Let me be straight up with you.
You can be the hardest working, most effective person doing your job. But if you can’t effectively communicate with senior leadership, your chances of getting tapped for the next big role are slim to none.
I’ve seen it time and time again: Up-and-comers who are unable to communicate with executives in an effective way and, more importantly, in a way that will get them noticed.
It’s important to understand that executive are jacks of all trades, masters of none. They often have 10 different topics swirling around in their head at one time. They are usually laser focused on solving problems and growing the business. They relish in driving success and typically lack patience when it comes to getting to the heart of the matter.
Yet, I see it often … An executive or senior-level person will ask a question – in email or in person – and the person responding will go on and on, never connecting in an effective way.
It’s really important to ask yourself, “Why are they asking me this question? What do I think they’re trying to accomplish?”
Here are three simple tips for communicating with executives:
1. Be Succinct.
If they’re asking a yes or no question – answer “Yes” or “No.” That may sound silly, but I see way too people rambling on with their answer.
If there is a critical clarification or a consultative thought, then by all means share it. But I will tell you that many times I have had to dig through emails to find the answer to a very simple question I’ve asked.
I also think it shows the kind of confidence executives are searching for in people when someone has the guts to be succinct.
2. Give Them Structure.
If you’re presenting to an executive, you should often start with something like “There are X things I want to discuss,” or “I have planned for us to talk about X, Y and Z – does that work for you?”
I suggest that you never just launch into a discussion without grounding them first. Again, the amount of context switching they do in the day is often incredible.
That’s why it’s incredibly helpful to give them a quick forecast and/or outline of the discussion.
It’s a sort of calisthenic for their brain.
It also reduces the chances they’ll quickly get anxious, since they will know where things are going and roughly how long it will take.
3. Be Human.
I don’t care what level you’re at … or they are at. Everyone likes a bit of humor or someone who clearly is human and just wants to make a connection with them.
Too often, I see Jekyll and Hyde with employees. As soon as they have to interact with someone much more senior than they are, they feel like they have to get overly serious, sound super perfect and know all the answers.
Well, guess what – executives hate perfect as much as anyone else. They will immediately respect you more if you say something like, “I’m going to tell you about the three things we’re doing well, and I’m also going to highlight where we’re stumbling a bit, and what we are planning to do to fix it.”
Executives know there is always something going wrong. Those who report all roses to them make them anxious. They fear the things going wrong are going to pop out like a jack-in-the-box one day without them seeing it coming.
Be upfront and real, and I promise they’ll talk about you positively when you’re out of the room.
How Do You Communicate?
Think about the employees – peers, reports, executives – you respect the most. Did they know it all? Did they drone on and cover every detail? I’m guessing not.
For every corporate rung I went up, I spent more time being sure to get a little crisper, a little more to the point. With every step, it’s important you do the same. The level of detail you needed to know and recite as an individual contributor when you first started is not the same level of detail you need as you rise in your career.
You are doing great work. You care so much about what you do. I want to be sure that others see that AND see you as someone who is ready to step up to the next level as well.
What other tips do you have to communicate with executives? What’s worked for you?