When Bosses Give Advice Instead of Listening

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about boss’s non-work advice

I want to stop a boss from telling me in her words “What you do is” to non-job related situations. For example my boss will ask how my mother or in-laws who are sick are doing. Sounds nice enough. The problem is, I will answer the question and state problems that are going on (for instance round the clock care and its encompassing difficulties.)She then responds with “What you do in that situation is”. Or she will say, “What our family did was this” and then goes on. It is a trait women often accuse men of doing–“fixing” instead of listening and I now maybe have more insight into this issue.

My feeling is this area is out of bounds for her as its not work related. Suggestions on how to stop it? I know that sometimes I need to not “feed her more than she needs to know” but still she should listen if she asks the question. Also, I wanted to follow up to Tina Rowe who gave a wonderful answer to an inquiry about asking for leave for my father in law. I followed some of the suggestions (documentation) and I was granted the family leave. However, just before I left (the day before) my supervisor calls me in for an evaluation and things I should “think about” during the down time I will have caring for them. It just felt like she couldn’t quite do the right thing the right way the whole way. I also appreciated your kind words on the frustrations with the medical system I am very glad I went back, as the intimate time with them was priceless and now knowing what I got out of the trip plus the help I provided, I would have been really disapointed in myself to not have gone. When in doubt, check it out. Sincerely, and a really appreciate personal nature of your site

Signed, Want Boss to Listen Not Just Advise

Dear Want Boss to Listen Not Just Advise:

Hello to you, and thank you for your follow-up about your first question to us. I’m glad you were able to get your leave to help your family, so you could do the things you needed to do. Some things are so important in our lives and the lives of others, it is worth a lot of effort to make them happen.

About the question you ask this time: The temptation to provide advice is one that many people–especially supervisors,managers and parents–give into often. I know, because that is one reason I enjoy my work on this site! 🙂 However, I know what you mean about unasked-for advice, when all one really wants to do is share. It can sound like someone is talking down to us when they always have a better way to do things, or when they imply they have handled things perfectly and we have not.Often they mean very, very well, and make the assumption we wanted their advice. So, we feel we can’t very well complain that they’ve given it to us!All of us would be more valued if we waited for people to ask, “What do you think?” before we told them!Your best option may be to eliminate the opportunities for personal advice from your boss.

But I think there are several other reasons to do that, besides just cutting out the advice.

1. It sounds to me that apart from these situations, there is a feeling by your boss that you could improve some aspects of your work. I thought that during the first situation we communicated about, and your reference to her telling you to think about some things during your time away, reinforces that.It might be good for you to put all of your work focus on work, rather than letting even your boss take it away. It’s hard enough to stay focused when you have so many, many things going on in your mind, without adding to it.After your boss talks to you about your personal situations, SHE goes back to work, but you will continue to think about it, plus feel frustrated over her reactions to it. Neither of those are good for really hunkering down to work. Sometimes the stability of work is a good way to diminish stressful thoughts about other things for awhile, and we don’t need to be reminded about them.

2. Your boss may feel that your attention is already being diverted by away-from work issues, which is why she asks you questions about non-work situations. Thus, she can later tell her own managers that you are thinking and talking about personal issues a lot. She might not intend to be mean about it, but still it would present you as someone who is not focused on work.

3. She almost certainly does not realize you feel the way you do about her advice, so she probably thinks you really need her advice and are following it. Or, she thinks you need her advice but don’t follow it. Either way, her thoughts are not accurate, and they make her feel that you are not doing the right things in your personal life.It’s almost impossible to separate our opinions about people personally and professionally. When we hear someone at work talk about something at home, our opinion about how they handled it will tend to influence our thoughts about them. We make judgments about people’s character, traits, personality, lifestyle and other things, in general, based on their stories.So, I think the less she knows about your decision-making away from work, the better. That way she can’t subconsciously or consciously transfer her attitudes to your work situation.

4. I don’t know what your boss is thinking, but I am inclined to think she views herself as wise and caring, and just trying to be helpful. She wants to rescue you and others and thinks if you would only listen to her you could do better. And, she may be right! But, her approach is not good in this case, and hurts her ability to help. Consider this, as a way to get out of that, and also to present yourself as a good employee who is really working at work: When she asks how things are going, answer briefly, then divert the conversation to work.For example,”Thank you for asking. My folks are about the same. It’s a real challenge sometimes, but we’re doing our best. (slight pause) I’ve been working on this report for the last hour, and almost have it done, so that’s a good thing.””Thank you for asking. Things are about the same, and my wife and I stay busy all the time. Speaking of busy, we’ve sure been busy here lately, haven’t we? I think all of us have been snowed under with work.” Or, even, “Thank you for asking. How are things going with you? Is your family well?”Or, use the time to talk positively, “Thank you for asking. We had some crisis times this week, but we’re all holding on. One good thing is that my wife and I went for a walk this weekend and enjoyed just being outdoors. It’s gorgeous this time of year, isn’t it?”

The point is to let her see you as someone who is working and staying focused, in spite of away-from-work issues. And, that you are able to handle both work and private issues effectively.

We all need someone to share with, and I hope you have someone for that. Or, that you have things you enjoy that you can do to provide you some mental and physical relaxation. But, I think you will need to separate that from work, even if your boss tries to make it an issue there. Also, since your boss isn’t a close and dear friend, she is not the best person to have as your confidante, even if she means very well by talking to you about it.I hope these thoughts have been helpful. Best wishes in all of these issues.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.