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BLOG: The Flipping Bird II

F.Y. Teng | April 18, 2011
Here are two ways a boss could be listening but not really listening.

Dear Readers, while I’m on the subject of how some bosses metaphorically show you the finger before thumbing you down, I thought I’d give you a couple more examples based on the experience of a few of my friends. I’ll wager these scenes get played out repeatedly today all across this nation of ours.

Scene 1: Executive goes to boss with a chronic problem (which is systemic and requires resolution at the strategic level), and the boss listens, then–in the spirit of sharing–tells the executive all his own problems associated with his job of running the office, the company et cetera. The boss concludes with a slight wail: “It’s really hard!” The executive then leaves the room with nothing, feeling either sorry for the boss (having interpreted “It’s really hard!” rather naively, I should add, as an honest call for help) or angry (having understood the boss’s wailing to mean, “You don’t have problems, I do”, and therefore a waste of management time).

Scene 2: Executive goes to boss with a chronic problem (which is, again, systemic and requires resolution at the strategic level), and the boss listens at first, then interrupts repeatedly, asking for clarification on some points and for lots of details that don’t seem to have anything to do with the problem or its solution. The boss then goes on to talk about “the big picture”, grand corporate direction and strategy, business philosophy…at length. When the boss is done talking, at least 45 minutes have passed, and the executive is exhausted and probably also confused. With his deadlines looming, the executive decides this meeting is not going to be fruitful and ends the meeting, but not without thanking the boss first. As in the earlier example, the boss has just told the executive that his problems are miniscule–he may have even used the words “daily minutiae” with reference to what the executive actually does for the company–in the context of the company’s operations. In essence, the boss has just communicated that he has bigger, “strategic” issues to worry about, and that he has no intention of hearing the executive’s thoughts on anything.

I believe there are more examples of such managerial behaviour, and would like to hear from you, the readers. Please share with us. Write to me at


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