As you make your way up the corporate ladder, you’ll inevitably deal with people who are more powerful than you. Power in this regard, would be context-specific. They may be managers, presidents, and anyone in between.
The way you communicate with these individuals can make or break your chances at achieving your goals within the context they hold power in. The language that we use is an often overlooked aspect of how we’re perceived. The wrong word at the wrong time can cost you opportunities you’ve worked years to position yourself to be in the in the reach of.
This article is about developing good communication habits when dealing with people in positions of power.
The words below are predicated on subtly reaffirming the people you’re talking to of the position they hold over you. Rather than being an advocacy for you to be unconditionally flattering, this article is meant to explain why keeping the position these people have attained as a variable in how you communicate with them is important.
The Authoritative Degrees of Dialogue
When describing, or requesting, an action committed by another person, we have a wide range of vocabulary to construct our sentences with. Some requests, like, ‘please send,’ ‘please submit,’ and ‘please pick up’, give you as the requester assumed authority until proven otherwise.
Using language which inaccurately gives you an air of authority toward people more powerful than yourself will put them in an odd frame of mind. If they comply with the authoritative requests you make, they’ll be accepting the message your vocabulary sends to the world at large.
What you should aim to do thereby, is to use language which assumes all power to be in the hands of the people you’re speaking with. Ask them to ‘direct you’, to ‘provide’, and to ‘grant’ you with things whenever possible. Ensure that your word choices when speaking with people of authority are backed by a sense of understanding the power dynamics at hand.
For example, if this article wanted you as a reader to feel important, it would make you feel as if you are in a position of power in this relationship. Rather than simply asking you to continue reading for instance, it would ask if you could give up two minutes of your time to continue reading.
In the second example, you granting a few minutes of your time would be made out to be a big deal. You’d feel as if this article took your position of power into consideration. You’d be made to feel as though you’d be granting some of your time, rather than being requested to spend it.
Assume Good Deeds Are Being Done by Them When No One’s Looking
People who hold authority in the professional world tend to be busy. When speaking with them, you’ll likely have a short window of time to converse. In casual conversation, you’ll ask them how they are, they’ll ask you how your day’s going, and you’ll both go on your separate ways. As they go on their way and you go on yours, neither of you will know exactly what the other would be up to next. They may shuffle off to the nearest bathroom, or may join a meeting to sign off on an important company-wide decision.
Make an assumption that these individuals are always up to something good, even if they’re not. Assume they are busy working, assume they are busy improving the company you work for, and assume that they’ve done a lot thus far in the day.
For instance, open your conversations with, “Did you get a breather yet this morning?” In that case, you’d automatically assume them to be busy working and making a difference. End conversations about upcoming difficult decisions with, “I’m certain you’ll make the best decision for the department, even though it’s a hard one.”
Assuming that the people of authority you’re working with are always partaking in a good deed would be playing into the perception they hope to put out. People who’ve attained authority in your company, organization, or business are sensitive to how others perceive the work they do. They are always auditing themselves based on how busy they look, and how much work others perceive them to be doing. Nobody in a position of power wants to be labeled as the lazy, over-privileged, leader.
Be a Guardian of Their Time
The protection of someone’s time is at the foundation to their authority. If someone’s time isn’t valued by those around them, their position of authority is difficult to adhere to. What would make a person more important than you if you can simply request for them to spend their time at your whim?
People in positions of power are sensitive to spending too much time on things which don’t warrant that time being spent on. If they see you trying hard to protect their time, notwithstanding what the time is being spent on, they’ll perceive you to adhere to, and protect, their authority. Even if the task at hand warrants their time being spent on it, your deed of trying to free them from the task at hand will send the message that you deem them to be even more important than they actually are.
Counter-intuitively, these people will begin to want to spend more time with those who seek to protect it. They’ll begin to understand that you value their time, thereby your act of requesting time from them is bound to be deemed necessary. This important individual will trust you with their time. Other people in power around them will become infected with that sense of trust their powerful counterpart has in you. You’d be providing a certain value, a commodity even. Your trusted reputation will spread among authoritative peers simply because you yearn to be a guardian of their time.