Building influence in the Assistant role

This guide is designed to help Assistants progress in their careers, build influence and manage their relationships with their colleagues.

Wherever you are in your Assistant career, influencing skills are vital to be successful in the role. Moving people forward, getting colleagues to listen to your thoughts and ideas, being taken seriously and seen – influence is needed in all of these scenarios.

What is influence, and why is it a must-have for Assistants? In the workplace, Assistants have to be persuasive. Assistants don’t necessarily have the authority or job title to tell people what to do. But they often have to get people to do what they ask. So, that requires the ability to be persuasive and hold a level of influence. Many Assistants struggle with this concept. They often work hard to be heard in meetings and have their opinions and thoughts considered.

I don’t know how often in my career I have suggested something in a meeting without any action taken, for it to be recommended by someone else a short while later and the idea acted upon.

It is frustrating, but you can change that behaviour if you have the drive to do so. In this guide, we are going to cover a lot of ground. This guide – Building Influence in the Assistant role- is segmented into five areas covering different areas of influence and how Assistants can develop their persuasion skills to be seen and heard in all aspects of their role. Here are the topics we are going to cover.


Working with People

Working with people as an Assistant, you might not think you influence your organisation. Let me tell you now. You have a lot of influence. You are asked your opinion, and you impact very senior members of your organisation and the business.

You are seen as someone with a lot of knowledge; you know where everything is, you make things happen, and you know all the great suppliers to call up when you need something quickly, making you an influencer!

Knowing how to influence those around you is a brilliant skill; throughout this guide, we will show you how to build and use your influence to progress your career.

Assistants are their organisation’s influencers

What does it mean to be an influencer?

In terms of a social media influencer, this is someone who influences others to make decisions because of their following, knowledge or position with their audience. We all know and probably follow social media influencers, and we’ve probably bought something based on their opinion.

So, where do Assistants come into the picture?

When it comes to working with people as an Assistant, think about your area of expertise, what are you good at, and what sets you apart from other member’s of your team and other Assistants in your organisation?

What is your area of influence?

This is the stuff you know inside out and back to front and can help other people with and make decisions.

Can you do things a little differently?

Some of the best-loved social media influencers are in positions of influence because they didn’t follow the crowd. Take, for example, The Unmummsy Mum. She started writing a blog about the ups and downs of motherhood (in all its undignified glory) because she couldn’t find any other mum blogs to relate to. They were just that little bit too perfect. Fast forward a few years, and she is one of the most popular ‘mummy bloggers’ on the world wide web.

Think about how and where you can challenge the status quo at work, are there any systems or tasks that could use a fresh pair of eyes.

Can you breathe a bit of life into a project that could use your expertise?

If you are seen as someone who does things a little differently, you will have a group of followers who like your way of thinking in no time.

Who are the other influencers in your organisation?

Networking is the number one tool for influencers and one that you should undoubtedly use to increase your circle of influence.

Think about some of the other influencers in your business. Who are they, and what makes them so influential? Get in touch, meet for coffee and pick their brain. Perhaps you can collaborate on something together. There is always strength in numbers.

Assistants, we are ultimate team players!

On almost every job description for Assistants, you will see the phrase, ‘must be a team player’. It is so common that it is easy to skim over that requirement – sure, we all have to be team players next! But I want to pause and look at the skills required to be a team player.

It is a critical skill for Assistants as we must align our goals with our Executive and our organisation. If we don’t see our partnership with our Executive as a team pursuit, the relationship will always struggle to get off the ground.

We need to work well with people from all parts of the business and collaborate with everyone around us. So, Assistants, we do have to see ourselves as part of a team, and these are the skills you need that will help you do just that!


For Assistants, giving feedback and offering advice is so critical.

Working with people as an Assistant, we have to keep an open dialogue with our Executives to know the partnership is working effectively, which means we also have to give our Executive feedback. Eeekkk right?

This is hard, providing feedback to the person that runs the team. Department? Division? Organisation? Yup! It is part of the role, and if given constructively and with the right mindset (and timed correctly) can help improve your role and, ultimately, your career.

Offering well-meaning advice will always make you a team player.


Every business and organisation needs employees to work together, move projects forward and reach common goals. Collaboration is an essential skill for everyone.

However, for Assistants, collaboration is vital.

We must work with other staff members on projects and reach common goals.

We also have to build a fantastic relationship with our Executives, which is heavily based on collaboration, trust and cooperation. To succeed as an Assistant, we need to be collaborative.


We instinctively do communication, which we do without much thought daily with the team and those around us.

Choosing the right words and tone, proactively listening and genuinely getting our message across are skills we need to continue to finesse with many new ways to communicate with our Executives and teams. Assistants must know the best way to keep in contact, how to use that communication, and when to use it.


Assistants have buckets full of compassion; you wouldn’t be on the job if you didn’t. I find that empathy can often be taken advantage of by people who don’t respect what we do – be it that colleague who wants your time or that Executive who doesn’t understand your role.

Empathy can diminish when you don’t feel respected, or someone pisses you off. So compassion is essential – you have to figure out why someone is acting the way they are and deal with them accordingly.

Compassion is hard to muster sometimes, but trying to understand where they are coming from will feel 100% better – trust me!


Assistants have to roll with the punches.

They must not let the never-ending changes (hello rescheduling) get them down. Organisations are now moving at such a speed that flexibility is becoming a real sort after skill. You must get yourself in a mindset that allows for constant change.


Persuading people to do things for you or getting them around to your way of thinking is tough, but again, how much easier would your job be if you had excellent persuasion skills?

Being persuasive comes down to communication and confidence, speaking passionately, yes, but also getting people to think it was their idea in the first place. I’ve always found if you talk passionately about something but base what you are saying, it is harder to be ignored.


Ooofff, patience is a tough one, right?

When your Executive asks you the same question 20 times, it is your human right to go bat-shit crazy at them. But don’t. You’ll be sacked, even if you are obviously in the right. That is where patience comes in because part of our role is to answer all those questions and be helpful. Breathe, reset and go again.


Assistants must gain their Executive and team’s confidence. They rely so heavily on you that the only way for the relationship to work is if they can trust you with anything they throw at you. You must also inspire trust in your colleagues; you are the bridge between the top level.

The Executive and the other employees must trust you know what you are doing. If they don’t, you will find they go straight to the Executive rather than coming to you first. This can cause no end of headaches for you. So, inspiring trust in terms of keeping confidence and inspiring others to trust your skills. Getting this right will make your job a whole lot easier.

20 ways to impress your Executive

20 Ways to Impress Your Executive

The worksheet gives you 20 ideas to elevate you in the Assistant role.

It’s expertly designed to help you establish a strategic partnership with your Executive, enhancing collaboration and mutual success.

Working with the Executive Team

As Assistants, most of us will interact with our organisation’s Executive Team daily, if not hourly. Your manager may well be part of the Executive Team. If so, you will have even more phone calls, meetings, and general engagements with other directors and top-level staff members. It can be a little scary dealing with the people who run your organisation, especially if they are prickly characters or highly demanding.

Unlike other staff members, working with the Executive Team brings many rules and a particular working style. I once worked with an assistant on a temporary contract. She talked to everyone in the same manner and tone. She was a board-level assistant, and unfortunately, the Executive Team didn’t take too kindly to being called ‘mate’ or ‘darling’. She was good at her job, but her communication style with the Executive Team didn’t match their expectations of a board-level assistant, and she was let go.

This isn’t the first time I’ve worked with assistants who have clashed with the Executive Team either because they are solid personalities or are a bit overwhelmed by the demands of the Executives. Having a good working relationship with the Executive Team is primarily down to common sense, but for Assistants, it is a relationship that needs to be nurtured and taken seriously.

Here are my etiquette tips for working with the Executive Team.

Always appear calm even if you are feeling under pressure. You don’t want to let the Executive Team ever think that you are not in control of your job.

It is okay to share a joke with Executive team members, but I would add a word of caution here. If you don’t know them well, I would be polite and approachable with a ready smile.

Let them be the first person to make a joke.

Over the years, I’ve found that some board-level Directors tend to ask whoever is nearest to them to get things or do something for them (mainly if the closest person is in an administrative role). This can be frustrating, especially if you are busy doing something else. In my experience, it is best to do what they ask if it is something small.

Sitting right next to the board room, I was always asked to top up cups of tea and replenish the biscuit. It wasn’t enjoyable, but I would still get up and do it because they were executive team members. I wouldn’t do it for any other member of staff.

