What to do when your boss and colleagues aren’t listening

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Ever feel constantly talked over at work? Does your boss finish your sentences (and not in a good way)? Or maybe your colleagues just never let you finish and instead say exactly what you were going to say and get the credit? Not being listened to, being talked over and not getting the chance to finish our thoughts is at best frustrating, but can also mean you don't get the chance to demonstrate your value. If you are feeling this way, then read on for tips to manage your boss being over-talkative.

Many of us feel or have felt that our boss just doesn’t listen. I’ve felt this way at times in my career… having a boss who just doesn’t hear what you are saying. Then two weeks later that same boss comes up with a great new idea (your idea!) and takes the credit. Early in my career, I took the ‘philosophical’ approach – as long as my ideas got transmitted into good action at some point, and the benefits were received by the organization, then who cares whether my boss recognised me as the source?

But then comes the problem. Come promotion or performance evaluation time – you don’t get the credit. I was lucky enough that I was able to demonstrate my value in multiple ways, but I’ve had clients come to work for me who have been held back in their careers precisely because of a boss who talks over them. I’ve worked with people who have had terrible performance evaluations because their boss just didn’t see the who really brought contributions to a team. And I’ve had clients who are burning out because although they get the credit for an idea they are just exhausted with being talked over all the time. 

If this feels like you, don’t worry, because you can fix this! You have more control over how your boss behaves towards your ideas than you might think.

Being talked over is exhausting. If you don’t tackle it you don’t just risk a bad performance evaluation or not getting a promotion you deserve, you are contributing towards eventual burn-out.

What to do when your boss talks over you all-the-time:

  1. Get some perspective.
    You are going to need to take action, but taking action from an emotional place rarely serves us well. Start by actively working on reassuring yourself and getting some perspective.
    • Work on calming those feelings!
      When your boss next interrupts reassure yourself and aim to bring that blood pressure down. Repeat to yourself “It’s not that [insert name] doesn’t care what I think. They just thought I was done.” Or try “They are just so passionate they need to finish their thoughts out loud.” 
    • Perform an assessment.
      How often does this happen: every meeting? Every time you open your mouth? Does your boss do this with others? Evidence will either help you get perspective or give you data to present to your boss when you need to talk to them about it. 
    • Get feedback
      If this is happening to other people, ask those same people how they feel about it (be careful not to turn into a b*tchy gossip!). Are you reacting differently from others to the same behaviour? If so, try and understand why you are reacting this way. Is it a cultural difference? Do you take more offence than others? And remember that just because other’s do or don’t recognise this as a problem, doesn’t mean it is or isn’t a problem. Some people will just have learnt to put up with behaviour that is still negative. Sometimes you’ll see that you are actually still getting heard and that it is OK. This is just additional information to help you understand the full picture.
    • What is the impact of your boss talking over you?
      Is the aim of the meeting still being met? Are you still getting the feedback you need? Are you getting acknowledged for your contributions?
  2. Start finishing your point.
    This is the number one tactic in your toolkit, but be careful to not come across as passive-aggressive (which is why it is essential to feel calmer about this). When your boss has finished talking continue with your point.
    • If your boss already ‘made the point’ you wanted to make, reaffirm it by saying something like:
      “Yes! That is exactly what I was getting at… we need to…”
      This stops you being the difficult person who is just repeating what was already said.
    • If you boss went off in a different direction acknowledge it and then continue:
      “Thanks . That is a great point but I wanted to just mention … because…”
  3. Make a note of how your boss and colleagues react when you continue your point. Do they seem interested? Annoyed? Pleased? This can boost your confidence, but also tell you when you are off topic. Ideally your boss would tell you that you were off topic rather than just talking over you! But many managers lack the skills required to nurture their team. So, manage up and read the body language of those in the meeting (and yes, this is possible even by videoconference too – its just more work!) to see how they react. But make sure you do this from a place of strength and trust rather than reactionary emotions.
  4. Consider not yielding. 
    This can come across as passive-aggressive, but for people who interrupt all the time, OR people who have a naturally shorter pause length in conversation this may be the only tactic available. If your gentle finishing off of ideas isn’t working to change behaviour, then not yielding can become a go-to solution. However, if this behaviour isn’t done to anyone else, then you need to understand WHY this is occurring before you take this tactic.
    • Start with something like ‘Oh hang on, I wasn’t quite done. There are just a few more points I would like to add’. A smile on your face and in your tone can soften this. 
    • Someone who interrupts all the time has probably been told that they do this, so although they might be upset in the moment, they should be used to it! 
    • If your boss is sufficiently self-centered that they don’t care about your feelings, and that is what meant they interrupted you, then they won’t care when you do this either! So stay calm but make the point that you weren’t done.
  5. Tackle your boss in private.
    If you are the only one that your boss speaks over, then you need to understand why. Your boss might be treating you differently for any number of reasons from seniority (being the newbie and the most experienced are both reasons given in these sorts of conversations!),  to a feeling in your boss of ‘being on the same page’. The reasons are more often positive than negative. Someone who is passionate about what you say is more likely to interrupt than someone who thinks you are under-performing!
    • Ask for a private meeting – no one wants to be told publicly that they aren’t behaving well.
    • Go equipped with your evidence. 
    • Figure out what is most important to focus on. Don’t just dump a laundry list of reasons why this hurts and is bad. Focus on what really matters the most to your career and the benefits to the organization (not your hurt feelings!). This might be ‘I’m concerned that because you finish my sentences that I’m not getting the credit for my ideas.’ Or ‘I am concerned that colleagues don’t see the value I bring to our team meetings because you finish my thoughts!’. 
    • If your boss gets defensive, let them breathe. Most people will get defensive in this situation. Let them! Jumping in yourself with a million examples won’t help. Defensiveness is part of a journey to realisation. So let them finish, then reassert why their behaviour is not helpful.
  6. Talk to the meeting chair.
    If the meetings are run by someone other than the person who is cutting you off. Or if there is a culture of cutting each other off, take the meeting chair to one-side and ask if they can give everyone the time to speak and complete their reports. Sometimes taking this approach when even the meeting chair is a problem can be a great way to flag up unhelpful behaviour. It is much easier to see it in others than in ourselves and then ‘lead by example’!

I’d love to know if these ideas are helpful, or if you’ve tried all of it and still aren’t getting traction. Drop me a message and I’ll be happy to help!

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