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Upward Communication – How to ensure that management hears your message

By Merge Gupta-Sunderji, MBA, CSP

(577 words)

Working closely with senior leaders in an organization can be very rewarding. But it can be just as frustrating if you feel that your voice isn’t being heard. Often though, the seeming lack of interest from above is not because of the quality of the information you have to offer, but rather because of HOW you are communicating. When working with upper management, it’s critical that you adjust your message and your method of delivery so that the information is relevant and meaningful for your audience. Here are four things that you can do to ensure that your message is heard, respected and acted upon.

Think “bullet points”
Present your information in succinct sound bites. One of biggest traps experts fall into is what I call “data vomit”. Chances are you are a specialist and an authority in your subject area, so you have a tendency to share EVERYTHING you know about the subject or topic. But most times, the level of detailed knowledge that you have is far more than what is required for a senior manager to understand the situation and make a decision. Hold back the urge to “vomit” everything you know on your subject. Instead, seek to present information in concise statements that are brief and to the point. Your goal is to keep upper management in the loop, but without giving them the extended version.

Understand their problem-solving mode
Are your senior leaders brainstorming ideas and solutions or are they seeking recommendations and action? If they are in the brainstorming mindset, then present your ideas as “alternatives” or “possible solutions.” If they are in recommendation/action frame of mind, then put forward your thoughts as “recommendations” and “implementation plans.” Don’t underestimate the value of choosing the right words to impart your knowledge. By positioning your opinions correctly, you are more likely to get them to pay attention to what you have to say.

Make decisions and take action
Management in any organization values employees who are decisive and action-oriented, but even more so in times of crisis. You may think that reasonable analysis and prudent consideration of all alternatives is necessary, but senior managers (particularly in times of crisis) may view it as dithering and indecisive behavior. And the last thing you want to be perceived as is the “Mother, may I?” kind of employee who has to check in every time before you are able to take action. Honestly ask yourself: could your hesitant past behavior be the reason your ideas are being so quickly dismissed now? If so, work to overcome this perception.

Don’t be afraid to deliver bad news
Yes, this is difficult enough to do peer-to-peer, let alone when you have to give it to senior management, but muster up the courage and bite the bullet. Truth is, they’d much rather know than not. And it’s far better for them to hear it straight from you rather than through rumor, innuendo or second-hand information. And yes, you may get an initial negative reaction, but the managers at the upper echelons of your company didn’t get there on an obstacle-free journey – they’ve heard bad news before and they can handle it. Besides, it’s not in your best interest to sugarcoat the facts; all that’ll happen is that you’ll prolong the inevitable and likely end up over-committing on what you can deliver.

Try these four tips in your next interaction with your senior management and see your credibility and persuasiveness improve.

Merge Gupta-Sunderji, MBA, CSP, turns managers into leaders by giving them specific and practical how-to steps to create high-performing, productive, and positive workplaces. Contact her at or (403) 605-4756.

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