Ron Swanson may be a fictional TV character, but the famously deadpan parks department director on Parks & Recreation holds many (albeit exaggerated) similarities to real-life executives: He’s smart, he’s direct, he doesn’t show emotion, and getting his time and attention can feel like a hopeless effort.

But even Ron “I like saying ‘no’” Swanson isn’t above taking time out for his employees and attending to their needs … at least when the right approach is applied (which, in this case, is the promise of bacon-wrapped shrimp).

And while it may take more than bacon-wrapped shrimp to get a real-life executive’s attention (or not – some people really like surf and turf, after all), the lesson remains: the right approach is crucial to engaging these individuals. With that in mind, use the following tips to communicate more effectively with the c-suite:

  • Make It About the Business: When speaking with c-level executives, remember that these individuals are often thinking about the bottom line. So when speaking with them, you need to prove that you, too, are thinking about their bottom line. When presenting information or ideas, it is important to convey that you, too, are thinking about the bottom line. One of the most effective approaches is to talk about what they stand to gain from the matter at hand (higher revenue, increased ROI, etc.) or what they stand to lose (higher costs due to turnover, the company’s competitive edge, etc).
  • Help Them Visualize It: C-levels tend to be visual learners, and they like to see data when making decisions, so always be prepared to present some sort of evidence to support your claims. You don’t need an entire power point presentation, but a few handouts with charts, bullet points, infographics, or other visual data will give them something physical to look at, analyze, and respond to.
  • Keep It Short and Sweet: With packed agendas and long to-do lists, leaders don’t always have the time to focus on one thing for very long. Thus, it’s crucial that when discussing your ideas with these individuals you are direct and to-the-point, whether over email or in-person. Not only are you more likely to hold the individual’s attention, but you will appear confident and knowledgeable.
  • Make It a Surprise: Want to get an executive’s attention? Do something unexpected. In the recent Opportunities in Staffing study, only 10 percent of clients said a staffing firm employee had done something unexpected to help them in their job during the past year. On top of that, nearly a third of them believe a staffing firm’s industry knowledge is the most important attribute leading to a successful placement. Therefore, set yourself apart by showing industry information or data that has implications for their business. You’ll position yourself as an industry expert and a valuable (read: indispensable) resource for them to get access to industry news and insight.
  • Customize It: Catering your communication style to the other person’s is crucial. Consider the encounters you’ve had with this person before and look at the way they communicate – both verbally and nonverbally. For example, do they talk a lot, or are they short and to-the-point? Do they tell stories to get their point across, or do they use data? What is their body language like? If this person is someone you do not know well, you could ask people who do for their input. (Better yet, Google them. It’s 2012, people.) When in doubt, simply take a cue from the individual himself, and mimic their style in the meeting.

Bottom line: The key to effective communication – with anyone, at any level – comes down to understanding what people want to hear, and how they want to hear it. (And having bacon-wrapped shrimp on hand doesn’t hurt, either.) Once you have these elements down, the rest will fall into place.

Tags: Advice, Careerbuilder, C-Suite, Communication, Jonathan Katz, Opportunities in Staffing, Parks & Recreation, Ron Swanson