If you are in the middle of an urgent task or are doing something for your boss when another Director asks you to do something, let them know you will return to them as soon as possible. If you can fit the work in, then I suggest that you do. Stand your ground and calmly explain the situation if it is an unreasonable request. Offering an alternative solution is always a good approach.

You can also ask their Assistant to pick up the task because you are too busy to help.

I have often supported additional Executives while their assistants are away on holiday. This is an excellent way to get to know other Directors and understand different parts of the business.

I have also supported Executives who are new to the organisation and have found they are always more pleasant because they see first-hand how you work and support the organisation. It might be extra work at the time, but it is well worth it.

Confidentiality is vital to a productive working relationship with your Executive Team.

This is a crucial part of the Assistant role but worth reiterating here: Don’t gossip! If the Executive Team finds out you talked about what happened in last week’s board meeting when one of the Directors went mental, well, you’re not going to be in their good books, are you?

Remember that they are people, too. Exchange usual pleasantries as you would with anyone else. I’ve often found that Executives tend to be less guarded around assistants because they know the relationship between an assistant and a Director. They know that assistants can be trusted and are used to dealing with high-level Executives.

Working with your organisation’s leaders can be difficult and daunting, but the rewards are high once you understand how to communicate and present yourself. Supporting people who make your business decisions can be exhilarating, so it is well worth investing the time in making the relationship work.

How to really deal with difficult colleagues

As the saying goes, you can choose your friends, but you sure can’t choose your family. The same can apply to co-workers. Working with people as an Assistant, some colleagues you will get on with and form a good working relationship, on the other hand, some you will walk up eight flights of stairs to avoid sharing the lift with, either way, unless you quit your job, you don’t have a choice about seeing them daily.

If you like all of your colleagues, by some miracle, count yourself very lucky because, from my experience, there will always be one or two people you struggle to work with. Knowing how to deal with difficult colleagues can be such a bonus.

Hopefully, the co-workers that you are less keen on don’t impact your day too much. You might find them annoying but not to the point you can’t put up with them, but what happens when you frequently have to work with this person? They are affecting how you work and how you feel about the job you do.

I’ve encountered a handful of difficult people in my time, and trust me, unless you deal with the situation, it only tends to get worse. So, how do you deal with these people? You can use some different approaches; here are some that I have learnt along the way.

Identify what it is that you don’t like about this person – be specific. Is it that they talk too much, are they passive-aggressive, are they always stealing the credit, do they slack off? Defining the personality trait you don’t like is the first step in dealing with the problem.

Think about why you don’t like this type of person. Is it something to do with your personality rather than theirs? I can’t stand those who are self-important; it drives me nuts! But, if I’m honest, I know I don’t get on with people like that because I struggle to have confidence in my abilities and naturally gravitate to humble and self-deprecating people.

That’s just my preference, and it has taken me a while to realise it doesn’t necessarily mean the annoying person is in the wrong.

Talk to your trusted colleagues to see if they have experienced the same problem with this person or just you. It is wonderful if you are the only one, but you will gain some perspective.

Don’t use this opportunity to moan about your colleague (save that for your friends and family) instead of discussing options to resolve the issue. In other words, make it a constructive discussion because you don’t want to appear like someone who moans about work and doesn’t do anything about it.

This might be difficult to swallow, but have you tried to get to know this person?

It may sound like a horrible situation, but taking them out for a drink after work or a lunchtime coffee might be worthwhile. You never know. They may be completely different outside of the office. They might be nice! If you do this and you find yourself hating them even more, at least you tried, and you can pat yourself on the back for that.

Can you confront the person yourself?

If you have the confidence to talk with them directly, then you should. Don’t be overly aggressive, but do be firm and tell them how their behaviour impacts you. They may not be aware of their actions, and a conversation might nip it in the bud before your relationship becomes a severe problem.

If they are particularly tricky, they may try to brush off their behaviour or explain it away, but stick to your guns and make sure you come to a conclusion that enables you to get on with your job.

If you find it challenging to talk face-to-face or lack the confidence, it might help to send them an email. Explain that you are nervous about broaching the subject with them directly and are writing your feelings down in the hope that you can resolve any future problems. If you are shy, this is the right approach, as you are still dealing with this person but in a manner that is more suitable for you.

This approach is probably slightly childish, but sometimes, you have to give silent treatment to difficult people.

Distance yourself, and don’t give them your time.

This is particularly effective for those harmful types who bring the office environment down and want to spend time sharing their grumbles with everyone else. Avoidance might seem like a cowardly way out, but it works, and once these types are cut off, they tend to lose their energy or take it elsewhere.

Do you have support from your boss?

If so, use it. Ask them for their advice on how to deal with this person. You never know; they might feel the same and decide to speak to you on your behalf. If the difficult person is your manager, it can appear more problematic and something you have to put up with. I think it makes the situation slightly easier, as your boss has to manage you correctly as part of their job.

Find some time to speak to HR and ask them to act as mediators between you. Lousy management reflects poorly on the manager, not on you.

If it gets awful, could you distance yourself from this person or move to a different team or department?

Remember, we have two survival moods: fight or flight.

Flight is not necessarily a bad reaction to a stressful situation. Sometimes battles are too much, and you have to flee. It is okay to leave a job or environment that isn’t serving you. Life is way too short.

Stakeholder management tips for Assistants

As some of you will know, I used to work in a department full of ‘change management professionals’. Their job was to initiate projects that would improve procedures or systems within other departments.

As you can imagine, they were not always the most popular members of staff! The organisation was 250 years old, and some of the employees had been working at the company their entire adult lives. They didn’t always take kindly to other people, telling them what they had been doing for years and years and years needed to be improved.

Thankfully my colleagues had an arsenal of change management tools that enabled them to deal with even the most stubborn employees.

It can be really easy to forget how even simple changes can affect others. I once spent a quiet afternoon over Christmas organising my department’s stationery cupboard and storage units. It was something that had needed attention for a while, but I had been too busy. I was quite pleased with myself once I had cleared everything out and made the cupboard orderly and clean.

Once everyone returned from their Christmas break, I wasn’t expecting anyone to notice, well, maybe some praise, but instead, I received hostility boarding on abuse! I hadn’t thought the stationery cupboard was such a sacred place, but it was to individual members of staff who argued they could no longer find what they needed.

This little example, amongst many others, proved to me that the tools my old colleagues used to manage stakeholders were handy if I wanted to make change stick. To make a successful change, you must think about how that change will affect your colleagues. You may have to cox them into excepting the changes, but it will be worth it if you do want to ensure your new procedures are followed. Working with people as an Assistant is really useful.

Here is my favourite tool to use when it comes to change management projects:

Stakeholder Matrix

This matrix is excellent because it is simple, but it makes you think about the people affected by the changes you are going to introduce. Each number represents a different stakeholder. It is important to remember that stakeholders can move between each of these groups.

Stakeholder one:

These colleagues are your most important stakeholders, and it is worthwhile for you to get them on board early. They have a high degree of influence, and they are essential within your organisation. They will most likely be senior members of staff. Still, they might also be the individual most affected by your new procedures, for example, another assistant within your department. You will need to have a good working relationship with these stakeholders so that they support your project. If you don’t engage these individuals, they might well jeopardise the changes you plan to make.

Stakeholder two:

Again these individuals are essential to the success of your changes, but they don’t have much influence in your department. These are the type of people that are easy to ignore, but they might not follow your new procedures and bring the project into jeopardy. You should invest in this group of stakeholders, listen to their concerns and make them feel part of the process.

Stakeholder three:

This is a risky group of individuals. They have significant influence, but they have little interest in the project until it suddenly comes on their radar and they demand your attention. If this happens, they can have a considerable impact. It is worth keeping an eye on these stakeholders, let them know what you have planned and make sure they are comfortable before proceeding.

Stakeholder four:

You can’t keep an eye on everyone, so this is the group to spend the least amount of time with. Definitely bear them in mind when you introduce your changes, but they have little interest and little influence, so hopefully won’t cause you too much bother.

Chasing colleagues who do not report to you

Imagine the scene – you’ve been asked to lead on a piece of work, for example, compiling a report or managing a new project. You have to gather information from several colleagues to complete the work you have been given.

As the days and weeks go by, you have received most of the information you need, and most of your colleagues have been helpful. However, you still need a few key details from an individual member of staff. No matter how much you have chased for this information, the person has yet to deliver and is delaying completing the tasks.

Sound familiar?

