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When it comes to communicating effectively, the saying ‘treat people how you would like to be treated’ doesn’t always ring true. We all respond differently to different ways of communicating, so to get the best out of an executive you should understand this difference and change how you interact accordingly.
This is your emotional intelligence (EQ): the intangible social skills needed to communicate effectively. It is more than just a management buzzword and in today’s business environment it is arguably more important than IQ – research has shown that people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70% of the time¹.
Successful executive assistants tend to have high EQs as they need to be comfortable with seamlessly modifying their emotions, accommodating egos and being flexible with the individual they are supporting. This will help you to establish an effective partnership, which is ultimately better for the company and your job satisfaction.
EQ is particularly useful when dealing with a difficult executive. In these situations, you will be required to adopt specific interpersonal skills to get the right information out of them. Learning how to tolerate a lack of communication and being able to get to the bottom of unclear directions will ensure you have a productive working relationship and could even secure you influence. Here are some important points to consider:
Understand what matters to them
As the eyes and ears of the executive, it is your job to understand what motivates them. An executive’s job is to protect the primary objectives the business – i.e. its financial position or its public reputation. So when communicating up, always make it clear how what you are saying relates back to the key areas of the business (and what could happen if it is not actioned) to get the best results.
Ask the right questions
When asking for information, always be specific so there is no risk of ambiguity and be assertive to convey a sense of urgency. Whether you are communicating in writing, on the phone or in person, asking the right questions will get you the right answers. Use your one-to-one time effectively by preparing well and leading with the most important points you need decisions to be made upon. You can ease the decision-making process further by anticipating the options available to the executive, leaving them with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decisions to make.
Leave the detail for in person
Long emails rarely get read by time-short executives, so keep the detail for when you have your next meeting with them, instead of attempting to get answers in writing. Always follow up decisions made during conversations with an email, so you are both clear on the next action points.
Be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses. You could inadvertently be contributing to a breakdown in communication by not understanding the areas you could improve upon. It is useful to regularly undertake a self-assessment, not just in preparation for your appraisal, so that you can identify the areas you might need to dedicate more time to. This can help you to address areas of concern with training before it affects your working relationships.
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¹Research from Emotional Intelligence, Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (1995), by Daniel Goleman