Chapter Four

Communicating your influence

Communication is an essential skill for Assistants to master, particularly when it comes to building their influence.

GUIDE: Preparing for a new Personal or Executive Assistant Job

Communicating is something we do instinctively. It is something we do without much thought. It may seem second nature, and we may think that we are communicating our message and getting people to listen. Still, effective communication at work takes a lot of practice, and it requires a lot of thought.

Choosing the right words and tone, proactively listening, and truly getting our message across are skills that we need to continue to finesse.

At home or in social settings, it is common for miscommunications and misunderstandings to occur, arguments normally ensue, and a lot of time is spent saying, ‘that’s not what I meant. Normally what follows is the cooling-off and making up period!

The repercussions can be much worse at work when your message isn’t received well, so we really need to be effective communicators. If we work really hard to get our communication style right, especially with our executives, the rewards are huge.

In this chapter, we will cover some topics around communication and influence and how Assistants can use communication to cement their influence. You will learn:

How can you be heard when people don’t want to listen

Communicating your influence

At some point, you will have been in a meeting and felt that no one was listening to you. Perhaps people were on their phone, looking confused, talking over you or ignoring you. It’s hard to continue speaking when it seems that people are switching off, disengaged or rejecting your ideas.

So how do you make sure that people listen, care and take action on your ideas? There are three areas you need to focus on:

How can you be heard when people don’t want to listen?

Content – Focus on them

Often you will find that people switch off because they don’t understand why they should listen. We all have busy lives, with countless emails and meetings where we are given information. We can’t retain all of it, so our mind sifts through it and focuses on what it feels is most important.

So, I always recommend that you do two things. Before you give someone information, explain what the benefits will be for people listening to you. How will it help them? What will they personally gain from the conversation?

Secondly, ask yourself, ‘What do I want people to do after the meeting?’ Be very clear about the action you would like them to take or what new way of thinking you want them to have.

Prime their minds to listen to you. If you focus on benefits first, this will make them much more likely to take action at the end because you won them from the start.

Style – Focus on service

The next piece of thinking about is your style.

The way you communicate will have a huge impact on how intently people listen to you. If you say the same words with a different style, you can deliver a completely different message.

Some people say, “I’m just going to be myself and behave the way that feels comfortable.” This means you are just going to display any distracting habits that have built up during your career and now feel comfortable to you. Your old pyjamas are comfortable too, but you wouldn’t wear them for a presentation. So put down your old habits so that you can bring your words to life.

Think about style this way – your job is to physically and vocally bring to life the words in a way that an email can’t. So engage your face, voice, arms and posture. Focus on how you want people to feel and let this guide your behaviour. Drop the professional poker face and connect.

Mindset – It’s Everything

The third and final part is mindset.

Many people have brilliant communication styles in day-to-day life. You sit with them in the office and have a lovely time with them because they’re engaging and interesting to be around. But we all know that you can go into a meeting with great content and style only to buckle under pressure and have the whole thing fall apart.

Having a good mindset is key.

This means removing negative self-talk and anxiety. There’s a voice in your head that might say, “I can’t do this. It’s going to go badly and be a total disaster.”

This is known as your monkey mind.

This part of your mind is trying to protect you from pain and keep you alive. It says all of these things to stop you from being rejected. You need to flip things around and find a way to calm your monkey mind.

You can do this by saying to yourself, “I’m in the right place,” which the monkey mind can’t disagree with. You are in the correct building, in the correct meeting room, and it’s a really nice way to pacify it.

If you say that sort of thing over and over to your monkey mind, it starts to think, “Yes, I am in the right place. I should relax.” Then it will switch off and let you perform at your best.

You can use a similar technique to flip any anxiety you may have over presenting. Anxiety tends to be just visualizing things going badly. Instead, you can imagine things going the way you’d like them to, which will put you in a much calmer state of mind.

Guest Writer:

You can discover a whole toolkit of communication skills and inspiring stories when you order the new book ‘You Were Born To Speak’, which contains practical, proven techniques to help you succeed.

Thanks to Richard Newman, for these invaluable tips.

How to make sure your emails are read… and actioned!

Communicating your influence

We’ve all been there.

Draft a well thought out, concise and articulate email with a clear call to action. Check the email over and hit send. Then nothing.

No reply. Nothing.

So you send a follow-up email that usually starts with ‘per my last email…’ and then nothing. Ahhhh! The thing is, how many emails do people get a day? Loads. So, you have to make sure your email is worth reading and responding to. How do you do this?

Here are a few tips on how to make sure your emails are read… and actioned!

Be clear and precise. The recipient should see what the email is about, how it relates to them and why it is essential to read.

Bear in mind that your colleagues will all read their emails on different equipment (phone, tablet, computer etc.), which means that some people will only see the subject heading, or they can see the whole email. Either way, be concise and try to get your key point into the first sentence.

Make sure you put something in the subject heading. Never leave this blank. The words you write in the subject heading should be relevant to the email. If the email is urgent, make sure you state this in the subject heading.

Tell the reader what you want them to do. Be polite and firm – ask the question or relate the action required in a clear tone. Ask them if they have understood the request and if they need anything further from you to fulfil the demand. If it is an urgent matter, maybe a phone call would be better?

