They Won't Listen

by Dennis

I have spent most of my life in the construction trades. I have worked for several small construction companies and owned a couple. The communication needs of smaller 10-15 employee firms are different than those of larger companies but people are still people, and given the chance, they still want to be heard.

I learned a valuable lesson from my first place of employment, one that I took with me and used when I was the boss and had employees. I worked for a block laying company and every Friday, payday, the boss would buy a twelve pack of beer at just before quitting time. We would sit, rest, have a couple of cold ones and talk. That was the one time the boss was truly attentive to his employees, without a million other things on his mind.

I carried on this tradition in my own company for many years. I found that just about all of my employees would open up and truly tell me how they felt about things at these short weekly meetings. It was the combination of my being there listening to them, without other distractions, and the looseness that comes from a couple of beers. I learned a million different ways to improve the way we did things at these meetings. I also learned what changes needed to be made to keep my employees happy. In some cases they just needed to listen to me to learn why some changes could not be made, but they would not hear me until they knew I had really listened to every word they had to say.

My nephew is working in a much more structured environment. He works for UPS where he says they would not hear him if he screamed, not would they care if they did hear. He spent some time working for me years ago. He says, "if they would just have Friday meeting like you did, then we could talk, be heard and make positive changes".

Why isn't a company of this size geared to communicating with their employees and is there a way he could make this happen?


The lesson that you learned from your old boss was one of leadership: to listen to your people. A leader that doesn't listen can find himself without followers. I guess that's what someone had in mind when he came up with the phrase: "A leader without followers is just a guy taking a walk".

Boss listening to employees

Your employees observed that you took the time to meet with them and listen (just like you noticed it with your old boss). They appreciated it and showed their appreciation with their openness (to hear you) and candor (to express themselves).

You in turn gave them the gift of listening and that's one of the marks of leadership.

You and your employees were building more than structures, you were building trust.

Can it take place in larger organizations like the one where your nephew works? I'm convinced it can, although it may be a bit more difficult because it's harder to open up and establish connection with larger groups of people. But it can be done.

Unfortunately, the pace is set by the leader, it's unlikely your nephew can trigger the trust cycle because he doesn't have the level of influence his boss has. It sounds like he has learned the lesson of what to do and what not to do as a leader, so in due time, when he climbs up the ladder, he'll practice listening with his own employees. Very cool.

Thanks for sharing!

Imelda Bickham

P.S. Another important lesson in your story is that talking while breaking bread (in this case, a 6-pack) brings people together at a faster clip than just having a meeting.

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