After nearly 5 years of blogging about assistants it now goes without saying that I think communication is the most important aspect of an effective relationship between assistants and their Executives. I may have mentioned it once or twice…!
Next year’s Assist Conference will focus on the Assistant toolkit, in other words the skills and competencies that every assistant needs to succeed in the role. Communication skills are a vital part of that toolkit (kinda like a hammer!) With any skill, it is easy to say that you are a good at something, but when you break it down what does it actually mean to be a good communicator? This particular skill has many facets and today I want to look at the various communication tools we can employ to make us better communicators. What do I mean by this? Well, simply, what communication channels do you use to effectively communicate with your Exec. I’m talking telephones, emails, Whatsapp messages, face to face, homing pigeon etc.
Face to face communication
An oldie but a goldie! It is amazing how many assistants do not have face to face communication with their Executive on a regular basis. This could be due to the location of said Executive, certainly many more assistants are working remotely from their Execs. It could be how often they travel or it could be that they have never arranged one to one meetings. Whatever the reason, I think it is really, really, really important that you meet with your Executive face to face as often as possible. Ideally, every day. There are many benefits to face to face communication. It is easy to misinterpret communication via email or over the phone. Face to face allows both the assistant and Executive to express themselves through facial expressions, body language and eye contact. Humour and other key aspects of relationship building will happen more effectively if you are able to speak to each other in the same room. If you do work remotely from your Exec try arranging a conference call so that you can see each other on a regular basis.
So hopefully you agree, face to face communication is key. But, how do you make this an effective tool? Well, firstly, get to know when your Executive is in the correct mood for face to face meetings. You control their diary so don’t put your 121 meeting in just after a long board meeting or important client meeting. I always found first thing in the morning worked well with my Execs, just before the day bogged them down – but that really depends if your Executive is a morning person! Next, go into every meeting prepared. Know exactly what you want to achieve from the meeting, keep it short and concise and don’t waste any of their time.
Raise your hand if you speak to your Executive on the phone regularly? Okay, I can’t see you, but I would imagine that not many Assistants use the telephone much these days for communicating with their Executive. By telephone I do mean making the actual call, not texting. So why is it still useful – well, it’s different. It’s nice to hear someone’s voice and in the absence of a face to face meeting it can an effective way to quickly communicate actions and make decisions. When your Executive is travelling extensively overseas, giving them a quick call is a really nice way of checking in with them and letting them hear a familiar voice. In terms of building a good working relationship a telephone call every now and then works wonders.
What’s not to love about email? It is quick, easy, you don’t have to get out of your seat, you can track responses and have a written record of what has been discussed and agreed. Email certainly has its place as an effective communication tool and I fully expect assistants to email their Executives on a daily basis. However, it is worth remembering that on average business folk receive around 300 emails per week, so obviously we all send way too many emails to each other and it may be the case that emails are becoming a less effective means of communication. How do assistants make sure they are not adding to their Executive’s already overstuffed inbox? Here are a few tips. Try to consolidate your communication so that you are not constantly pinging off emails for various requests. Can you send one or two emails to them per day either answering their questions or requiring a decision? This will ensure that your Executive reads your message because they will know it contains information that is important. Again, keep email messages concise and to the point and use specific subject headings. As an assistant you are constantly in your Executive’s inbox so you already know the best time to send emails to your Executive and get answers.
Texting, messaging and other technology for communication
Quick, informal messaging tools that help you keep in touch with your Executive are great and really useful. I highly recommend them and there are lots of options from simple texting to WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Slack. I would suggest if you are going to use a messaging service stick to just one of these products. Use too many and you may find you forget which platform the message has come through and so might your Executive. The very nature of messaging technology means that you will have a much more informal way of communicating with your Executive which I think is a good thing. Helpful reminders, urgent updates during meetings, or a simple ‘hello, how is everything going?’ text why they are travelling will really build the rapport you both need to work effectively together. A word or warning, although messaging platforms encourage informality just remember that they are still your Executive and a little formality is important! Also, don’t use messaging services for anything too complicated – use email or face to face for complex communications.