Join John Ullmen for an in-depth discussion in this video Communicating across hierarchical levels, part of Communication Foundations (2013).
- People hierarchically above them, below them, or at their same level? The answer is it can be any of the three. It's not a trick answer. The only answer that matters is the answer for you and whichever group is more challenging for you, you have plenty of company. It turns out people tend not to excel naturally at communicating in all three directions. One or two is a strength and the other is a relative weakness. Which is which varies from person to person. Even the strongest communicators tend not to be fully confident and comfortable in all three directions.
They work at it and improve, and so can we. Here are some tips for gaining more interaction with people at each level. For people hierarchically above, focus on increasing your credibility. Hierarchical people above you or seniors have in mind a pivotal credibility question, "Do I care what you think?" If the answer in their mind is no, then you can get dismissed very quickly, and not just mentally, they might abruptly end the meeting. Reinforcing this point, an executive I've worked with a while ago said, "When people want my time, I quickly "assess whether they are time-makers or time-takers.
"Do they make time for me by knowing what they're doing "and being ready and willing to step up "or do they take time away by not being prepared "or unwilling to show initiative "and by complaining instead of doing?" With hierarchical seniors, build your credibility. Be a time-maker, not a time-taker. Moving on to peers, the focus factor for them is trust. Their crucial trust question is "Are you for me or against me?" If the answer in their minds is against me, it's very bad news.
You're branded as an adversary and a defensive instinct kicks in. They'll be skeptical of you no matter what your true intentions may be. It's like in the United Nations when someone is listening to a foreign language and a translator interprets through headphones. But what if the translator decided to undermine the speaker? That's what it's like when peers feel they can't trust you. It's like a translator who adds that's what he says, but what is he hiding? Or, "Yeah, but what does she really mean?" Build trust with peers.
Keep looking for ways to come through for them. Show them you have their back. Through your consistent trust building actions, eliminate any possibility of that distrust translator whispering in their ear. For hierarchical juniors, the focus factor is motivation. Their key motivation question is, "Do you inspire me?" After you meet with them, do they leave more positively energized to try harder or less? If they feel taken for granted or treated like interchangeable machine parts, they might dial down their effort level or say things to others that undermine your reputation.
Different people have different motivations, so with hierarchical juniors, build your understanding of what motivates them. Make that a priority in how you interact with them. Credibility, trust, and motivation. All three matter at all three levels, but if you want to prioritize, you can focus each where it matters most. Here's one more tip. For example, let's say you're strong with peers and you want to improve your effectiveness with hierarchical seniors, find one of your peers who is especially effective with hierarchical seniors and ask that peer for some suggestions and feedback.
You might say, "Hey, I'm meeting next week "with the Senior Leader. "Can I read my plan by you and hear your thoughts? "I'd really appreciate it." Once the conversation is going, look for additional insights from that peer about what he or she does to be effective with hierarchical seniors. Don't forget this is a peer, so we know what else to do. Remember, the focus factor for peers is trust. So, deposit an action payment into their trust account. Do something for them to increase your trust worthiness from their perspective. For example, find out something specific you can do to be helpful and make a commitment then deliver on it early and with even more impact than he expects.
Pulling everything together, updating our original question, it has an updated answer. Which hierarchy group is the most difficult for you to communicate with? Answer: It doesn't matter because you know where to focus for all three and you also know how to use your strongest area to help you gain even more impact in the others. Whether you're communicating hierarchically up, down, or sideways, when you know where to focus, you can always go forward.
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- Managing the intent-impact gap
- Designing the content of your message
- Improving vocal delivery
- Adjusting your body language
- Being politically savvy
- Listening to what's said, what's unsaid, and how it's said
- Increasing empathy and trust
- Overcoming anxiety<br><br>
- The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.