Coach's Corner: Dealing with uncommunicative boss

  • Article by: LIZ REYER
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • March 23, 2014 - 2:00 PM

Q: I have a new manager and am disappointed in him. He doesn’t have much to say to me, and I don’t feel like he listens when I talk. I can’t see how he’ll be able to help me succeed in my job and move my career forward. What can I do?

A: Ask for what you need, and also think of alternative ways to proceed if he doesn’t come through.

The inner game

Not all people with manager titles are good at managing people. I put much responsibility with organizations, which often promote people with strong technical skills but do not teach them how to lead. This leaves you in a situation of taking the lead with him to push for the support you’re looking for — an endeavor that may or may not be successful.

To start, reflect on the situation, focusing on your breath to help you let go of disappointment so that you can look objectively at the factors at play.

What is your vision for your relationship with your manager? How often would you interact and what would those interactions include? People have a variety of levels of need; they are not right or wrong, but be sure that you are clear on what you’d like. Think in terms of day-to-day direction as well as higher level career development aspects. If you’re having trouble imagining this, think back on experiences with past managers, good or bad, to define your ideal.

Now consider your current manager, and detail your concerns. What behaviors cause you to feel unheard? For example, do you hear keyboard clicks if you’re on the phone or does he fiddle with his smartphone during meetings? Or is it subtler than that?

The outer game

If you want the situation to improve, you’ll need to discuss this with your manager. Preparation will be key, and you probably don’t want to spring it on him without warning. For example, consider setting up a meeting to touch base on your new working relationship.

In planning for the meeting, develop one or two key messages that you want to convey. If there are positive aspects, be ready to mention those. If there are specific behaviors that you find challenging, highlight those, using “I” messages: “When I hear you typing when we talk I feel disappointed because it seems like you’re not really paying attention to our conversation.”

There may also be needs you can bring up; for example, “I’d like to set up some structured career development discussion time” so that he knows it’s important to you.

These conversations may not yield the results you hope for, so develop a Plan B. It’s always a good idea to have mentors, so look around your organization or broader network to identify people who could provide extra support.

If, after all your efforts, the relationship is unsustainable, consider other, more extreme, options. You could talk to your boss’ boss for ideas on making it work. Or you could look for a new job, recognizing that you may not actually end up with a better outcome.

The last word

Pleasantly and proactively take steps to help your manager provide better leadership.

What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at

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