I think we’ve all been in this position before. For Assistants, it can be difficult – the likelihood of us having any authority over this person is minimal. More often than not, they will be more senior if not working at the board level alongside our Executive. Depending on how senior this person is, it can be inappropriate to chase them continually, and the project or task grinds to a halt, making you look incompetent.

So what can Assistants do when they need to chase colleagues for work who do not report to them? Here are a few tips.

Be realistic with deadlines.

This is the first point. You must be realistic about your deadlines. Remember how annoying it is when someone asks you to do something ‘urgent’ when you both know the only reason they work is urgent is that it has sat on their desk for the last month.

If you need somebody to do something for you, give them plenty of time to complete the task, set reminders to follow up on their progress (not every day, but maybe once a week?) and ask if they need any more information from you to get the job done. If the work does require a quick turnaround time, explain why it is urgent and how it fits into the bigger picture.

Be polite and show empathy.

Let’s face it; someone is more likely to complete some work for you if they like you, so be nice! Be polite, ask nicely and make them feel like they are unique. I know that can feel like a massive waste of time but having worked as an EA, I felt the extra time to build those relationships was worth it.

I always made colleagues feel like they were doing something important when completing work for me because the task was for someone in the c-suite, or it contributed directly to the business’s success.

If you have chased the person a few times, try to show some empathy and understanding. What is the issue that is causing them the delay? Can you move the deadline, work around the problem or ask them to pass on the task to someone else? Try to find out why they are not producing the goods before you get incredibly angry with them!

Explain why it is needed and why it is important to you

As I said, when an Assistant asks for something, co-workers should assume that the work is required for their boss or their boss’s boss. Or at the very least, someone important in your office or maybe even a client. Usually, people get this and get the work done.

But of course, some people don’t manage their time effectively for anyone. So, you may find that you have to explain why the work is needed, who it is for, how it fits into the business’s overall success, and why it is important to you and your Executive.

Make the whole process easy for them.

Make it easy for them to respond to your request. If it is literally to get their approval, ask them to reply with ‘approved’. Keep your communication short.

Don’t ask them for anything other than the thing you need. If the task is complicated, why not schedule a quick follow up meeting (15 minutes max) so that you can sit with them face to face and get what you need.

Some people are much better at completing tasks if they feel the urgency or pressure to do so. It is easy to say you will do something face to face or via email and forget about it two minutes later. Arranging a meeting with that person is a great way to create a sense of urgency. Another method is arranging time at their desk so that you can sit there while they complete the work. It makes you a pain in the ass, but it also ensures the work is completed!

Do they have an Assistant?

You know how often colleagues come to you to chase your Executive for information. The same applies to other Execs and their assistants. If the culprit is a senior member of staff with an Assistant, it is worth speaking to the assistant to find out if the task is on the Execs radar and pushing them to chase on your behalf.

Back the request up with an email.

I’m not a big fan of asking somebody to do something and then sending an email to confirm that request. It doesn’t instil much trust, does it! But saying that it is useful when you have chased someone a few times, and they have told you they will complete the work by a specific date.

A follow-up email confirming the date will ensure you record that promise and something to use if they don’t deliver the work on time. For assistants, following up with an email can also ensure they have a record if their Executive has to chase on their behalf or asks why their project deadlines have not been met.

Can you copy their boss in?

Sometimes (depending on how urgent the work is), copying their boss into a chase email will get the ball rolling. I would suggest you use this as the last straw, and perhaps it is better to speak to their manager rather than copying them into a chase email.

As most of your work relates to your Executive, any missed deadlines or incomplete work will affect them eventually. Make sure your colleague is aware of this – do they really want to get on the wrong side of your Executive… and you, for that matter?

How to manage conflict at work

Assistants are involved in so many aspects of the business that we will often witness this conflict, if not be directly affected. Conflict can be useful – it can drive creativity and move the business forward. But it can also cause unneeded interruptions, create roadblocks and cause stress and anxiety for the employees. The behaviours that we express when we encounter conflict are wide and varied, and there is a brilliant matrix that most leading behavioural scientists use to measure how we all react.

I wanted to share this knowledge with you today because I think it will help Assistants decide how to respond when faced with contentious situations.

Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)

I wanted to bring the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) to your attention before we start to look at how Assistants can specifically manage conflict. The TKI is the leading process in conflict resolution and management. It is used by mediators, negotiators and most HR and Organisational Development consultants. Thomas and Kilmann came up with a method that shows how people react to conflict and how their behaviour results in the dispute being resolved. Here is a breakdown of the formula:

The TKI is designed to measure a person’s behaviour in conflict situations. “Conflict situations” are those in which the concerns of two people appear to be incompatible. In such situations, we can describe an individual’s behaviour along two dimensions: (1) assertiveness, the extent to which the person attempts to satisfy his own concerns, and (2) cooperativeness, the extent to which the person attempts to satisfy the other person’s concerns.

There are five different types of response that we all use when dealing with conflict. They are:

  • Competing
  • Collaborating
  • Compromising
  • Avoiding
  • Accommodating

Here is a good breakdown of how the models work with assertive or cooperative behaviour:

Let’s look at each of the types of response and how they might affect conflict management. Again this is taken from An Overview of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)

Competing is assertive and uncooperative—an individual pursues his own concerns at the other person’s expense. This is a power-oriented mode in which you use whatever power seems appropriate to win your own position—your ability to argue, your rank, or economic sanctions. Competing means “standing up for your rights,” defending a position you believe is correct, or simply trying to win.

Accommodating is unassertive and cooperative—the complete opposite of competing. When accommodating, the individual neglects his own concerns to satisfy the other person’s concerns; there is an element of self-sacrifice in this mode. Accommodating might take the form of selfless generosity or charity, obeying another person’s order when you would prefer not to, or yielding to another’s point of view.

Avoiding is unassertive and uncooperative—the person neither pursues his own concerns nor those of the other individual. Thus he does not deal with the conflict. Avoiding might take the form of diplomatically sidestepping an issue, postponing an issue until a better time, or simply withdrawing from a threatening situation.

Collaborating is both assertive and cooperative—the complete opposite of avoiding. Collaborating involves an attempt to work with others to find some solution that fully satisfies their concerns. It means digging into an issue to pinpoint the underlying needs and wants of the two individuals. Collaborating between two persons might take the form of exploring a disagreement to learn from each other’s insights or trying to find a creative solution to an interpersonal problem.

Compromising is moderate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness. The objective is to find some expedient, mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties. It falls intermediate between competing and accommodating. Compromising gives up more than competing but less than accommodating. Likewise, it addresses an issue more directly than avoiding it but does not explore it in as much depth as collaborating. In some situations, compromising might mean splitting the difference between the two positions, exchanging concessions, or seeking a quick middle-ground solution.

Now that we know how we tend to deal with conflict at work, the obvious next step is to manage conflict. We all use these different strategies.

We are all capable of competing when in conflict, avoiding it or compromising. The reality is that conflict in the workplace isn’t going away, so the best option is to look at the root cause of conflict, which is lack of communication.

When I say ‘lack of communication,’ I really mean lack of information or the wrong information. Clear, concise, timely communications will always ease tension. Everyone knows where they stand. They might not like where they stand, but they know for sure the reasons behind it!

How to show empathy at work

Assistants have buckets full of empathy; you wouldn’t be in the job if you didn’t. I find that empathy can often be taken advantage of by people who don’t respect what we do – be it that colleague who wants your time or that Executive who doesn’t understand your role. Empathy can quickly diminish when you don’t feel respected or, quite frankly, someone pisses you off.

So compassion is essential – you have to figure out why someone is acting the way they are and deal with them accordingly. But what if that person is annoying? We all work with people who annoy us, but we must rise above and be compassionate.

You might be tempted to avoid people like this, but that isn’t always possible. So instead, here are a few suggestions that will help you show empathy with even the most annoying person!

Cognitive empathy vs emotional empathy

I like this explanation from the Harvard Business Review:

There are two types of empathy: cognitive empathy, the ability to understand another person’s perspective, emotional empathy, the ability to feel what someone else feels. “Both of these tend to shut down when you feel annoyed or frustrated,” Annie McKee says. But you must fight against that.

To summon cognitive empathy for an annoying colleague, McKee recommends generating theories explaining “why this person says what he says, thinks what he thinks, and acts the way he acts. Unearth your curiosity,” she says. Ask yourself: “What motivates this person? What excites and inspires him?” Go “beyond your worldview” and reflect on “what may be in his cultural background, education, family situation, or day-to-day pressures causing him to behave this way.” Remember: The goal here is to “understand this person’s perspective,” Fernandez adds. “It doesn’t mean you have to adopt, validate, or agree with it, but you do have to acknowledge it.”

