. Even take a few minutes at the end of the meeting to do a summary wrap up so that you both leave with the same information in your head.

Managing upward can be tricky. If you keep reinforcing that you want both of you to be successful in getting business results, she may loosen her grip on the mobile device and actually get more done.

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