Tired of Listening to Your Direct Reports? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

My problem is that my people—not all of them, but enough—are extremely needy. They come to talk to me and they take up hours of my time.

They talk about their kids, their lives, and their problems and seem to expect that I’m fine with listening to all of this.

I’m not. I mean, I do care about them as people, but the thing I really care about is their work, and that they do it well.

Am I a monster? How do I get people to shut up and get on with it?

Tired of Listening

Dear Tired of Listening,

You sound kind of tough, but you probably aren’t a monster. You are almost definitely a very specific kind of temperament, and it would serve you well to understand personality types and essential motivators. I am a big fan of the work of Linda Berens and you can get a primer on the topic here. There are lots of different personality types and they all require a different kind of connection.

It is my experience though, that regardless of temperament, most people have a deep need to be seen and heard—maybe not you, but most people. Your people want you to know who they are and they want you to care about them. You claim that you don’t care, but since they continue to come to you, you must be faking it pretty well.

My assessment is this: you have the instinct that it is important to spend time with your people and listen to them, which is correct—but you haven’t figured out how to draw boundaries that will limit the amount of your time people take. So it’s time to set some boundaries.

Tell your people that from now on, everyone gets a specific amount of one-on-one time. Some managers have so many direct reports that they can only spend 15 minutes a week with each person, but the ideal is 30 minutes, and an hour is even better. Tell them that their one-on-one time is their time. They should prepare the agenda and they should use their time to bring you up to speed, get the direction they need from you on their work, and plan future projects. Let people know they are invited to share about their personal lives, but they need to fit it all into their one-on-one time. They will get the message loud and clear, and you will have tight boundaries around your time.

Your people clearly crave personal connection with you, and they obviously trust you enough to seek your ear. You can give them what they need and also take care of your own desire to get on with it. Keep working on the amount of time until you reach a comfortable balance. With the right balance, you will find it easier to access the part of you that actually does care—which will meet your needs as well as theirs.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

Leave a Reply