To muster emotional empathy for that colleague, “find something in them to care about,” McKee says. One way to deal with someone who irritates you is to “picture that person as a six-year-old,” she adds. In other words, remember that “they’re only human.”

The hypotheses you generated to explain your colleague’s behaviour could be helpful here, too, according to Fernandez: “Maybe this person is stressed or under pressure, or maybe this person is just not having a perfect day.” You don’t have to “become a psychologist and get into their childhood,” but you do have to try to experience “emotional resonance.” The result is often, “I get it.”

Be diplomatic

In my mind, diplomacy is ‘the art of dealing with people sensitively and tactfully.’ It is the ability to communicate with people using an approach that considers their feelings and potential reaction to the situation. It is a skill that allows Assistants to find common ground with every person at every level of business, even those annoying!

Show kindness

This is the first step. Show everyone kindness, even annoying people! If there is one particular person who you don’t like to be around, make yourself say hello to them every morning. Go out of your way to show them kindness and compassion. The more you do it, the easier it will get; you might even stop assuming the worst about them. You can choose to be empathetic because you control your emotions. Choice empathy and kindness or frustration and annoyance!

Be patient

When your annoying colleague asks you the same question 20 times or turns up to the meeting late, again, it is your human right to be less than empathetic! But don’t. Be patient. Breathe, reset and go again.

Get to know them

This might be difficult to swallow, but have you tried to get to know this person? It may sound like a horrible situation, but taking them out for a drink after work or a lunchtime coffee might be worthwhile. You never know. They may be completely different outside of the office. They might be nice! If you do this and you hate them even more, at least you tried. Go back to showing them empathy but don’t worry about befriending them!

Have a conversation with them

Can you confront the person yourself? If you have the confidence to talk with them directly, then you should. Don’t be overly aggressive, but do be firm and tell them how their behaviour impacts you. They may not be aware of their actions, and a conversation might nip it in the bud before your relationship becomes a severe problem. If they are particularly tricky, they may try to brush off their behaviour or explain it away but stick to your guns and make sure you come to a conclusion that enables you to get on with your job.

If you find it challenging to talk face-to-face or don’t have the confidence, it might help to send them an email. Explain that you are nervous about broaching the subject with them directly and are writing your feelings down in the hope that you can resolve any future problems.

Working as an Assistant, you can have more influence than you might think. You hold the day-to-day tasks within the business in your hands and influence senior staff members’ decisions and opinions. Your opinion is important!

Knowing how to influence those around you will help to progress your career, and this is something that we strongly encourage you to take seriously! With all this in mind, it’s time for you to seize every opportunity available to show how great an Assistant you are.

Understanding personality types at work

The workplace is full of individuals with different characteristics and personalities. Working alongside many other traits, cultures, and emotions can be tricky. Working collectively and collaboratively with our colleagues is essential for Assistants to succeed in the role.

It is even more essential for Assistants to understand the different personality types of those around them and how they can manage their needs and expectations and communicate effectively.

Working for a workaholic

To become a successful board-level director, you would expect that individual to be somewhat of a workaholic, if not extremely passionate about their job.

All of the Executives I have worked for have been passionate about their career and the organisation they work in; some have been what I would describe as workaholics. You know the type; they are always switched on, they are always available, and they are still on their iPhones.

Not to even begin mentioning the hours they work.

Working for a workaholic boss can be tricky for most people, but for Assistants, it can be challenging.

Are we supposed to match the hours that they do? Are we supposed to be in the office when they are in the office, and are we supposed to get through the work they do?

On top of that, how do you start supporting someone who considers their job the most important thing?

Here are some tips for those of you that are working for a workaholic.

Ask what is expected of you

With every new manager I have worked with, I have asked what they expect of me as their Assistant in the initial interviews. Once I was given the job, I asked the question again during the first meeting together. You must understand what your manager needs in an assistant and when they will require you to be around. I always ask what hours they work and when they arrive at the office and leave to know if I have to adjust my preferred hours.

Asking these types of questions in the early days of your relationship will set you in good stead. If you didn’t ask your boss this question when you started working for them, it’s not too late, particularly if you struggle to keep up with their demands. During your following review, ask that you discuss how you work together. They may not realise that you prefer to get into the office after the sun has risen or left before the world sleeps!

Set some boundaries

It is essential to set some boundaries with your boss and yourself. Getting sucked into a workaholic schedule can be easy, so you have to be quite disciplined. Discuss the hours you want to work, there will be times when you work long hours, but this shouldn’t be the norm.

Ideally, you want to get all your work done that day, go home at a reasonable time and not have to check your emails until you go to bed! If you are struggling with your workload and the demands of your manager, you will need to set some boundaries, and you will have to communicate your new position.

What is realistic for you?

The problem with workaholics, mainly when they are your boss, is that they may not realise they are workaholics. Secondly, not everyone else wants to work as hard as they do if they compare themselves to other executives in the organisation, fair enough.

But if they are comparing themselves to their staff, that is certainly not fair. To work successfully with a workaholic, you have to be strong and understand what is realistic for you. If you have other commitments outside of work, you shouldn’t feel wrong about that.

I’ve always said it is essential to match your work style with your boss, but at the same time, you must think about your preferred work style and how it might complement your manager’s. For instance, if you are racing through work to keep up with their demands but prefer a more systematic approach, you might end up making mistakes which they will undoubtedly pick you upon.

When working for a workaholic, you must think long and hard about your circumstances and what is realistic.

Try to get as much work done during your working hours

A compromise I have found to work well when working with a workaholic is this – you work hard when you are in the office.

Ensure your manager understands that you are doing everything you can to support them within your set boundaries. If you must work through your lunch but leave at a reasonable time, this is a compromise worth taking. If you try this approach, time management will be crucial, and you will also have to be pretty strict with those colleagues that interrupt you and take up an unnecessary amount of your precious time.

What are the positives?

Okay, I know I’ve just spent quite a bit writing about the negatives, but there are many positives when working with a workaholic.

They tend to be driven, successful and passionate.

Qualities that can be infectious. I always worked harder when I had a workaholic boss, but I was rewarded more frequently, and my efforts didn’t go unnoticed. I’ve worked for sluggish managers, which was much worse.

What can you do to free up their time?

Last but no means least, what can you, as their Assistant, do to free up their time so that they can go home early for a change?

Take a look at the tasks that take up a lot of their time and think of ways that you can help reduce their workload. For example, do they spend most of their day in meetings? Can their diary be structured, so they have a few hours to spend at their desk?

Are colleagues meeting with your boss when an email will do? Do they spend a lot of time doing their admin – that is something you will have to wrestle out of their hands immediately! Tell them you want to free up their time and work on solutions together. As much as a workaholic loves their job, they will appreciate getting away from the office early – at least occasionally!

Saying No

What to say when you want to say no – example conversations to make you more assertive.

This template provides you with practical, ready-to-use dialogues tailored for various common scenarios where you might need to refuse a request at work.

Does your Executive make decisions?

I’ve worked with several Executives over the years and seen many different management styles. Some Executives have been incredibly inspirational, others have been controlling and micromanaging your every move, and then there are those types of managers I want to discuss today. This manager never makes a decision.

The non-manager, so to speak!

These types of Executives will leave a decision unmade until someone else makes it for them, or the problem goes away. In this circumstance, everyone muddles along without clear objectives or knowing what is happening.

For Assistants in this situation, it can be pretty tough.

Often colleagues will ask you to make decisions on behalf of the boss, which is incredibly stressful. Colleagues might think you are not relaying information or questions back to your Executive when you have asked them on more than one occasion but have yet received a clear answer. You will often cover up for your boss when they cannot make any decisions.

The Executive may be technically brilliant at their job but unable to manage staff, so their assistants will also find themselves picking up the people management slack. This is great to start, but after several years working as an assistant with all this management experience, the thought of being promoted into a substantial management role is impossible, particularly with a manager who has no clue that their assistant is doing all the additional work.

In this situation, I have always found it hard to change a non-manager. I’ve had honest conversations about our working relationship. Still, their behaviour is so ingrained that most of the time, they don’t even realise their lack of leadership is causing any problems. If they know it, they tend to be good at their work, keeping them in a job and their boss happy, so why do they care what their staff think?

