Tips for Communicating with Executives and Supervisors

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Hello communication leaders! This is the first blog post in a series we are doing over the next few weeks on how to communicate more effectively in business settings.   

We are starting with what is called upward communication, which includes speeches, proposals, or briefings that are directed at audience members who hold higher positions in the organizational hierarchy than the sender.  

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Upward communication

Upward communication is usually the most lacking within an organization, so it is important to take advantage of the opportunity and use it to your advantage. These messages usually function to inform supervisors about the status or results of projects and provide suggestions for improvement, which can help people feel included in the organizational process and lead to an increased understanding and acceptance of management decisions.  
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So how do we adapt messages for upward communication? 

How to Create an Effective Executive Summary

The “executive summary” emerged because executives have tightly scheduled days and prefer concise, relevant information. Executive summaries are usually produced in written form but must also be conveyed orally.  
  • You should build some repetition and redundancy into an oral presentation of an executive summary, but you do not need such repetition in the written version. 
  • Repetition and redundancy allows you to emphasize a main idea while leaving some of the supporting facts out of an oral presentation.
  • If an executive or supervisor leaves a presentation with a clear understanding of the main idea, the supporting material and facts will be meaningful when they are reviewed later.  
  • Avoid loading a presentation with facts but not emphasizing the main idea may result in the need for another presentation or briefing, which costs an organization time and money. Even when such a misunderstanding is due to the executives’ poor listening skills, it will likely be you who is blamed. 

Don’t Pass Up Opportunities to Be Visible and Show Off Your Communication Skills

Employees want to be seen as competent, and demonstrating oral communication skills is a good way to be noticed and show off your technical and professional abilities. 
Presentations are “high-visibility tasks” that establish a person’s credibility when performed well.   
  • Don’t take advantage of this visibility to the point that you perform only for the boss or focus on him or her at the expense of other people in the audience.  
  • Do, however, tailor your message to the “language of executives.” Executives and supervisors often have a more macro perspective of an organization and may be concerned with how day-to-day tasks match with the mission and vision of the organization. So, making this connection explicit in your presentation can help make your presentation stand out. 

Watch Out for Territoriality and Hierarchy

Be aware of organizational hierarchy and territory when speaking to executives and supervisors. Steering into terrain that is under someone else’s purview can get you in trouble if that person guards his or her territory. 

For example, making a suggestion about marketing during a presentation about human resources can ruffle the marketing manager’s feathers and lead to negative consequences for you.  

Also be aware that it can be challenging to deliver bad news to a boss. When delivering bad news, frame it in a way that highlights your concern for the health of the organization. An employee’s reluctance to discuss problems with a boss leads to more risk for an organization. The sooner a problem is known, the better for the organization. 
We hope these tips help you in your day-to-day communication in business and professional settings. Let us know your thoughts! Connect with us via email ( or post a reply on social media.  
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 And, stay tuned for more blogs in this series that focus on how to communicate more effectively in business settings. 

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