The Executive / Assistant Partnership
At the heart of being an EA is the relationship you have with your Executive, and crucial to this, is understanding your Executive fully. Trust, communication and respect are the fundamentals to a successful partnership.
Step 1: Trust
Consistency, connection, courage – from courage and competence comes confidence
Building trust is vital and it can be done with the simplest of actions. Have you ever asked your Executive how their weekend was, and been genuinely interested? This may feel uncomfortable at first but having these conversations can make a relationship. Not everyone in the corporate world stops to ask how people are or what they got up to on the weekend. It’s these simple questions that help build a foundation, and therefore trust, between staff and managers, and EAs and their Execs.
As an EA, you’re privy to a lot of confidential information. This doesn’t just include what’s said in the boardroom, but your informal conversations too. Often your Executive won’t be able to divulge any sensitive information or speak about the challenges they are facing with anyone else, so building trust is imperative. You could be the only person they can rely on or talk to, so it’s a huge step for them to trust someone.
Step 2: Communication
We all communicate differently, and we all have our own styles of how to express ourselves. To help build your relationship and avoid any conflicts or misunderstandings, you need to understand how your Exec communicates. Here are a few things to think about:
What’s their communication style? Are they vague or do they like detail? Do they find writing emails to express their thinking easier than talking face to face?
What’s your communication style? Do you use a lot of visual language, or are you to the point?
Does your communication style match theirs? If not, what can you do to help bridge the gap?
Understanding your Executive’s communication style will allow you to have, and create, much more impact at work. This will take time to understand, but once you uncover this, you can fill in the gaps and will have a better idea of how to support them.
We all have moments when we misunderstand a message or situation or get caught up in our own workload and say something without thinking. If you or your Exec are having a difficult time communicating, try the following:
If you’re unsure, ask. Always ask questions so you can understand what they need from you. It’s when you don’t ask questions and just assume you know what they mean that problems arise.
Set, and agree, measurable goals. Have regular meetings so you understand each other’s priorities – what may be top of your list of priorities might be at the bottom of theirs.
Be honest. If something is going to take longer than anticipated or if you’re experiencing any challenges, say something. In the same spirit, share possible solutions to those issues and ask their advice. This will show you’re being proactive, and in turn, they won’t feel like they have a problem on their hands.
Avoid ‘why?’. This is not constructive and can feel like you’re both reverting to a parent-child like relationship. You could say, ‘I understand your position, but would it be worth considering doing XX...?’ or saying, ‘I appreciate the situation, my concern would be XX…’ and then provide a possible solution. This helps bring clarity, you share your concerns and you’re showing an ability to be proactive.
Step 3: Respect
Respect happens on a number of different levels, such as, respect for each other’s time, privacy and ways of working to name a few aspects.
Always try to respect different perspectives on a situation or subject matter. Even if it conflicts with your own opinions, you may learn a different way of thinking or problem solving. In the kind of unique working relationship you have, no matter what happens, you’re both working towards the same goal. Even when things are difficult, remember this and be open-minded so that you can keep a mutual level of respect so you can value each other’s opinions.
Build respect by valuing what they have to say, meet deadlines (and if you can’t, manage their expectations) and always keep confidential matters confidential. No matter how surprising or unusual the information is.
Respect your Executive’s time – you are there to make their day easier and to save them time, be prepared, find out what they need and provide it before they know they need it. Forward thinking is a super-power and as an EA, you have buckets of it, so make sure you use it!