If the email is for their information only, ensure you add FYI to the email subject heading. This means the recipient doesn’t have to rush to read the email. You will also gain their email trust, so when you do have urgent emails, they will know what the difference means!

Who is the email going to? Do they need it to clog up their inbox, or will a phone call do or even walking over to talk to them (eek?!) suffice? If email is the best form of communication, make sure you don’t include anybody in the email who doesn’t need to see it – never overuse the cc button!

Spend a few minutes proofreading your email for the obvious grammar and spelling mistakes and tone and style. It can be easy for emails to be misinterpreted.

If you send an email to colleagues that you are friendly with smiley faces and other emojis are fine. If you don’t know the person very well or outside the office, do not add smiley faces… ever! Impose the rule of professional and concise language on your emails at all times.

If the email is to a person you’ve never met before and they don’t know who you are, a quick one-line introduction is worthwhile. For example, ‘My name is XXX. I am XXX’s Executive Assistant. I am contacting you today for ….’

Don’t send junk mail or irrelevant emails. If you have a bit of a reputation for sending unimportant emails, don’t expect your important emails to be read.

How do Assistants communicate effectively?

Nicky Christmas, Founder and Editor of Practically Perfect PA, discusses communication, which she thinks is the key to a productive relationship between an Assistant and their manager.

Specifically, Nicky talks about effective communication and what that actually means for Assistants and what impact it will have if you can master the skill on your time and productivity.

You often see job descriptions for Assistants that a required skill is effective communication, and you also see that phrase on a lot of CVs and LinkedIn profiles. In the next twenty minutes, Nicky will break this down so that when we think about ourselves as effective communicators, we will know the procedures, thought processes behind this invaluable skill.

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Speaking with authority at work

Communicating your influence

Speaking with authority at work is something I have developed over the years. Here are my ten top tips on talking with authority at work.

Remember that Assistants represent their boss at all times. This is not the case for your colleagues. In any form of communication, try to channel your manager’s authority by using the same tone that they take in emails or conversing over the phone.

Christine Jahnke, a speech coach and the author of The Well-Spoken Woman, said:

“Once you are in the room, recognise that you belong there.”

This is such good advice for assistants.

There is a reason we are in the meeting, even if we are there to take the minutes. Speaking with authority is mostly believing in your voice and having the confidence to voice an opinion. This is easier said than done, but the first step is to think that you belong in that room!

Plan what you are going to say before you say it.

Assistants are already well trained in getting information to their boss’s in small doses, in-between meetings and on the hoof. So we should be quite concise and articulate anyway. Planning what you say before you say it will add to your message’s clarity and make you look like you know what you are talking about – the key to speaking with authority!

Take a breath!

This is something that I am still working on. I can speak very quickly, so I have to work on my pace, and I have to remember to breathe! A measured pace when conversing or speaking to a group of people will make you appear controlled and thoughtful.

I often find people who have confidence in their authority rarely flaunt it.

I usually try to add humour and personality to my communications in the hope people assume I am confident in my authority. I find this works as an Executive Assistant in charge of who sees my manager. I know I have the power to decide what meetings he takes and what goes in his diary, so I try to project ease when dealing with these tasks.

I think it makes my colleagues and our clients connect with me on a level that we might not have if I was just articulate and polite, and I think it makes me look naturally authoritative when it comes to diary management.

Speak to your manager about your authority. How much do you exactly have, and how many decisions can you take without their consent? With the power that you have, try to own it! Take pride in your decision making, think of yourself as the expert in that field and remember that you will be judged on the performance of those tasks.

It is easy to get upset when your authority is being challenged.

This will happen at some point in your career as an assistant – trust me! The best advice I can give is to try your hardest not to let it upset you. Don’t let the person know you are angry or hurt. This will, unfortunately, undermine your authority.

When you feel your blood boiling, say that you will take what the other person has said on board and respond later. Then hot-foot it to the privacy of the ladies room to sort yourself out! We have all done that. I certainly have! As much as you want to be liked at work, the most important thing is that you are respected, so keep a check on your emotions and have confidence that your authority in the matter at hand will be enough.

I am terrible for this but speaking with authority does not come with lots of ‘errrrrr’ or ‘uuummmmm’ or ‘I think’. It also doesn’t help if you fidget or play with your hair. Again traits that I have – I did have the nickname ‘Bridget the fidget’ growing up! I’m still working on this one, but you really will sound more authoritative once you have cracked it!

In areas where you have no authority, don’t try to speak with authority. There is no need to overcompensate. Stick to the tasks and decisions that you know you have control over. Your influence will undoubtedly be diminished if you are overstepping your boundaries.

The best piece of advice I’ve had about speaking with authority is to remember the power of silence. We have all been in conversations when we have been nervous and try to fill as much silence as possible.

It does come across as lacking confidence in an obvious way. So instead you should make your point then stop talking. A pause before you answer a question is good too because belief in your authority means that you are about to say something worth waiting for. Trust me this works!


Next Chapter:

Working collaboratively with other Assistants
Chapter Five