Here we look at six ways to grab their attention and get them to listen to you.
Managers can often be like small children – demanding, impatient, and with the ability to throw their toys out of the pram when things do not go their way. Also like small children, the effect of information overload is inattentiveness, which can be frustrating when you need their input on a key project.
Couple this with an always-on culture whereby they can be reached by phone, email, instant messenger and more – distractions have been found to lose the average large company over $10m (£7.5m) in annual productivity – and you can see how hard it can be to compete for their attention.
1. Don’t surprise them
Managers do not like surprises because they equate surprises with something they have not planned for, which usually means something bad. If you need to talk about a topic they have no idea about, lay the groundwork first. For longer projects, arrange regular meetings and send them brief agendas in advance.
2. Be concise
How often have you sent an email with three complex questions and got one back with a single ‘yes’ as the response? Bosses are often too busy to do more than skim-read emails.
If you need an answer, send a concise email with just one question; if you need multiple answers, try to package the questions as options your manager can choose between.
In person, learn the art of the executive summary – lay out the meeting purpose, key points and the decision you want them to make first, then go into the details.
3. Choose the right time
First thing on a Monday is bad, obviously, as is immediately before a three-hour board meeting or ten minutes before lunch. Wait until you can find an optimum time to talk.
4. Hold their attention
The more engaging you can be, the better. If you are doing a presentation, why not start with a couple of questions before launching into the pitch?
If you are rolling out PowerPoint, make sure your slides are clear, concise and visually engaging. Watch some TED talks for inspiration.
5. Stay on target
This is especially important if you are presenting to a group of people, as it is all too easy for groups to go off on a tangent. Make the purpose of the meeting clear at the start and act quickly if you see it going off track.
Don’t be rude, but use phrases such as ‘I think that’s a really good idea for our next discussion’ to make sure you cover everything you want to.
6. Have meetings in the right place
Your manager’s office is often the worst place to have a meeting because it is full of distractions – phone calls, their PA popping in to ask one quick question and so on. Invite them to come to your desk, which is useful if you want to demonstrate something, or book a meeting room.
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