Merge's Blog

Communicating upward? Think bullet points

I’ve written in the past about how it’s important to modify your approach when you’re communicating upward, including in this column – How to persuade and influence senior management – that I wrote for CFM&D Magazine.  I was reminded of it recently when I overheard a leader in a client organization giving advice to one of his staff.  He said:

“When a senior manager asks you the time, don’t describe how a watch works”.  

I chuckled to myself because it was such an apt description for the deep pit that so many subject matter experts stumble into.

Don’t “vomit data”

As managers rise in the leadership ranks in organizations, by necessity, they need to focus more on strategic issues and less on the minutiae.  So they count on the subject matter experts around them to study the details and make recommendations.  However, when people are specialists or authorities in their areas, there is a predisposition to “vomit data” – to share everything they know about a subject or topic.  But the reality is that, almost always, the degree of knowledge an expert has is far more detailed and comprehensive than what is required for a senior manager to understand the situation and make a decision.

Think bullet points

So when communicating upward to senior management, seek to present information in concise statements that are brief and to the point.  Respond in succinct sound bites; think bullet points.  When it comes to communicating upwards, your ultimate objective should be to keep senior managers in the loop, but without giving them the extended version.

As always, I would love to hear about your reaction to this post.  Do you agree?  Or do you have a different perspective?  Please share your thoughts by commenting below, and tell us whether you are the one delivering the information, or the one receiving it.


  • Merge, your point is well taken. Having been on the receiving end of communications and presentations that take an hour but should take minutes, it’s important for presenters and those that respond to questions to get to the point. When a senior manager wants more information, they will ask for it. The most valuable presentations are those the start with a one page executive summary that includes the conclusion.

    • Agree with you completely on the one page executive summary Jim. I often tell folks that you need to tell people what you’re going to tell them (executive summary), tell them, and then tell them what you told them (wrap-up summary)!


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