When I found myself in this situation (thankfully, it has only been once), I worked around my manager, accepted that he would never manage me exceptionally well and instead made the best of what I had. I didn’t stay in the role very long, but here are my tips if you work with a boss who never makes a decision.

Keep a list of everything you do, including your additional managerial tasks. I would also keep all of the emails or communications that contain details of the decisions that you have made. You have a list if your manager is interested in finding out what you do. Also, if your manager eventually gets found out, you will have documented evidence of your managerial experience. This can be used to prove you are ready for a promotion or a pay rise.

This type of boss will leave you to figure out your role and the type of work you want to do. Think about the positives – when you have eventually had enough and left this role, you will have additional expertise and skills. Proactively manage yourself by doing extra work that you find exciting and challenging. Ensure your colleagues know you are running the office and use that position to gain as much managerial experience as possible.

Although your boss is unaware of how much they rely on you, other team members will notice. Keep pleasing and supporting your colleagues – one may be promoted and want to take you with them. Alternatively, your current boss might be replaced by one of your colleagues. Either way, your good work will pay off.

In this situation, you have to be honest with your colleagues. Ensure they understand you are not the reason your boss is not getting back to them with decisions.

You also have to be assertive. Some staff members may exert authority if they realise their leader is not leading. These people will undoubtedly try to make support staff do work for them, which they should be doing themselves.

Should you keep your boss in the loop when it comes to decisions that you’ve made? I would say yes because you are covering yourself if a decision is ever questioned. I’ve found that managers that don’t care if they are bad at managing staff are good at blaming their team if anything goes wrong.

If the situation makes you frustrated and unhappy with your role, this is probably one to remove yourself from. You will have gained tremendous experience, so find a job that values those skills and rewards you for having them.

Working with an introvert

The key to a successful relationship between an assistant and their Executive is understanding how they operate. Let me rephrase that… the assistant should understand how the Executive works and adjust their style accordingly.

Most people fall into two personality camps- introverts and extroverts. Now obviously, people come in varying degrees of these types. Still, when building a successful relationship, it is worth noting what side of your Executive’s personality coin resides. I will look at the challenges facing assistants working with an extrovert, but today, let’s look at those reserved introverted types.

Communicating with an introvert

In my experience, introverts tend to listen more than they speak. It can be pretty tricky getting an introvert to say much at all. This can be frustrating for people used to talking, bouncing ideas off others and receiving direct instructions. It can also lead to people talking to introverts to cover up silences or awkward moments. Not suitable, especially for assistants. So how do you communicate? First, make sure you listen when they speak because they will have something important to say!

They probably aren’t happy having to repeat themselves, so make sure you remember any instructions they have given. If you have to clarify anything, ask specific questions (ideally with yes or no answers). Expect to use email as your primary source of communication.

Take the initiative

I find that introverted bosses let their staff take the initiative on projects and their workload. They don’t tend to micromanage, so assistants, in particular, can use this to their advantage and take on more work. Regarding feeding back, I suggest you use an online task list that you can share with your boss that way. You don’t have to let them know when you have actioned requests continually. They can see the evidence for themselves.

Prepare for meetings

Most introverts, I know, like to have space in their day to prepare for meetings. They want to go into an appointment with an idea of what they will say and how the discussion will pan out. An assistant can help with this process by ensuring they have all the necessary paperwork before the meeting and have time to prepare appropriately.


Introverts will not enjoy unnecessary interruptions and random conversations, so make sure you use all of your gatekeeping skills to keep your Executive away from scary Extroverts (incredibly pushy salespeople). Introverts like to regroup and spend time independently thinking through ideas and planning the next steps. Ensure you give them plenty of time in their diary for quiet reflection.

Create your sense of achievement

If things are going well, you probably will not hear much about it from your introverted Exec. This can be difficult for assistants who want to know if they are doing a good job (and really, who doesn’t!) Don’t take it personally. Just assume that silence is good and pat yourself on the back when you know you have achieved something.

Remember that working with an introvert brings rewards

Not all leaders need to be extroverts.

There is something pretty special about someone who can quietly encourage their workforce to shine. Introverts have unique qualities and can be fantastic bosses. I love this Ted Talk from Susan Cain called The Power of Introverts. If you work for an introvert, I highly recommend watching her talk.

Working with an old-school Executive

Many Assistants work for Executives who do not and will not embrace new ways of working, new (or even old) technology and expect their way of working to remain exactly how it has been for decades.

Some assistants may be used entirely to this style of working, but it can be frustrating if you want to introduce new ways of working and are shut down every time you mention it. If this is you, here are a few tips on working with an old school Executive.

Is your Executive living in their bubble?

Often, old school Executives are incredibly resistant to change, and we will come on to this. However, sometimes they live in a bubble where new working methods don’t cross their path. I had one Executive with many old-style Rolodex business card holders dotted around his office. He was delighted when I asked if he wanted me to put them onto his Outlook contacts.

He was over the moon when I told him I could put an app on his new iPhone that scanned the business card directly into his Outlook contacts. If you have an old-fashioned boss that needs a little encouragement, then take the time to suggest things to them.

Schedule time for tutorials and tell them about the benefits of new technology. You will probably have to manage the tech until they get the hang of it, so before you suggest something makes sure you are an expert so that they don’t get put off by any minor glitches.

Are they just resistant to change?

There is old school, and then there are those who resist change. Don’t get me wrong; people who resist change are incredibly challenging to deal with. Particularly if you are proactive and can see that a few tweaks here will make a big difference. There are plenty of articles out there that will help you manage people resistant to change.

It takes a lot of time to make changes, and sometimes you can feel like, ‘what is the point’ but trust me, it will be worth it in the end. Let’s look at the most common problem I hear from assistants – working with paper diaries. Just as a starting point – this would drive me nuts! The pain tends to be that your Executive has everything in their paper diary. You work from that and put all the appointments in Outlook or your online calendar.

If anything changes, outcomes the eraser for the paper diary, and then you have to make the same changes to the online schedule.

So how do you get your Executive to move to an online calendar only? Firstly, have you asked them to change to an Online calendar – do they know how much extra work you do to manage both aspects of the task? If you have not told them and clearly stated that you do not like working with two diaries, why would you expect them to change their routine?

If you have told them and still refuse to give it up, ask yourself – what are they afraid of? Is it the lack of control, the technology itself, or merely stubbornness? Once you have figured this out, you can slowly manage the changes that need to take place. A simple place to start is during your one-to-one meetings. Instead of working from the paper diary, ask them to open up the online calendar on their computer to see who is coming to the event and any additional details that might not be in the paper diary.

Keep doing this until they get used to looking at the computer. Change takes time, and you will have to be patient.

Old school in every way

So you’ve got an Executive who is resistant to change but is also old school.

They follow old-school management styles where what they say goes. They don’t collaborate on ideas. They expect you to drop everything when they ask, and even the mention of ‘working from home’ is looked upon with scorn and slight confusion.

Yup, I think most of us have probably encountered this type of Executive at some point in our careers. I know I certainly have. What to do?

Well, there are a few methods I’ve tried in the past… Briefly, here they are:

Is it me? I walked into a new job with many ideas and examples of changes I’d made in other organisations, only to realise that these ideas were unwelcome. I was, quite frankly, pissed off. But over time, I realised that my old-fashioned Executive was brilliant at his job and had excellent systems that worked well for the department despite being thoroughly old-fashioned. So in this instance, I had to adapt to his way of working rather than introduce changes that may have been better but weren’t all that necessary.

Not everyone is perfect. There are many reasons people are stuck doing what they have always done. Not everyone understands that ways of working have moved on. Can you be a bit more understanding of your Executive’s imperfections? If so, take the time to work out how they operate and how you can fit in.

Is it the culture? Is it just your Executive, or is the whole organisation like an old boys club? If it is only your Executive, speak to like-minded people in your office and ask how they deal with your Executive. Please don’t accept that your Executive has all the power because they don’t. You can manage and make proactive changes. You can also say no to requests and demand the same respect the rest of your colleagues get.

Bide your time. Old-fashioned managers won’t be around forever. They retire. If you are younger than them, you may consider waiting it out.

Quit. I did this, and I went on to work for some excellent, dynamic, forward-thinking Executives who helped support my personal development. Not an easy choice, but quite often the right one when working with bad managers.

Working with an incompetent Executive

Everyone moans about their boss. Fact!

Sometimes your Executive takes ages to get back to you on something. They are always in a meeting or out travelling. They never have enough time. They don’t manage your needs or expectations. They don’t make decisions or make the wrong decision and don’t lead effectively. These are all common gripes. But, for Assistants, we see the reasons behind these failings. They are mega busy, have so much responsibility, have enormous teams, and don’t have time for everyone.

