Networking

Five Tips For Communicating
With the C-Suite

Communicating With the C-Suite

Getting quality face time with senior executives isn’t easy so when you do get it, you want to make the most of it.

Although it can be intimidating, those conversations can also be pivotal for your career.

Here are five tips for communicating with the c-suite executives (despite the sweaty palms and jittery nerves):

  • Be observant

Each of us has a preferred method of communicating, but for a time-and-attention strapped executive knowing the right way—and right time–to connect is crucial. How do your senior executives communicate? Do they engage in long conversations or are they short and to the point? Do they use a lot of data in their conversations and emails? This information should inform the way you interact with senior executives.

If it’s possible, ask the executive’s administrative assistant how their boss prefers to be contacted.  Generally though, if the subject you want to discuss is urgent or needs immediate attention, speak to the executive directly by setting up a meeting or a phone call. If the matter isn’t urgent, send an email. Keep in mind no busy executive has the time to read lengthy emails, so keep it short and concise, use bullet points if possible and make sure you state the issue in the subject line.

  • Think like an executive

The most important thing you can do when communicating with those at the C-level is to understand what is and isn’t important to them. Your message will be more effective when it’s framed with this in mind.  Think in terms of what this executive needs to know versus what you want them to know. No matter what the issue, the key to making your point is talking about the impact to the company, whether that’s potentially negative (a hit to reputation or profits) or positive (increased efficiency, revenue, or customer satisfaction).

  • Communicate like an executive

The best way to speak to someone in a senior leadership position is to speak their language, so have a firm understanding of the company’s goals and the metrics used to measure progress.  Whether it’s a budget request or a project you’d like green-lighted, speak about it in terms of those goals and metrics.  Paint a picture of the ROI by showing the productivity or efficiency gains tied to your request and the risks of taking no action.

  • Be prepared to talk at any time

Don’t mistake impromptu for casual. If you find yourself in a hallway or elevator conversation with someone in a senior leadership position, you should be prepared to have a serious business conversation. Executives like to challenge the people around them so if you’re able to speak specifically and knowledgeably about issues of mutual concern, you’ll make the most of the opportunity.

It’s also important to make sure your message or idea is delivered in an appropriate way and not out of context. Not every meeting is the time to talk specifics. For instance, if you’ll be seeing your C-level boss at the company’s holiday party that’s probably not the best time to give specifics about a new product you want to create. It would, however, be fine to give a broad view of what you’re thinking.

  • Stick to the facts

Keep in mind that facts and evidence are more important to an executive than your personal comments and opinions. If you are making a prediction about what will happen if your department doesn’t upgrade its servers, for example, use as much hard information as you can to support that prediction.  An executive’s decisions are only as good as the information they have, so make sure you have the data to back up your assertions and justify your requests.

About the Author

Eilene Zimmerman is a journalist who writes about entrepreneurship, technology, small businesses and the workplace. She was a career columnist for the New York Times and is a regular contributor to the paper's small business section.