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Whether you served four or 40 years, you learned to speak in a style and narrative that serves the purpose of military duty. You likely spoke to superiors in a brief, succinct and direct manner, communicating what needs to be shared quickly and efficiently.

As you transition to the civilian sector, you will hear the more embellished style of communication that will be required. You’re taught that it’s important to warm up your messages, make small talk, use inclusive language and be empathetic to the recipient’s needs.

Now, you find yourself in a private-sector role where you’re interacting with senior leaders in the company. You might also be a senior leader, or not, but your communication style once again needs to adapt to the audience you’re interacting with.

When communicating with executives — whether in person, phone or email — it’s helpful to remember these tips:

Be focused.

These are likely individuals carrying a lot of responsibility and obligation. Overly flowery messages, long explanations or irrelevant details will frustrate and confuse them. The “BLUF” (bottom line up-front) communication style you learned in the military is helpful when speaking with, or emailing to, executives.

At the beginning of your email, for example, identify the nature and purpose of the message. Are you informing them (as an FYI) or asking for them to make a decision? Provide that direction clearly and quickly so the executive is empowered to understand how timely the message is.

If there is an ask, such as they need to decide or recommend a direction, state that clearly, along with timing.

Do you need an answer by Friday? Next month? Whenever possible, avoid last-minute requests that need a decision quickly. This could make you look unprepared or send the impression you waited too long to involve them.

Highlight the benefits, risks and implications of your message.

For example, if you’re looking for the executive to decide on a hire you’ve interviewed, you could mention the importance of deciding soon so that person could be onboarded and attend a team retreat. 

Draw your benefits, risks and implications to how the business, team or project will be advanced or jeopardized, and whenever possible, use specifics, not generalities.

Anticipate their questions.

Before you approach a senior leader with an idea or question, think through how they might respond and what issues or questions they may raise. You could even offer these in your communication, mentioning, “I can imagine you’re wondering whether my team can take on such a high-visibility project. I can confidently tell you we are ready!”

Consider the medium on which you’ll share the communication.

Some messages warrant picking up the phone. Others might dictate a face-to-face conversation, and some messages can be shared through email.

If the communication is of a sensitive nature, a phone call or in-person meeting might set the tone of more confidentiality. If it’s a more general message, email is typically fine. Always consider all the tips above to decide which form of communication is best to get your message received in the best way.

Communicating with senior leaders might feel closer to military-style communication, in that brevity, focus and intention are important elements to have your message best received. If you are unfocused or not concise, choose the wrong medium to communicate or don’t anticipate questions you’ll be asked, your message may get lost.

The author of “Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty” (2020) and “Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition” (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.

A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.

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