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Communicating effectively with higher-ups

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in Your Office Coach

Question:  “I feel that I am being ignored because of my age. I am a young employee who recently attained a position in which I have to interact with top-level managers. When I request information from them, I find it difficult to get responses. I believe they are not taking me seriously. How should I handle this?” — Young & Frustrated

Marie’s Answer:  Communicating with busy executives is a challenge, even for older folks. Odds are that the cause of your problem is not age, but inexperience. To improve your response rate, consider these questions:  

•    Are you aiming too high?  If a lower-level person might be able to help, try that route first.  Executives should be your last resort.

•    Do the unresponsive managers know who you are?  Executives are more attuned to people near their own level, so consider invoking your boss’s name in your requests. 

•    Have you explained why you need the information?  People are more motivated to reply when the reason for a request is clear, so explain how your work benefits the company.

•    Is the information hard to obtain or compile?  The more effort required, the fewer replies you will receive.  Look for ways to make the task easier.

•    Are you relying too heavily on e-mail?  Executives receive a daily deluge of electronic communication, so your e-mails could easily be overlooked.  Consider following up by phone or in person. 

Finally, get to know the executive assistants in your company. Most assistants are extremely adept at managing communication with their bosses.  If they like you and want to help, they can make your life much easier.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mohan M Prasad December 11, 2009 at 12:48 am

Well, the solution to your problem lies in your statement itself .

If I am in their shoes, I will wonder why you need the information.

You need to understand that in any organization “information is power” and here the matter needs to be addressed from their point of view.

Rather than asking for information, just change the paradigm.

Like, you may like to get cross to them stating upfront “I am working on how to address the critical issue of the mounting customer complains OR the sudden spurt of cancelled high ticket orders OR the increasing staffs turnover … “

This will evoke a prima facie positive response to your earnest endeavor and thereon you can add to seek data/information etc for your study and analysis etc.

You will notice that in this way your seeking information is understood contextually as some initiative to work on a larger issue/problem confronting the organization.

It’s not an issue of taking you seriously or lightly; please do not place on the block your self esteem

It’s more a matter and manner of putting across your need from the other person’s perspective that will evoke a positive and favorable response positively.

Try this amongst the many choices; the chances are that it may surprise you with success.

All the Best.

Mohan M Prasad


Jodi Czabajszki December 9, 2009 at 11:46 am

I’ve been an Executive Secretary for 26 years now and I want to affirm the last paragraph of this article. So many times I watch people go above my head to get to my boss and get a response from him/her. I think to myself if they would only give me a chance and come through me, I could get them an answer. I’ve finally just stepped back and watched people stumble through the process, watched things fall through the cracks, and wait until people realize that there is a reason that my boss has an Executive Secretary. However, sometimes it’s even a challenge for me to get an answer. Executives are extremely busy these days and they are pulled in so many different directions. Unless the Executives you work for are very well organized and efficient at time management, it can be very difficult to nail down answers and get the information you need to complete an assignment at times. Great article with good suggestions!


tmckinsey December 9, 2009 at 10:56 am

I have just the opposite problem. As I am over 50, most of our managers are younger and think they know everything. They tend to listen to the younger, fresh out of college administrators.

I don’t have gray hair, I dress appropriately for my age and always act professional. Any other “experienced” administrators with the same issue?


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