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May 16, 2020

4 Answers That Will Impress a Business Executive

A lot of people think that executives want good news. That is not true. Good executives want the truth. And they want ideas on how to solve problems.

Let’s start with what executives hate. Ever listen to an exchange that goes something like this?

Executive: Where are we on the launch plan?

Bad Answer Person: Well, we met with the team last week. And we have had other meetings as well. We have generated some ideas that we continue to refine and we have started engaging with people cross organization.

Executive: So is there a plan?

Bad Answer Person: Next week we are getting back together with the extended v-team. We are taking a very inclusive approach that we think is going to build awareness and consensus.

So far, nothing like an answer anywhere in sight. Expect the executive to be frustrated.

Let’s try this again.

Executive: Where are we on the launch plan?

Good Answer Person: We only have an outline. We have identified the teams to involve and named people to lead work streams, but it will be next week before we have a detailed plan on paper worthy of review.

Same set of facts, but feel the difference? Forthright answers build trust and understanding. And from your perspective, more executive confidence in you.

Answer, then explain. Don’t make the executive wait to know. “Are the parts all here?” “Yes, except for one that is scheduled to be here Wednesday.” - or – “No. We are still expecting one more part to arrive on Wednesday.” Same set of facts. Two answers. Either answer is OK because it answers the question, then explains.

Always give one of four true, respectful answers.

  1. I don’t know. If you don’t know, say that. Don’t ramble. Best case, tell them when you will know. “Are the parts all here?” “We won’t know until later this morning. We complete the inventory then. I’ll pass along status to you as soon as that completes”.
  2. I won’t tell you. Sometimes the respectful answer is a polite refusal to answer. “What is the unit margin on your company’s new product?” “We’re not able to share that but we’re pleased with the initial market reaction.”
  3. The truth. If you know the truth, most often you want to provide it. “Are we going to hit the original go-live schedule?” “No. We are moving the go-live date to Friday because although testing is complete, the final regression test will not finish until Thursday.”
  4. Speculation. Almost never use this. Use only when you absolutely must. “When do the parts arrive?” “They might be here Tuesday.” People only hear Tuesday in that answer. They do not hear the word, might. Use speculation very sparingly.

Armed with this fantastic guidance you are now able to talk to executives at their level. And perhaps, create the impression that you should be on the executive team yourself.

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