Q: My boss told me I need to become a better listener. I think I listen pretty well, but that all she wants is for me to agree with what she says. If I tell her that, she says I’m not listening. How do I break the logjam?
A: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen Covey said that, and it may help you. It may help you with your boss, with clients, and in negotiations with opposing counsel. People want to feel heard, not just agreed with; they want to know that you understand what’s important to them, not just what they want you to do next.
You can read up on active listening and see if any of its constructs will aid your dilemma. But you also have to be honest with yourself about the dynamics, and whether you are playing a role in perpetuating a power struggle. The last time I looked, the boss has the power. Listen to her in a learning mode, a service mode, an open mode. Try not to anticipate your part of the conversation as she is speaking or make assumptions about her motives.
That doesn’t mean you have to be a Yes Person; in fact she probably needs you to put forth a differing point of view, if you have one, but to do so in a way that also conveys your understanding of what she is saying. Try listening first and speaking second. It may break the logjam and result in more effective communication all around.