How to Talk to an Executive: Less is More

In a series of short posts, I will discuss how to talk effectively with executives. When you are not an executive, it is difficult to know what they want, and since they are so high up in the organization with so much power, it is easy to be intimidated. This also makes it easy to make mistakes. But if you follow a few simple rules, the fear will melt away, you can avoid common mistakes, and you will begin to make a much bigger and better impression on high-level executives.

I’ll begin with a broad topic: Whenever you talk with executives remember that less is more. Executives are extremely busy people and their days move quickly. So in a classic paradox, the best way to get more time with executives is to take as little of their time as possible.

Be brief in your conversations. Stick to quick, short answers or ask them questions. Do not ramble on about the excruciating minutiae of every single daily event in your life. And always, always, always, be the one to end the conversation with a polite, “Well, OK…I’ll let you go…” and watch them jump all over that opportunity to scoot on down the hall to their next meeting. They will appreciate that!

Don’t worry, not all conversations with executives will be like this. There are times when good executives make the time to have longer, more meaningful conversations with employees. The good ones do this anyway. But I am talking about the day-to-day conversations in between meetings and walking down the halls. So remember…95% of your interactions with executives should follow the concept: less is more.

Start trying this the next time you have the urge and opportunity to speak with an executive. See what happens.

In the future, we’ll discuss more rules for talking effectively with executives.