3.1 Communicating With Executives
Executives wear a lot of hats, as well, and they use their expertise to quickly tease out critical information, which allows them to successfully keep those balls in the air. If you're meeting virtually, try to incorporate some visual interaction via webcam to highlight facial expressions or show a one page summary to emphasize your points. I suggest that prior the encounter, consider what things would illicit a no from this individual and spend just as much time crafting potential responses as you did developing your recommendation, so you're not caught under pressure in the moment.
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What would you do if you suddenly found yourself face to face with Larry Page, the CEO of Google? Would you prepared to hold a conversation with him? What about if you bumped into Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett Packard? What would you say? While the likelihood of us bumping into these executives is pretty small, it’s more likely that you might bump into your company’s executives unexpectedly or be asked to communicate with them as part of your job. An executive is a leader in an organization that has senior level management responsibilities. Sometimes, they’re known as senior management. For our purposes, we’ll consider an executive as someone who has the job of Vice President, Senior Vice President, President or some in the C suite like CEO, CFO, COO. In our discussions about communication in the workplace some of the things we’ve already covered certainly apply to executives such as making a connection. Thinking with the executive in mind is critical for a successful communication strategy. Observing and identifying communication style is every more important with an executive because you have less opportunity to leave an impression. Unlike communication with your peers and manager where you probably have multiple opportunities to course correct if an interaction does not go favorably, the opportunity to course correct with an executive is usually pretty limited, so translating what you observe from them and applying the best communication approach really counts. There are also three strategies to uniquely consider when you’re communicating with an executive. Remember when you identified the role of your manager in a previous module? Try multiplying that role by 10, and you’ll see that executives spend their days juggling multiple business priorities ranging from developing strategy to problem solving, to analyzing financials, to leading a team and that’s on a good day. The first strategy then is to keep it brief and customized. Remember how we discussed the manager as someone wearing multiple hats? Executives wear a lot of hats, as well, and they use their expertise to quickly tease out critical information, which allows them to successfully keep those balls in the air. When communicating verbally or in writing, deliver your message in a bullet point fashion and reference that the detail is available, without making the executive feel that they need to look at it. A comment to the effect of, if you are interested in the detail, I would be happy to share it with you is usually sufficient. You may have completed thorough research and analysis prior to that communication but by keeping your communication high level and offering the detail only if desired, you will increase the likelihood of a successful conversation. Also, be mindful of your nonverbal communication. An experienced executive is usually pretty adept at reading nonverbal signals and will use that information to determine the degree of influence that you’ll garner. The second strategy is to prepare for just-in-time opportunities. While in all likelihood, you’ll consider your timing and delivery of your executive communication. In today’s fast paced workplace, schedules may change. Meetings may get shifted and an executive may need to arrange travel unexpectedly. While you may be going along, meeting all of your deadlines and preparing for a pre-arranged meeting with your executive, proactively prepare what you might communicate to the executive, if schedules change, and instead, if you bump into him in the hall, in the field, or receive an unexpected email for him or her. Also, if you happen to have access to the executive in an informal setting such as a holiday gathering or dinner, check in with a peer or manager to determine whether that’s an appropriate setting to communicate business, as the norms vary greatly from organization to organization. The last strategy relates to persuasion. Often communication with an executive involves persuasion. You’re trying to get him or her to approve something, lend support, or take some sort of action. We touched on persuasion a bit during the Communicating With Your Manager module. With an executive, you’ll wanna take advantage of all the persuasive techniques in your toolbox. Engage conversationally. Ask questions that leverage your nonverbal communication, if you’re meeting with the executive in person. If you’re meeting virtually, try to incorporate some visual interaction via webcam to highlight facial expressions or show a one page summary to emphasize your points. I mentioned storytelling and metaphors previously. A brief emotive story or analogy can serve as a powerful tool to spur action and lastly, come with recommendations and anticipate objections. Typically, we spend most of our time formulating a recommendation. I suggest that prior the encounter, consider what things would illicit a no from this individual and spend just as much time crafting potential responses as you did developing your recommendation, so you’re not caught under pressure in the moment. Well, you now have a toolbox full of techniques to support your communication with peers, your manager and executives. What about when you’re the one leading others? Should your communication approach change? We’ll discuss that in our last module Communicating with Direct Reports. Wherever you are, enjoy your day or evening.
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