They don’t delegate enough, or they delegate too much. They have problems at home, or they are also stretched. We see it all, and usually, we know there are reasons for these behaviours. We can offer support, so the team moans less about the boss and the work gets done. That is where we add value, right? But what happens when the support we offer isn’t enough? What happens when we are working with an incompetent Executive, and no matter the level of support, they suck at their job?


Easier said than done for some people. So, what can we do? How do we overcome the frustrations and support someone terrible at their job? Here are a few thoughts!

Please don’t make them into something worse than they are.

They are a person who is failing, don’t make them into a monster, because they probably are not. Remember that as an Assistant, you need to show empathy, even when their incompetence is soul-destroying!

Where is the incompetence?

Usually, people are promoted because they have the technical ability to get the job done or generate a lot of income for the business. Either way, very few people are promoted because of their people skills or leadership abilities. So, in your Executive’s case, where do the incompetencies lie? Is it that they can do the work but can’t manage the people?

Or do they spend too long managing the people that the business gets neglected? As their Assistant, you gain insights into the behaviours hidden from other staff members. Use that to your advantage. Work out the issues and then plan how you can help support those weaknesses.

How can you help?

The first thing to say is that your incompetent Executive will understand that they are not quite making the grade (even if they are outwardly the most egotistical person on the planet), which means they will have their barriers firmly in place. They will not ask for help, so you need to work out, on the sly, what it is that you can help with and then work out a plan to get them to trust you enough to accept your help.

To do this, you need to be the person that never moans about them. It would be best if you were on their team, on their side, and found a human angle you can work with.

They will never acknowledge their shortcomings if they are entirely unaware or in denial. You need to accept that and find a way to communicate with them. For example, if they are not giving you the access you need to do your job, you should say, “I need your help.

I want to be great in this role, and I know I can offer a lot of support, but I need you to help me with that [and list the specific things you want them to do – access to the calendar, make decisions on their behalf, attend meetings etc.]”.

Remember always to come prepared with solutions. They will have so many problems to fight, be the person that comes with answers.

Fill in the gaps.

Speak to your colleagues. What is your boss lacking? What are they not getting from your Executive? Where can you help? Do they need a sounding board, and your boss is too busy to listen? Do they need things signed off? Can you plan an effective way to get those decisions made quickly? Can you sign things off on your Executive’s behalf?

All of the above are examples of managing up, which you must do if your Executive is incompetent. Always think to yourself, what do you need to do for the good of the business?

Build your support network.

As an Assistant, you must have a support network in the office of different levels within the business. Doing this is even more critical if you work for an incompetent boss.

If you don’t have a network of people who all know that you are brilliant, everyone will think you are just as incompetent as your Executive, and the danger is that you get blamed for their incompetencies.

So, get out there, get known, and make sure everyone knows who you are rather than being perceived as only your Executive’s Assistant. Make sure you are known as someone who makes things happen despite your Executive. Get good at specific niche tasks that you could potentially move into if your Executive gets fired (which is likely if they are entirely rubbish).

Think strategically. Who do you want to impress the most? Probably your Executive’s boss, right? Well, yes, but shine in front of your Executive’s peers, make good connections with your HR representative, and ensure those key players know that you are not responsible for your Executive’s failings.

Look after your mental health.

There is no denying that working for an Executive who is floundering is a drain on everyone around them, but this is particularly true of Assistants. Concentrate on what you like about your role, the organisation or the other people around you. As soon as you start to feel resentful, angry and ultimately unmotivated, you will not be able to lead yourself and your colleagues out of this situation. And that is when it is probably time to move on.

How to work with a visionary manager

Someone starts every business with a vision. They are the driving force behind the company, and they want to change the world.

You might not work for the person who started the organisation. But, if you work for an Executive who is the creative thinker in your organisation, someone who innovates and drives change in the business – you are working for a visionary manager!

Working as an Assistant with a visionary manager has many advantages and disadvantages! We will look at how to work with a visionary manager, how you can support them, and what it means for your career. Firstly, let’s define a visionary manager.

What does it mean to be a visionary?

Author and speaker Josh Linkner defines a visionary as “willing to dream wildly and think ahead. When your organisation has a senior leader who focuses on what’s possible and breathes reinvention, you ­have a chance to reach those stellar, dreamed-about heights.”

It sounds incredible.

What an opportunity to work with someone who disrupts the status quo, innovates and drives the growth in the business! Visionary managers expect and often demand their team to create new ideas, think differently and embrace change. It is an exciting place to be, especially for Assistants. Working with a visionary brings so many opportunities because they will not work with their Assistant traditionally. They don’t work with anyone in a conventional way. The possibilities are endless.

But, with endless possibilities can come long hours, constant change, little structure and no strategy. Working in an environment with no clear path or plan of action can be stressful and frustrating. Many visionary leaders can make for bad managers because they are tasked with creating new ideas and thinking ahead rather than focusing on the here and now and dealing with the practical aspects of management. There are advantages and disadvantages when working with a visionary leader. Let’s look at how Assistants can work with and support a visionary.

Provide Structure.

This is the most critical skill you can bring to the table when working with a visionary. It would be best if you were an executor. The person that gets things done. You must provide the structure to get their ideas and concepts up and running. How do you do this?

Create a schedule that allows them time to brainstorm with their team. They will need time to spitball ideas, develop new strategies and bounce off other creative types. Structure these meetings to have a definite end time, and ensure you are strict with the time. Go to the sessions to take notes and track what has been discussed. If you can’t be there, find a facilitator in the organisation that can help structure the brainstorming sessions.

Giving them this time will also ensure they use the rest of their time to work more structured and strategically.

Understand the business.

You must know what is happening at all points of the day and in the organisation. This means you need to network as you have never networked before. You need to be involved in everything, you need to know what is going on, and everyone in the organisation needs to loop you in. You can only provide structure for your Executive if you are involved.

Remember, if you work for a visionary manager, you must inspire confidence because you will often be the lynchpin between your Executive and the rest of the team. You need to know your job inside out, and you will need everyone else to know that. Confidence does play a key role in how you work with a visionary.

Build Rapport.

Your Executive has to know that you have their back. You will be there for them and support them through every up and down they face. You have to build an unshakable rapport with them. Please get to know them, be in their life and understand how they think and function. Bethany Burns, EA to the CEO of BrewDog, calls this ‘comfortable intrusion’.

You have to get involved, and your Executive has to let you. It would be best if you also built rapport with everyone your Executive comes into contact with. Visionary leaders will have a strong team around them to execute the vision. Ensure you have a strong relationship with everyone in your Executive’s inner circle.

Constant Communication.

Your communication skills need to be on point for a few different reasons. Your visionary leader might struggle to communicate what they need from you and their team. You need to adapt to their way of communicating so that you are both on the same page and then you need to help disseminate information to the people around you. Again, having a good understanding of what is happening in the business will help with this. Communicating regularly with other assistants in your industry would be best.

This is a brilliant way to keep in the loop. Working with a visionary leader will mean that you will work at a fast pace. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel, so communicate with each other and share best practices. Back to communicating with your Executive – they will work at a fast pace, and they will have a lot of ideas that you need to capture.

This is where technology can help.

Find a tool that will help them offload their thoughts to you. This could be WhatsApp, Slack or even email. Use something that helps them get their ideas out of their heads and over to you for action.

Roll with the punches.

Steve Jobs springs to mind many famous cases of visionary leaders not treating their staff well. This isn’t the case for every innovative leader, but for many, the thoughts and feelings of their team are secondary to their vision. If you work for an Executive like this, it can be challenging, and you will need to develop a thick skin and learn to roll with the punches.

This isn’t for everyone; you need to decide your boundaries and how you want to be treated. Depending on the relationship you have with your Executive, you may also have to pull them up on behaviour that is not acceptable. This comes with confidence and practice. Speaking truth to power is not easy.

Just remember that your Executive will always win out at the end of the day. They often misbehave because they can. That is how business works. If they are innovating, making the business a lot of money, and genuinely leading change, their power and abilities will outweigh your feelings. Hopefully, times are changing, but it is slow progress. It would be best if you decided what works for you.

Share the vision.

This is my final point, and it is an important one.

You have to share the vision that your Executive is putting out in the world. If you don’t get on board, you will drown! You have to share their passion, enthusiasm and drive. You don’t have to work the same crazy hours or intensity, but you have to live and breathe the business.

