“In many ways, effective communication begins with mutual respect.”
— Zig Zigler

The executive was angry. The team leader presenting a request for investment in training and coaching for the team kept going. When the executive wasn’t responding well, the team leader began talking much louder. At that point, the executive stopped the team leader and said “no” and added that they didn’t want to see this request again.

It is true the team leader wasn’t reading the anger cues and should have stopped much earlier. More importantly, they completely missed the preparation that should have taken place. The team leader was not prepared to speak the language of the executive.

Last week’s newsletter focused on ensuring your organization is making the investments you believe in. I was asked to elaborate on the five key steps I provided. This week I am providing more details on “speaking the language of executives.”

When requesting investments from executives, it is critical to understand that the executives you are speaking to must trust that the investment will provide a great return. People make two mistakes which show they are not speaking the language of executives.

First, people often miss that the executive is not just worried about the money to be invested; they are perhaps even more worried about the time required and the expense of what people are not doing while at training or being coached. Any person with experience has taken training that was a waste of time and money. The more this has happened to the executive in question, the more likely they will be skeptical of the investment requests.

The second mistake people make is to talk exclusively about how the training or coaching is great for them as individuals or for their team. They might say something like, “Python training will show us how to use advanced methods for better data dictionaries.” I have seen exactly that kind of language in requests. The executive is not likely to know why they should care about this request.

So before making a request, it is important to know what is important to the executives you are requesting funding from.

  • Do not guess, ask.  Ask the executives you will be requesting funds from what their biggest objectives are – both in the short term and in the long term.   Executives will often talk about the need for speed to profit. They may talk about the revenue stream. They may talk about the need to attract and retain top talent.

  • Clarify.  Ask them questions about those goals.  Have them help you connect their concerns to your job area. Make sure you understand their objectives well by repeating back your understanding.

  • Add in longer-term goals.  If you feel some things are missing that you believe belong there, bring them up. For example, one of my clients was very concerned about speed.  When I coached the executive and the team leader on how speed and technical debt were connected, they quickly decided how to make the right investments to move forward.  Before that connection, neither one listened to the other, and both were stuck in the slow lane.

  • Build your request so that it is focused on the value of achieving its goals. After you understand the goals and needs of the business, you can execute the next steps of the process. You can focus on the value your investment request will bring to the executive and the organization. You will be better able to speak their language. They won’t be angry. They are much more likely to say “yes!” when you speak about their business and their needs.

It doesn’t matter how loud you are if you don’t speak the language.

Next week, I will go into more detail on how to focus on the value you can bring to meet the executive’s needs.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

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