Do This, Not That: 7 Tips for Communicating with the C-Suite

“It all comes down to how they want to be communicated with and what they value,” says business advisor and author Beverly Flaxington of communicating with the C-Suite.

As many human resources professionals can attest, getting buy-in from the often time- and attention-challenged C-Suite isn’t always a trip to Disneyland. It doesn’t help that there seems to be a fundamental difference between the way HR and the C-Suite each communicate. Fortunately, Flaxington, a certified professional behavioral analyst, was kind enough to share her tried-and-true tips for human resources professionals to effectively communicate with their executives and gain leverage to achieve their goals.

Do This: Be Direct Not That: Give TMI

Sending an email to a C-Level? The shorter and more direct you are, the better. Use the email as a means to open up the conversation – not as the medium for the conversation itself. “No senior executive is going to take the time to read one lengthy email,” Flaxington says. For the most effective results, try this formula: Use the subject line of the email to state your issue, briefly explain what that issue is in the body (using bullets to outline the high-level issues you want to address) and what you need from them – and when you need it. Then end with a question like, “When would we be able to discuss?” which opens up the door to have a follow-up conversation.

Do This: Show the Business Impact Not That: Assume They Already Know

Even if it’s clear to YOU that taking care of your employees is ultimately good for the business, the C-Suite doesn’t always make that immediate connection. So when addressing an issue, frame it in a way that speaks to its impact on the business – whether negative (such as a potential liability or risk to the company’s reputation) or positive (like opportunities to increasing profitability, revenue or efficiency). These are the matters to which C-Levels take notice and respond, Flaxington says. Another way to get their attention? Talk about what the competition is doing. “They’ll instantly perk up.”

Do This: Be a Confidante Not That: Forget that C-Levels are Employees, Too

HR needs to keep in mind that C-Levels are also employees of the company, too. “They’re dealing with interpersonal issues, they may also have questions,” Flaxington points out. “By extending the olive branch and showing the C-Suite ‘We’re here for you’, you can secure inclusion in higher level meetings, because you’re seen as a confidante.”

Do This: Leverage Your Insider Info Not That: Keep Your Opinions to Yourself

Flaxwell says that gaining leverage with the C-Suite isn’t always about being part of the fundamental decision-making team; you have just as influence by positioning yourself as a facilitator or an objective third party. After all, human resources people have access to information to which the C-Suite isn’t always privy and can therefore provide valuable insight on various organizational issues. “By volunteering to be the objective outsider, you get the opportunity to get your ideas heard, hear the decisions going on, and get access to information you wouldn’t have had access to before.”

Do This: Cater Your Approach Not That: Go In Blind

“You need to be somewhat of a detective,” Flaxington says about trying to decipher your leader’s communication style. Look at how your leader communicates: Does he or she talk at length? Or is this person short and to the point? Does this person use a lot of data?These non-verbal cues will inform the tactics you should employ to get across to them. Asking those who interact with your leader is another effective way to decipher how you should cater your approach. Find out if this person prefers email to talking on the phone (or vice versa) and whether he or she is the type of person who takes time to think about things, or simply makes decisions on the spot. “Think of it  as data-gathering.”

Do This: Focus on Need-to-Know’s Not That: Focus on Want-to-Know’s

Again, keep in mind that the C-Level person’s time (and attention) is short. Therefore, it’s important to “think in terms of what they need to know versus what you want them to know, because those are two different things,” says Flaxington. Remember that their needs are different than yours, so “frame your comments and ideas in a way that shows you’re thinking about it from the C-Suite seat…Be able to say, ‘This is the most critical aspect of our organization. This is time, this is money, and this is effectiveness.’

Do This: Stay Objective Not That: Take Things Personally

Dealing with C-Levels can be intimidating for some HR people, Flaxington says, because they have a tendency to come across as very dominating; however, their behavior doesn’t necessarily mean they do not respect you or your role. They just have a different way of communicating and might not even be aware of how they’re coming across. Therefore, it’s important to stay objective and avoid taking things personally when you do not get the response or reaction you hope for. Remind yourself that it’s your job to address the issues you’re bringing up – and remind your leader, too. “You need to be able to explain why this particular subject is valuable to them, and why it’s important that you work together on this.”

Beverly Flaxington is a certified professional behavioral analyst (CPBA), hypnotherapist, and career and business adviser who helps managers and employees deal with workplace behavioral issues. She’s the author of five business and financial books, including the award-winning book, Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior. Learn more at