Communicating with Executives

RightArrowWhen you have discussions with executives, do you commonly feel like they aren’t listening to you?  Do your recommendations fall flat?  Are you quickly dismissed?  Does it seem like you’re talking to a wall?

It that occurs are a frequent basis, it’s time to check your communication style.  The further up the management chain someone is, the more a) scope of work they are managing, b) issues they are dealing with, and c) disconnected they are from operational reality.  A good executive will listen, but realize that they only have so much time and only have so much context.

As a simple leader, there is a lot you can do to adjust your communication style to this type of audience:

Get straight to the point:  Right at the beginning, state your bottom-line.  Don’t lead the audience on a long journey to your takeaway point.  By the time you get there, nobody will be listening.  Don’t think out loud.  Your internal thought process should stay internal.  If they want to know how you reached the bottom-line, they will ask.

Speak bluntly and plainly: Don’t hide the message behind the words.  Don’t try to use extravagant vocabulary or long sentences to try to sound smarter.  It will backfire.

Simplify the complex: Your job is complicated.  So what?  The point of communicating isn’t to convince everyone of how difficult and complicated it is.  Whatever you are trying to communicate, demonstrate your expertise by boiling it down to the most impactful levers.

Don’t know how to get started?  Pull up a recent email or document that you recently sent.  Challenge yourself to put an executive summary at the beginning with a one-sentence bottom-line at the very beginning.  Challenge yourself to identify what your key messages are, then eliminate all text that does not directly support those specific points.  How short can you make it?  How plain can you make it?  How simple can you make it?

A sign that I am told an ex-CIO had on his desk: “Be brief. Be blunt. Get out.”

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One Response to Communicating with Executives

  1. Suket says:

    Great Article Brian !! I have seen similar challenges when it comes to presentations. Presenters talk forever resulting in a listener who is lost and does not get the key message.

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