Is your Executive a poor communicator?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does your Executive communicate?

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

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

So, how do their poor communication skills manifest themselves?

Here are a few examples:

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

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

How to work with a poor communicator?

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

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

That said, you can use many tactics to work with an Executive who is a poor communicator.

Seek clarity

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

Summerise and repeat instructions back to your Executive

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

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

Set clear goals and priorities

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

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

We have a great one-to-one meeting template you can use to ensure your meetings are effective.

Meeting Agenda for Assistants and Executives

1:1 Meeting Template

The template you need to maximise the time spent with your Executive.

Questions to Ask a New Executive

Use this guide to work in sync with your Executive from day one.

Understand the context

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

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

Be honest about the problem and suggest a solution

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

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

Poor communication from Executives can be challenging to cope with – especially when you work with someone remotely. To manage the situation, it’s necessary to identify what makes them poor communicators. This includes understanding their behaviour and looking for solutions to encourage better communication.

Keeping up to date with your Executive’s commitments is also vital for success in this role, as well as maintaining healthy boundaries and having clear expectations. Ultimately it can take time and trial and error before finding out how to communicate with a poor communicator effectively. If you are struggling in this situation, I encourage you to enrol on The Strategic Business Partner Online Course, which provides a thorough education of the role and how best to manage difficult people while increasing productivity. Don’t forget that being involved in an effective relationship with your Executive benefits all parties. Invest some energy into making your relationship work so the journey will be smoother going forwards!