Again, you have to ask yourself if this is truly what you want to do. If you succeed as an Assistant to a visionary leader, you must strap in and enjoy the ride!

As Assistants, it is important for us to form meaningful and successful relationships with our colleagues, no matter what their personality type may be.

By understanding these different personalities, we are better equipped to manage expectations as well as handle any issues that arise in the workplace. Staying collaborative and open-minded when dealing with co-workers’ different beliefs and values is essential. Working together successfully allows everyone to reach their peak potential.

Communicating your influence

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

Choosing the right words and tone, proactively listening, and truly getting our message across are skills 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 when your message isn’t received well, so we need to be effective communicators. The rewards are huge if we work hard to get our communication style right, especially with our Executives.

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

At some point, you will have been in a meeting and felt no one was listening. Perhaps people were on their phones, looking confused, talking over you or ignoring you. It’s hard to continue speaking when people seem to switch off, disengage or reject your ideas.

So how do you ensure 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 the benefits 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. Focusing on benefits first 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 to think about is your style.

The way you communicate will have a significant impact on how intently people listen to you. You can deliver a completely different message if you say the exact words with a different style.

Some say, “I’m just going to be myself and behave the way that feels comfortable.” This means you will display any distracting habits built up during your career and now feel comfortable. Your old pyjamas are comfy, but you wouldn’t wear them for a presentation. So put down your old habits to 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 because they’re engaging and enjoyable. But we all know 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 critical.

This means removing negative self-talk and anxiety. A voice in your head 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 and meeting room, and it’s an excellent way to pacify it.

If you repeatedly say that sort of thing 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 over presenting. Stress tends to be just visualizing things going badly. Instead, you can imagine things going how you’d like them to, putting 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!

We’ve all been there.

Draft a well-thought-out, concise, 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 must ensure your email is worth reading and responding to. How do you do this?

Here are a few tips on ensuring 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 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, 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 understand the request and need anything further from you to fulfil the demand. Maybe a phone call would be better?

If the email is for their information only, 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 they will know what the difference means when you have urgent emails!

Who is the email going to? Do they need it to clog up their inbox, or will a phone call or even walking over to talk to them (eek?!) suffice? If email is the best form of communication, 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, tone and style. It can be easy for emails to be misinterpreted.

Emailing colleagues that you are friendly with smiley faces and other emojis is fine. If you don’t know the person well or outside the office, do not add smiley faces… ever! Impose the rule of professional and concise language in your emails.

A quick one-line introduction is worthwhile if the email is to a person you’ve never met before and they don’t know who you are. 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, what that 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 many 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 and thought processes behind this invaluable skill.

Speaking with authority at work

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 they take in emails or phone conversations.

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 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 bosses 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 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, hoping 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 had been articulate and polite. I think it makes me look naturally authoritative regarding diary management.

Speak to your manager about your authority. How much do you 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.

Trust me. This will happen at some point in your career as an assistant! My best advice 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 lady’s 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 checking 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’, ‘ 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 will sound more authoritative once you have cracked it!

Don’t try to speak with authority in areas where you have no 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 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 tried to fill in as much silence as possible.

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

With improved communication skills, the opportunities for Assistants are endless. Not only will it open up conversations and make them smoother, but it can also enhance job prospects, relationships at work and even friendships outside of work. Conversation is the key that unlocks understanding, so by embracing the art of effective communication, we can all be heard more clearly.

Working collaboratively with other Assistants

Networking is such an essential part of the Assistant role. We can work in such silos that the position can be very lonely without a network to support our endeavours.

Assistants are naturally good networks. You might not think it, but we are!

The nature of our role means we come in contact with many different people, companies and suppliers, and we are generally pretty helpful!

We examine how Assistants can build their network and widen their circle of influence. We will also share excellent tips on how to set up an internal Assistant network.

Before diving into this topic, we also have a comprehensive article on Building your Personal Brand and Network.

Using networks to get stuff done

We don’t have the answers to everything (although often our organisations think we do!), but with other assistants’ help, we can rule the world! So how do we ensure our networks help us get stuff done? Here are a few tips:

Get to know your network

Assistants have access to many networks that can help with various aspects of the role. It is essential to get to know the people within the networks. If you can all put a face to a name, it helps. If you can get out and about, attend networking events and get to know other assistants, this helps. If you are more of a social network assistant, ensure you like, share and comment on further assistant’s posts. Simply getting to know your contacts will make it easier for you to help each other out.

Give and take – networks need to get stuff from you.

This is important. If someone in your network asks for help and you can help – do! If you have a great supplier that you can share with your network or any advice, training suggestions or something you have implemented that works sharing this knowledge, don’t hold back from sharing the information. Your network might not need that contact now, but it might be helpful again. Giving back is the number one rule to networking!

Don’t beat around the bush – get stuff done quickly.

We are busy, and I think most assistants would prefer a straightforward conversation. If you need help, ask for it upfront. This is one of the reasons we network in the first place! We get asked questions a billion times daily by colleagues, so we are used to sharing our knowledge and helping others. Don’t be shy! Your network will have the answers; if they don’t, they probably know someone who does!

Don’t rule people out – they have networks too!

Assistants deal with all issues, so our knowledge is widespread, and our networks can be massive. So don’t rule people out because you don’t think they will be able to help – you never know, and it is always worth asking the question. It is also well worth being a little creative with your networks. Try to network with people who might be able to help in certain areas. For example, I always found the postroom staff incredibly helpful when I needed details for a new supplier – they see parcels, packages and couriers bringing new products in and out of the office all day. They knew all kinds of stuff!

Networking with other departments

We all know that networking is essential for Assistants. There are plenty of external networking events, but the first place to start building your network is within your organisation.

You must know and gets on well with your team and your department, but it is equally crucial that you know as many staff members as possible and have contacts within other departments. A well-connected assistant will benefit their Executive immensely. They will know what is happening in other parts of the business. They can keep their Executive updated on any developments within the business. They will increase their overall awareness of the business objectives.

Here are a few of my tips on how to network with other departments.

Firstly, you have to take advantage of your position. You are an assistant to a senior member of staff, which means everyone will know who they are and, in turn, will know who you are. I’ve found this very helpful over the years because I haven’t had to explain my role in the organisation or which department I work in – everyone knows.

Being an Assistant to an Executive means, you often have to speak to other departments and arrange meetings with your Executive and colleagues. In those situations, always introduce yourself so that other staff members know who you are and what you look like.

The assistants are the first group of people within other departments who you should get to know. If you don’t remember every Assistant in your organisation, say hello next time you pass through their department or drop them a quick email to introduce yourself.

Socialise with people from other departments.

As I said, you should know all of the assistants in your organisation so start by inviting them to your department drinks and hopefully they will return the invitation. If you see someone from your organisation in a social setting, go over and introduce yourself, next time you see them in the office corridor, it will be easier to say hello and strike up a conversation.

Put yourself forward for cross-departmental projects. It is much easier to get to know someone if you are working on a project together. Make sure you contribute to the discussions and are proactive in your work during meetings. Once the project is complete, keep in touch with every team member, including those in other departments. Oh, and remember to organise a celebratory drink once the project is finished – getting to know other people in an informal setting is much better.

If your organisation has social groups, such as a sports team, book club, or poker night, make sure you go to one. It is a great way to get to know other people within your organisation and network with other departments.

Ensure you know what every other department in your organisation does. This information should be available on your intranet. It is much easier to network with other staff members if you know what they do and how they fit into the business.

Working with other Assistants

In my recent blog on what I think Assistants can expect in 2013, I briefly discussed the relationship between assistants and how teamwork and support will become more critical this year. I thought I would go into more detail and give tips on collaboration.

Suppose your organisation is anything like the organisations I used to work for. In that case, you will also have Assistants spread out across different units, floors, offices and Countries, reporting to different managers with varying degrees of seniority. It is now sporadic for a pool of assistants to work together to say to one manager. With this structure, it isn’t easy to see yourself as part of a team of assistants, mainly as we have different priorities; however, I believe it benefits us all if Assistants work together. So how do we do this?

Bond over shared experiences

Do you know all of the assistants in your office? Do you only email each other or speak briefly on the phone when you need something? If this is the case, trust me, you are not the only one, as it can be hard to get to know people at work when you are so busy.

Nevertheless, getting to know your fellow assistants is worth organising for all of you to go out for a few drinks after work or get everyone together for lunch. Knowing the other assistants by their name and face is so helpful, so once you are all together, trust me, the conversation will flow as you all have so much in common!

