It may, at times, feel difficult to get your company’s leadership to listen. Sometimes problems exist with colleagues. Members of your team may not respond to e-mails or avoid speaking face to face. Other communication struggles surface when you need to tell your manager about a problem you are encountering. But maybe they don’t make time for one-on-ones, or perhaps they need a little coaching on how to effectively listen.
And then there’s that feeling that the organization as a whole isn’t listening. Many companies try to fix their communication struggles by first soliciting feedback. We applaud them for taking the time to run an employee engagement survey. But, how do they show you they will listen to and act on your feedback? And what if they do nothing? Will you wait for them to make changes while your engagement wanes? You could absolutely wait and feel justified, because your organization is letting you down. But does a thought like this serve you?
In a previous blog, our DecisionWise consultants discussed the organization’s part in the issue of employee voice. Towards the end of the conversation, we asked them to share some observations that might empower you in this tough situation. In response, they shared some things we could keep in mind when we feel like no one is listening.
Avoid the Trap of “Learned Helplessness”
Principal Consultant, Dan Hoopes asserts that we should first identify if we have developed a victim mentality. He mentions the work of Martin Seligman and his research on “learned helplessness.” This video explains a study Seligman conducted. You may see from the questions at the end how “learned helplessness,” might be holding you back.
“Learned helplessness” is a trap we fall into all too often. If I’m not getting the information or feedback that I need, I should go and ask. I Appreciate when people ask for clarification. So, when we think of engagement as a 50/50 proposition, I think the same thing happens with communication. You can’t wait to be acted upon. Learned helplessness is, “They didn’t tell me that.”
Know When and How to Bring up Your Ideas
Learning to navigate company culture can be a little bit tricky. Sometimes, employees just need a mentor to coach them through pitching their ideas. Senior Consultant, Charles Rogel shared some thoughts on how new employees might find more success in this area.
“And so you need to be strategic in terms of your suggestions, ideas, and things that you really want to change.”
“I’ve seen new, enthusiastic employees come up with 20 different ideas to improve the organization within their first week. And they come with, “At my last organization, we…” In this case, the new employees come off too strongly, with too many suggestions. Your company’s leadership is less likely to listen if you add too much noise, and too many things to consider. They should instead think about their top ideas and suggestions, and look for the best opportunity to share those. Are you suggesting something as a special project that you want to take on as one of your development goals? Are you trying to enact change in a more strategic way? Realize that change takes time in any organization. People may not listen to all of your suggestions, but be patient, deliberate, and keep trying.”
VP of Consulting Services, Christian Nielson adds an often overlooked point. Tenured employees may know that the company has come a long way in addressing certain issues. As a new employee, you are unfamiliar with the journey that employees have taken in the organization. People may have tried your solutions but found they didn’t work for whatever reason. And so, Christian cautions us with this.
“When you are new to an organization, you must be sensitive enough to honor the past and understand that you might lack certain information. But with that in mind, press forward and try. One of my favorite definitions of employee engagement is, “When we’re engaged, we feel empowered to bring more of our best self to work.” We should search for a way to be our authentic self and to incorporate more of that into our work.”
Can You Help Your Company’s Leadership Listen to You?
Sometimes, just tweaking the way we approach people with our ideas can offer very different results. Christian offers this tip that he learned from business educator, Marshall Goldsmith.
“When you ask someone for help it does this interesting psychological thing where they join your side.”
“Goldsmith has this great idea about asking for help and what it does if you have a manager that’s not supportive when you bring up ideas. Ask them for help saying, “I have this idea, can you help me figure out a way to implement this on a trial basis, further explore this, or do a test of this idea.” When you ask someone for help, it does this interesting psychological thing where they join your side. Now, this isn’t foolproof, but it can at least soften some of the existing barriers.”
Principal Consultant, Beth Wilkins then helped us with one more tweak as she put us into the minds of managers. Beth shares how many managers feel and how it affects their ability to listen and act on employee concerns.
“As a manager, I experienced employees telling me about all of their problems, and it became very heavy. I began to brace myself for a laundry list of problems in one-on-ones. I paid close attention when people had a solution attached to the problem. In consideration of managers, I would recommend that employees think, “what kinds of things can I suggest that would make my manager’s or executives’ lives easier?” rather than just reporting the problem.”
You may have stopped talking because getting your company’s leadership to listen seemed hopeless. If you’ve had some time to heal, look back at those people and situations. Were these people possibly having a bad day or in a hurry? Could you try a different approach and revisit your questions or concerns? Then, think about new ideas or concern you have. Make a plan to share those things with these new suggestions in mind.
- Find the right person to approach
- Consider your timing
- Talk to them when they can give you their full attention
- Come with possible solutions
- Communicate that you would like their help and feedback
We hope these tips will help you put some of these situations back in your realm of control. If they don’t, be proud that you tried! At that point, you may have to re-evaluate how your organization’s listening skills contribute to your overall employee engagement and whether or not you should seek other opportunities.