Is your Executive a poor communicator?

In a recent survey conducted in the UK, Hays recruitment found 43% of those surveyed said leaders needed to improve their communication skills. This skill improvement was much more necessary than other areas, such as strategy and planning (23%) and remote staff management (13%).

Speaking to Assistants who are currently working remotely, this doesn’t really surprise me.

Actually pre-covid, I don’t think I’d be particularly surprised by this statistic.

Unclear communication is the main challenge when building an effective relationship between an Assistant and their Executive. Staying in the loop, understanding what is needed and managing expectation is difficult with an Executive who can’t communicate. For those Assistants who work with a poor communicator, it makes the role that much harder, especially when working remotely.

Does this sound familiar? Is your Executive a poor communicator?

I want to look at how Assistants can work with poor communicators, but first, let’s define what it means to be a poor communicator.

Is your Executive a poor communicator?

How does your Executive communicate?

Understanding your Executive’s communication style is so incredibly important for Assistants. Understanding when and how to communicate is essential. You have to communicate effectively and strategically so that you get the most out of every interaction. Assistants will only manage this correctly if they know their Executive’s communication style and preferences.

Let’s get this straight. Once you know their preference, that understanding will help you decide how to manage those gaps in their communication skills. But, it won’t necessarily make them any better at communicating. You’ll have a better insight into how you work with them.

So, how do their poor communication skills manifest themselves?

Here are a few examples:

  • Are they vague in their instructions? Leaving you confused and unsure what you have been asked to do?
  • Do they go AWOL for long periods of time and you have no ideas what they are doing or the tasks they are working on?
  • Do they over-complicate every instruction so that you can’t differentiate the important information from the trivial?
  • Do they hold pointless meetings without any objectives or structure, that waste everyone’s time?
  • Are they too direct with their instructions leaving no room for creative thinking or personal interaction?

Some of these might sound familiar or you might have your own examples, either way, working with a poor communicator is tough but not impossible. If you are willing to manage up and communicate your needs so that you can work effectively in the role.

Is your Executive a poor communicator?

How to work with a poor communicator?

It is more important than ever that you communicate regularly with your Executive. Despite working remotely, you have to be seen and heard – daily. This might be something that you have to manage, but it is so important. When times are tough, and economies are hard hit, employees who are seen not to add value (or just not seen), will be the ones who are let go. At the moment, you have to make it your priority that you are communicating regularly with your Executive and face-to-face.

I wrote a post about this a few months ago, which is worth another read if you find yourself out of the loop with your Executive.

With that being said, you can use lots of tactics to work with an Executive who is a poor communicator.

Seek clarity.

To make sure that you understand what is being asked of you, you must seek clarity. Ask questions that will give you the understanding you need to move forward with tasks and projects.

Summerise and repeat instructions back to your Executive.

For example, if your Executive asks you to compile a sales report for them without much further instruction, reply with ‘I can get the sales report for this quarter to you by the end of the day, will that work for you?‘. It might be that is exactly what they want, or they might reply with ‘actually I wanted the year-end report, and it is fine if you get it to me for the end of the week‘.

By summarising what they want and repeating what you think they want back to them ensures you know exactly where you stand with the task and your Executive’s expectations.

Set clear goals and priorities. 

Again, working with a poor communicator means you are less likely to have structure around your role. You will have to set clear goals and priorities for yourself and lead your Executive down this path – if you can.

During your face to face meetings, you should have a document that tracks goals and objectives. This will help you stay on point and also stir the conversation so that a) the meetings are not a waste of time and b) you can accomplish what needs to be accomplished and c) you can keep yourself and your Executive on track.

We have a great one-to-one meeting template you can use to ensure your meetings are effective. You can download the FREE template here.

Understand the context. 

Often by the time you are sitting down with your Executive to talk through tasks, projects and strategies, they have been through various meetings and read a ton of emails and reports to sit with you and deliver the key findings and plan out what is needed to move forward. That means putting all of this information into context can be challenging, especially for poor communicators.

It helps if you come prepared with an understanding of the context, what is going on in your organisation, the strategies and key deliverables that your Executive is working on. If you understand that, without your Executive having to explain, it is half the battle. When they do sit down with you, you have enough understanding to ask questions, push back on aspects you disagree with and help them deliver the context to your colleagues.

Be honest about the problem and suggest a solution. 

Most Executives don’t intentionally keep their Assistants out of the loop or have poor communication skills they simply are not aware of their inabilities.

If their poor communication is just recent, and they were better at communicating in the office, it might take a simple nudge to remind them that you need to have consistent and clear communication with them. If it is an ongoing problem, you may need to have a more challenging conversation with them about working together and moving forward. It is a conversation worth having, suggesting that you both take a personality and preferences test to work on your communication.