Team meetings

Hold a regular team meeting for all of the assistants. Once a month is more than enough, but it is worthwhile. You can put together an agenda so that the meeting isn’t just there for people to vent but about best practices, improvements in the office, frustrations, and achievements.

Suppliers can be invited along to discuss the company’s requirements. You could even ask your colleagues to come in and present their business area so that all the assistants know what happens in other departments. You can do so much at these meetings, and I highly recommend having them.

Support each other

How often do you think to yourself, ‘my colleagues have no idea what I do and what I have to put up with in this role?’ Well, guess what? Other Assistants in your company know exactly what you go through because they are going through the same thing every day.

Try to be supportive of each other. If an assistant looks unwell or stressed or just run off their feet, send a supportive email, ask if they need help, or take a cup of tea. We don’t have much support because we usually work independently and don’t often get asked how we are (especially if your manager isn’t inclined), so do look out for each other.

Provide cover for them

You know that feeling when you come back from annual leave, and you know you have hundreds of emails, umpteen voicemails, and goodness knows what left on your desk to deal with? How great would it be if you had one of your assistants covering your work while you were away so that you didn’t have all of that waiting for you?

Providing cover is the best thing assistants can do for each other. Yes, the assistant covering will be busier for a week or two. Still, when they go away, they will have a much more excellent break knowing their manager is being looked after and won’t call in a panic when they should be drinking margaritas by the pool!

The basic rules are that you try to do as much of the work you need before you leave, give the covering assistant outstanding notes to follow, and buy them something lovely as a thank-you gift.

So I hope you see the benefits of working as a team with your fellow assistants and supporting each other. I have found this a great help over the last few years, and I hope you have too… if not, try to implement some of my ideas; it does make a big difference.

The questions you need to ask before you cover for another Assistant

It can be tough juggling your job and another assistant’s tasks. You have the demands of your work and figure out how to work with another team or one on one with another Executive. It is not easy, but if you have a few ground rules before starting the cover, it *should* be smooth sailing.

Here are my top 5 questions you can ask before you take on another assistant’s work:

What is coming up while the Assistant is out of the office?

Sit down with the Assistant a few days before them leaving the office and go through everything that could crop up during that time. It could be anything from important meetings, expected visitors, trips, appointments etc. Please make sure you are aware of everything in the diary to plan your day accordingly; hopefully, it will save you from surprises. Ensure you have access to the calendars and emails for everyone you assist, even if they are highly senior. It is much harder to anticipate their needs if you don’t know what is happening during their day.

What is the Executive like?

Or possibly the better question to ask is, what does the Executive like? This question needs to be answered honestly by your colleague. Are they demanding, or are they unorganised? Will they delegate anything to you? Depending on your relationship with the other Assistant, you may know what the boss is like and what you are getting yourself into. However, I would still get the low down from your colleague because you never know what quirks and foibles these senior managers have until you work for them.

What is expected of you?

So you know what is coming up while your colleague is out of the office, but do you know how much you must be involved? Are you expected to be a full-time assistant, or should you keep the office ticking until the other assistant returns?

It is so important because, from the outset, you will know how much work to expect. How much will your workload expand, and if you must stay in the office longer than usual? Can you deal with the extra work, or should you be taking the cover at all? If you have to attend meetings with the manager, manage all of their emails and appointments or take on any project work, this could be too much, or it could be a great challenge that you are happy to do. At least you will know from the outset.

How long will you be covering for?

Covering for a day is easy, a week not so bad, a fortnight is a juggling act, maternity leave could see you looking after two directors full time… forever! Find out and find out fast!

What is your manager thinking?

This is probably the most critical question to ask. Is your manager okay with dividing your time between them and someone else? If you are EA to the CEO, is it feasible for you to help someone else when you are in high demand in the first place? If you are happy to cover for another assistant, ask your manager first and look at what they have coming up before you commit to anything. If it is a quiet period for your manager, it will probably be fine for you to take on extra work but do double-check.

If you work at a company that encourages assistants to work together as a team, you must cover each other now and again. It isn’t always fun or easy, and the extra work can be stressful. There is a positive side in that you will be exposed to other business areas. You might be covering for a more senior manager than you currently do, and this is great for your reputation and experience; you might pick up new skills and meet new people. Oh, and you might be rewarded too!

How to build an internal network

During the Virtual Summit in October 2017, we had the amazing Simone White, Executive Assistant and Global Chair of GAIN – Administrative Professionals Network at BlackRock, train our attendees to start their own internal network for Assistants. Today we are pleased that we can share the video with you.

It is helpful advice on where to start if you want to create your internal network for Assistants, cope with the challenges of organising a network, and look at all the benefits.

Working collectively and sharing best practice in your EA network

I often hear Assistants say, we have an internal network, but it isn’t beneficial. That sucks! It is such an achievement to get a network up and running, and it is such a shame if it isn’t working to benefit the group of Assistants working in the organisation. Well, that is about to change today. Here are ten tips and tricks to help you work collectively and share best practices in your EA network.

Effective Meeting Management is the first step to ensuring productive network meetings. You have to manage the meetings like a board or committee meeting. Make sure you have an agenda at each meeting, always have a chairperson (this could be consistent, or you could change it each month), write down actions and outcomes and stick to the subjects in the agenda and the timing of the meeting.

What are the common issues?

Every network should have some common ground. If you haven’t had a chance to write down your common problems formally, this is a task for the next meeting. Once you realise how consistent and similar your issues are, you can resolve the problems (and often, the problems are identical despite the fact you all work in different teams and departments).

Have a social aspect, but don’t make it all about socialising!

Ensure you organise regular drinks and get-togethers for all of the Assistants in the network. You all bond; the best way to do this is in an informal setting. Also, ensure you have constructive get-togethers with a training and educational element.

I spoke a few years ago at the BlackRock Assistant network. They had organised a presentation from a senior member of staff, an external trainer, and asked each Assistant to invite another Assistant from one of their client’s organisations. It was such a brilliant idea and showed the senior members of staff the power of the Assistant network. Of course, there were drinks and nibbles and a goodie bag too!

How can you be more efficient as a team of Assistants?

Again this should be part of every networking session. What can you do as a group of employees to drive the business forward and add to the bottom line? At the start of every year, set objectives for the network, and work on a joint project that your network owns. What can you be doing to integrate your network into the business? Bobbie Saxon, EA at Diageo, shares a great example of this. Her Assistant team trains other staff members on how to be more productive, use the IT systems correctly and work with them on their time management. What a great way to use their skills and move the business forward.

Ask your colleagues to attend the meetings.

This is a great way to improve the overall business acumen of the Assistants. Ask them to present what they are doing in their team or department so that all the Assistants understand what everyone else is doing and how they fit into the organisation’s structure.

Contact your suppliers.

Let your suppliers know that you have an internal Assistant network and again ask them to come along and talk about how the system or product works. In one of my internal networks, we asked the travel management company to come in, and we talked through the problems we had with their online booking tool and one of the IT team. We got them to make adjustments for us, solving some of our issues.

Pull together the standard procedures and create a process manual for your organisation’s Assistants.

This doesn’t have to be done during the meeting. You can set up a Slack channel, OneNote document, or Google Doc (whatever works best for your organisation). Ask everyone to add their best tips and tricks for handling procedures in your organisation and how they work best in the role.

Make sure everyone is involved.

You should ask each member of the network to update what is happening in their area, ask all new hires to come along as soon as they start their job, and assign tasks and responsibilities so that all the Assistants feel like they have a stake in the network.

This can be challenging if your network is currently where most people come to gripe about the job.

If you have this issue, an excellent way to tackle it is to have a discussion section during each meeting to vent. But make sure you time it well, so the venting doesn’t take up the whole session. Make sure you have an action point after each section to be done about the issue being discussed. It is incredible how many people stop moaning about something when asked to start resolving the problem!

You are stronger together

I’ve had the pleasure of talking with Assistants who have set up internal networks which have gone on to change policy and enhance the role of the Assistants across the entire organisation. It can be done. You are much stronger together. An internal network shows that you are taking your role seriously, and everyone else in the organisation should too. Make sure this message is frequently communicated in the network so that you share a common purpose.

Networking as an Assistant is crucial – we need those circles of support to be the best we can be in our roles. We are great at networking, as it is a role which allows us to come in contact with many different people. Therefore, getting connected and broadening our circle of influence can be advantageous for all parties involved.

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