In communication the number three is an important number. From childhood we remember Ready, Set, Go, the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, and breakfast, lunch and dinner.

So it should come as no surprise that my most recent CEO lessons came in a series of three.

CEO’s are different than you and me. While it can be said that they put their pants on the same way, they really don’t. Once you are a CEO, you always have the mindset of a CEO. Or should. In my rules of communication, rule #4 is that the audience drives communication. If your audience is a C-LEVEL person, their time table drives your response time. Or should.

Three Lessons I Most Recently Learned About C-Level Communication

1.    When They Say to Call Back, Call Back Now

A C-level type may say to “call back when you have a chance” but they don’t mean it. What they mean is CALL BACK NOW. “Give me a call” is CEO code for CALL NOW. “CALL WHEN YOU GET A CHANCE” is CEO code for CALL NOW.

C-level people are used to being listened to when they talk or email. The way they know they are listened to is by the response time. Don’t believe the “when you have a chance” scenario. “When you have time” is a C-level nod to acceptance and tolerance. Don’t fall for it. They don’t mean it when they say, “when you have time”. What they mean is, on their time. They are trying to be politically correct. Call immediately. Good things may be in store.

2.    Keep Them in the Loop Whether or Not They Ask

Once a C-level person hands something off, don’t believe that they are out of the loop completely. If you go about your business and solve a problem or come up with a creative twist, keep them in the loop. No amount of saying after the fact that “I was going to tell you” is going to get you back in good graces.

The challenge is always to keep them in the loop often but not always, observant but not obsessed. Don’t believe when you are handed the baton that they really want you to finish the race without them.

3.    Never Ask Them to Identify Themselves

I picked up the phone in a hurry. I could have looked at Caller ID but with a dog in each hand and the clock ticking, I just picked up the phone. On the other end, the caller just talked. No identification, just launched into the content. I was faced with a quick decision. Do I ask who this is and risk insulting someone or do I try to figure out who is calling?

Caller ID was probably invented by an underling to know when his/her boss was calling. In 1968, Theodore George “Ted” Paraskevakos, while working in AthensGreece as a communications engineer, invented caller ID. We often think of Caller ID as being used by the recipient to avoid answering unwanted incoming calls. Perhaps Ted invented it to know when his boss was calling.

Often C-Level people don’t identify themselves. They are used to people knowing who they are. They often expect people to know who they are. Being a CEO MEANS never having to identify yourself. So figure out how to figure out who is calling and don’t ask a C-level person who they are.

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