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"Why wont people listen to me?" This is a question that I hear
repeated over and over as I speak to and work with a variety of organizations
around this country. Employees ask that of their supervisors. Supervisors
ask that of their managers. Managers ask that of their general managers.
"Well, what is the answer?" I have spent a considerable amount
of time developing an answer to that question. In this day and age, as
we encourage employees in all areas of the organization to become involved
in managing their own jobs and the decisions that are required, we must
be sure to share with them the realities of the situation.
REALITY NUMBER 1:
Supervisors, managers, and business leaders, no matter how well intentioned
they may be, simply don't have time to listen to every problem, situation,
complaint and desire of every employee. There is simply too much to be
done. Frivolous conversations, without any noticeable benefit, simply
add to the already overwhelming burden that many decision-makers are asked
REALITY NUMBER 2:
If something has become important enough for you to call special attention
to "it," an emotional bond has already been created with "it."
On the surface, there is nothing wrong with emotional commitment. From
it grows passion. However, we must always be aware of Reality Number 3.
REALITY NUMBER 3:
People who are responsible for managing things have always been taught
to make decisions based, not on emotion, but on logic. In other words,
decision-makers will think or say, "Don't tell me how you feel, tell
me what this idea of yours can do for us." Their response based on
their position and the responsibilities associated with it, is both predictable
With these three realities clearly in mind, I suggest to my audiences
that if one truly wishes to be heard, then he or she must first earn that
right. To earn that right, I believe there are four questions that any
decision-maker must have the answers to, before they can act in good conscience.
If we know what these questions are, it then simply becomes our responsibility
to prepare the answers -- in advance. Here we go.
1: "HOW MUCH IS IT GOING TO COST?"
Managers learn this question in the first week of "supervisors school."
There are three definitely wrong answers . . . "I don't know"
. . . "Not much" . . . "It doesn't matter; we need it."
Each of these answers may be offered with much emotion, but the missing
logic is immediately apparent.
The correct and appropriate answer needs to be specific. One must be prepared
with actual numbers including investment cost, implementation costs, training,
etc. If this answer is supported by written documentation, in the eyes
of the decision-maker, you are inching further away from emotion and closer
to logic, thereby making your thoughts/concerns more valuable.
2: "WHAT IS THE BENEFIT?"
You must nail this one. The successful answer will include a complete
listing of all the benefits that can be derived as a result of your suggested
action. If 85 benefits can be identified, then come prepared with a list
of 85. One cautionary note, all 85 of those benefits must be legitimate
and defensible. If the decision-maker determines any of your listed benefits
to be less than legitimate, then the entire list is considered to be in
question. If the benefit list is made up of only one, make sure that its
foundation is unshakable and secure.
3: "HOW LONG WITH IT TAKE?"
We have all heard the old saying, "Time is money." Well, decision-makers
have it tattooed on their chests. All of us can think of opportunities
that were intentionally bypassed, not because the appropriate resources
were not available, but rather because there was no clear picture of how
long this activity might take to implement. I strongly suggest that to
earn the right to be heard, we must take the time to develop answers to
such difficult questions. We simply cannot assume that those things will
work themselves out, or that we can cross that bridge when we get to it.
Proactive communication professionals anticipate such timing concerns
as shipping dates, training periods, outages, in-house delays, etc., in
advance, and communicate them openly.
4: "WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF NOT ACTING NOW?"
Many individuals feel that if they have successfully maneuvered their
way through the first three questions posed by suspicious decision-makers,
that they must be home free. Not quite. Many decision-makers have a deeply
ingrained tendency to just "wait and see" what happens. Indecision
proves to be a tremendous idea killer. My suggested answer to this particular
question requires a certain amount of gutsiness on the part of the responder.
When asked, "What are the consequences of not acting now?" I
suggest the following response, "Well, boss, if you decide to not
act on my recommendation, you can certainly count on my continued support
and participation. However, remember that there are a certain number of
benefits (those previously identified) that will not be realized as a
result of your decision today." Put the full responsibility for both
the decision and resulting impact of it squarely on his or her shoulders.
As risky as this may seem, it can be very effective.
One final communication
it is not what you say, it is how you say it. Always strive to conclude
every discussion and interaction on a strong, supportive and positive
Can I assure you that communicating your professional concerns in the
manner that I have prescribed will always lead to personal satisfaction
and professional success, regardless of the level of decision-makers you
may encounter? Of course not. There are simply too many unidentified circumstances
that may be outside our realm of control. However, I can assure you of
one thing. If you regularly practice these methods of communication, your
stock will rise in your organization. Why? It is simple. You have earned
the right to be heard.
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