3 communicate upward techniques

 In Message creation

Recently when I asked a client what was the biggest communication challenge they had in the last seven days, the client said,

‘Communicating upwards.”

With the change in direction of my blog, the fourth week of the month (ie. this week) will focus on a challenge my clients have shared with me, and ideas and techniques on how to address that challenge.

Communicating upwards – theory

Research the person

Consider this. When is the best time to convey a message to someone?

My view, is that the best time, is when the person is best ready to receive the information.

One definition of effective communication, is saying the right thing, to the right person, at the right time, at the right place, in the right manner for the right reason.

Now – is it possible get all those pieces in alignment for every message that you want to deliver? Probably not.

However, considering the right time, right place, right manner etc. can increase your odds that your message will get listened to, and acted upon.

If you need to communicate a message to a superior – first, do your research. Take the time to observe and reflect on how the person operates within a usual day.

When do they arrive and leave the workplace? What are the person’s interaction preferences? What types of communication do they prefer? (text, email, face to face). Do they prefer to read information prior to meeting etc?

What seems to irritate them? When do the seem happiest? How do they work with their executive assistant?

What are their current priorities? How could you link your message with their priorities?

Speak truth to power

With the caveat that some ‘authorities’ (ie. they’re not leaders) don’t want to hear the truth – most top performing leaders want to hear the ‘truth’ and different points of view about their operation.

Overall, when communicating upward keep this ‘Speak truth to power’ mantra in mind. Provided you’ve done the above research regarding timing, channel etc, you’ll usually receive an attentive ear from the superior.

Interaction suggestions and examples

From your understanding of when, where and how to deliver a message to the senior person, here are examples of interactions.

1. Imagine you want funding for a special project.

If you’ve determined that email is the best channel, the mail could read like this:

Subject: Reducing time to market on x project/fresh idea/7 minutes 



You said in our last LT meeting that reducing time to market for the x project, was a priority of yours. I’ve got some fresh ideas on how we can do that, by re-directing our supplier network.

Can I book in 7 minutes with you through Elly to flesh this out this idea?




2. If you think a quick chat in a chance encounter or at a drinks event is the best way to pitch your request, here’s how it could work in practice.

A entry schema for this interaction is ‘Attention, 30 seconds*, Open – Middle – Close’.

This means you should first get the person’s attention, ask for 30 seconds of their time, and structure your speaking in an Open – Middle – Close structure.


‘ X, got 30 seconds . . .’


‘ … you said at our last LT meeting that reducing cost for the x project was a priority. I’ve come up with some fresh ideas to do this through our supplier network.’


‘ Could I book in seven minutes of your time through Elly to run you through the ideas?’

* The reason for the 30 seconds time frame is that people will agree to this time frame versus a minute, because in their mind they may think one minute becomes two minutes and then three minutes.

3. In chance interactions with senior people, it’s important to project energy and certainty through your body language and voice.

This means getting to the point quickly, using a strong voice and projecting confident face and body language.

One way junior executives lose the attention of senior people, is through taking too much time get to point, and/or through a timid or obsequious manner.

Own the Conversation

In the next seven days:

  • Aim to learn more about a senior person whom you need to influence. Log that information, to help you better communicate with the person.
  • Practice engaging a peer(s) in a chance encounter using the above techniques

p.s. At an AmCham Access Series, networking event in North Sydney, on 29 March, hosted by Shadforth Financial Group, I’ll be delivering a presentation entitled. ‘Own the conversation – 5 powerful ways’. I’d love to see you at the event.

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