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Improving Communication between Executives and Teams: Extracting the Kernel

Effective communication is critical to any organization’s success, especially between executives and the teams they work with. However, as I’ve served longer in an executive role, I’ve observed recurring communication challenges that hinder progress. One of the most frequent issues I see is when a literal communicator engages in details with a less literal executive. In this article, we’ll explore a communication strategy called “extracting the kernel” to mitigate this challenge.

Identifying the Kernel of an Executive’s Feedback
Imagine a scenario where a team is presenting their upcoming timeline, and the CTO asks, “Can’t you just use ChatGPT to solve that instead of building a custom model?” This type of question often derails the conversation into a debate about ChatGPT versus building a custom model. However, the CTO’s point is almost always not about ChatGPT; instead, it’s about the timeline feeling too slow. If the team focuses on responding to the specific suggestion, they’ll miss the more important discussion entirely.

Rather than getting caught up in the incidental details of the executive’s question, it’s essential to extract the kernel of their feedback. This means focusing on understanding the insight or perspective within the question and explicitly confirming that insight with the executive. For example, after the CTO recommends using ChatGPT, the team should confirm that the most important feedback is addressing how to accelerate the timeline.

Improving Communication with Executives
Although it’s true that executives should be better communicators, the reality is that they’re human and have their communication deficiencies. Instead of blaming executives, teams should focus on improving how they communicate with them. To achieve this, teams need to adopt communication strategies that acknowledge the executive’s communication style and bridge the communication gap effectively.

One way to improve communication with executives is by presenting information concisely and focusing on the most critical points. Executives are often busy and have to make crucial decisions quickly. They need concise information that clearly presents the essential data. Using bullet points and other visual aids can help to communicate critical information effectively.

Active listening is another critical communication strategy in extracting the kernel. This involves giving the executive your full attention, observing their body language, and analyzing their tone and word choice to determine their real point. Good listeners also ask questions to get more information and clarify what the executive means.

In summary, effective communication is critical to the success of any organization. While it’s true that executives should improve their communication skills, teams can also improve communication by adopting strategies such as extracting the kernel, presenting information concisely, and active listening. By improving communication, organizations can achieve their goals and increase productivity.

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