You Are Talking BUT They Are Not Listening . . . Understanding and Connecting with the Three Levels of Business Leaders

There are three “languages” in business, which change as you move up and down the organization chart.  Unless you are aware of these, you might be talking, but they may not be listening.

To illustrate, let’s make a visit to Ye Olde Table Factory.

The Table Builder (the worker)

Our first contact is with one of the people who are hammering away at building.  A conversation with this person is about materials and the processes in putting together raw parts to make the finished product.  This person represents the day-to-day tactical work.  They are interested in:

  • Getting things done now
  • Price (cost) for materials
  • Features and benefits for those materials
  • Production and all the things associated
  • Who are you?  Can I trust you?

To connect with these people be acutely aware of throughput and taking obstacles out of their way.  They tend to be the person closest to their customer.  They often have budget constraints in both time and money.  Theirs is an assigned task (answering phones, pounding nails, and buying product) with limitations of seeing the bigger scope of the organization.

 The Person Sitting on the Table (Management)

These individuals are responsible for a discipline, or area of focus.  One may be over sales, another accounting, or manufacturing.  As the manager, they have to protect the people, resources, and interests that are their “silo”.

Their job moves them away from the tactical, day-to-day work of the table builder, and adds an element of creativity and innovation.  Can they still pick up the hammer and build a table?  You betcha.  Most of their spent time is interacting with others, either subordinates or other Table Sitters.  They are interested in:

Revenue – Expenses = Profits!

  • Using communication tools (words, documents, meetings, budgets) to get results
  • Protecting their “silo” or interacting with other Table Sitters
  • Politics
  • Maintaining the Status Quo, and then improving it by adding value (either internally or externally)
  • Who is going to do what, when, where and how

To connect with these people you need to be conversant on their business and focus.  They think in terms of a budget and the revenues and expenses it contains.

They do not necessarily want the rubber-hits-the-road tactical information that their subordinates require.  If they feel like you want to talk about tactical information (features and benefits) then they will refer you down to subordinates.  Instead, they focus on a set of silo problems and connecting with peers.  Since their work has an element of the strategic, innovation and creativity become more important.  The more successful people at this level are very open to new ideas and opportunities.

These people maintain the Status Quo (quality, output, and the daily grind) which they are constantly looking to improve.  They have one foot in today (with the people making the tables) and one foot in the future.  This causes them to think about planning and visionary skills.  This “taking-care-of-the-business” and the possibilities (creativity & innovation) of the future wash over them, causing time management problems.

If you are proposing some new product or service, be aware that the Table Sitter has a serious time issue.  They have to offset the value you might bring with the additional work it requires (time) of them.  With the increase of the speed of business, this causes acute issues.  Your message must be a rifle shot, not a shotgun blast.  They relish simple, easy to implement solutions.  If those solutions save time for them, for their organization, then it gets bonus points.

The Person Sitting At the Table (Executive)

These are the people who are required to have vision, a future direction, and who drive the organization to get results.  Their single most valuable skill is getting these results.  Anything that keeps them from the objective is an enemy.  This could be time, resources, a competitor, and even you.  Where the person building the table is focused on today, the person sitting at the table looks to a point in the future.

They are interested in:

  • The Future (Vision, Goals, Objectives, Outcomes, Change, Transition)
  • Market Share & Revenue
  • Legacy, power, influence
  • Time
  • Resources
  • Creativity & Innovation
  • The next “new” thing

To connect with these people you need to talk to them about their vision, their challenges.  Can you know as much about their issues as they do?  No way.  That is why they sit at the top of the organization.  Highly protective of their time, they quickly “smell-out” those who do not think strategically, and will quickly guide downward to a tactical resource (table sitters and table makers).

Although they use budgets as a way to control and drive their enterprise, should they perceive an opportunity (or threat) that would move them closer to a goal or objective, they have the power to move outside of any budget.  Their calendar is ALWAYS too full, until they perceive these opportunities. 

Their experience has given them the ability to pick out those who are sucking up.  Compliments are appreciated, but one too many and your creditability is gone.  In the same way, a promise of your product or service that does not totally connect with their interest (goal/objective/problem) becomes so much “sucking up” and has their mind wandering to what is next on their calendar.  These people are focused on results, change, transition, and maximizing their resources.

In summary

The common practice that allows you to connect with all three levels is to talk about them and their challenges.  Your expertise may or may not qualify to connect with each level, but your ability to ask questions that get to the root of their concerns makes you conversational on their issues.  Each of the three levels will quickly define you as someone who “get’s it” and a resource that has the possibility to help.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *