Honing Your Executive Assistant Communication Skills

Effective communication as an Executive Assistant isn’t just important — it’s crucial. Your entire career revolves around how well you can communicate, making it one of the most important qualities an assistant can master.

The importance of effective communication for assistants

As the glue of many organizations, assistants play a key role in bringing various team members, departments, and people together. EAs often speak with people at all levels of the business, and sometimes members of the public. In all of these interactions, assistants function as a representative of their executive(s) and organization as a whole. 

A lot of the role requires you to actively listen, ask questions, speak and write clearly, and streamline information exchange within the workplace. This makes communication one of the most important skills you can hone as an Executive Assistant.

How to hone your communication skills

When it comes to the assistant role, few skills are more important than interpersonal communication. Here are five communication strategies that are essential to hone in order to increase your ability to influence:

Encourage two-way feedback

Feedback is a core component of any effective work environment, and is especially crucial to the success of an Executive Assistant and executive relationship. It’s important to know when you’re doing a good job and meeting expectations, but it’s just as important to understand where you might be falling short. Without well-rounded constructive and positive feedback, it can be hard to improve and grow.

But in order to create an equal partnership, you should also learn how to give constructive feedback to your executive(s). Two-way feedback helps build a thriving partnership — which means having tough conversations and asking for what you need. It’s a skill that can take some time and practice to get right, but will go a long way in getting you the support you need to succeed. When you understand and prioritize this type of communication, your exec will learn from you and follow in your footsteps.

Be an active listener

Contrary to popular belief, communication isn’t just about what you’re planning to say next! Listening is a huge component of healthy, effective communication. Knowing when to listen rather than speak is one of those underrated strategies for effective professional communication people tend to overlook. 

Active listening for assistants is also about paying attention to the small details that take place during your communications. As an EA, you’ll likely face a wide range of situations that require your prompt and intuitive attention. Active listening will allow you to know the full details of situations, giving you the ability to jump in quickly when needed.

💡 Pro tip: Tools like Dossier are great for keeping track of and organizing all the little details that come up throughout the day that you may need to remember later.

Get comfortable with conflict

Avoiding difficult or complex conversations can hurt the integrity of your relationship with your executive(s). While conflict can feel stressful and unnatural at first, it’s important that you get comfortable having direct conversations. While it may be tough in the moment, it will go a long way in building respect and mutual trust with the people you support. 

Navigating tough conversations as an assistant is all about approaching it from a place of curiosity and respect. You aren’t here to attack — you are here to learn, share your perspective, and reach a mutual conclusion that you can both feel good about. So focus on stating your point of view clearly, and then listening and reflecting on the other person’s response. This can take some practice, but you’ll quickly learn how to tackle these situations with directness and positivity.

Master the art of “no”

Many assistants feel like they can never say “no” — that it’s at the crux of their role to be positive and support whenever and wherever they can. But the truth is that you can’t do everything. Employees are most effective when they are focused and able to prioritize the most important work. Executive Assistants are no different! 

Being able to say “no” and set boundaries is crucial to helping you be more successful in your role and sustaining positive relationships. If you don’t feel clear on where you can and can’t say “no”, start by having a discussion with your executive on how they see your role and where your time is best spent. This can help you focus and prioritize your workload. 

Once you’ve defined those boundaries, it’s up to you to uphold them. This will likely feel difficult at first, and people who are used to you helping out may need some time to get used to this shift. Try to be transparent while also firm with your reasoning. And remember: you aren’t being difficult or negative. You are simply focusing your time and attention on the core business objectives.

Don’t be afraid to speak up

Perhaps most importantly, make sure you’re using the communication techniques you’ve learned to advocate for yourself and what YOU need. While we know that an average day in the life of an Executive Assistant is full of supporting others, don’t forget to show that same respect and attention to yourself. 

Say your executive forgets to utilize effective communication and causes you hours of extra work on top of an already tight deadline. Instead of staying silent and stressing it out, consider using the communication techniques you’ve learned to openly discuss the problem with your executive. 

You’ll need to use the same effective communication techniques to establish boundaries in your work life. Without this necessary communication, the line between work life and personal life can get blurred. If your executive repeatedly sends you urgent requests after work hours, you’ll need to use your communication techniques to set boundaries. 

Sit down with your executive and determine where you feel comfortable helping and where you don’t. Openly communicating is the only way to make sure you both stay on the same page — and your exec will admire your willingness to communicate and make your needs known.

Streamline communication with your executives

Here at Base, we’re all about helping assistants do their best work. Our platform was built to help you simplify your updates and get your most important questions answered — so you can spend less time writing reminders and more time focusing on doing the most impactful work. Learn more here about Base can help you communicate more effectively in your role.

You can also check out our resources for EAs, learning and development programs, and job opportunities.

Written by Bryn Smith

Bryn is the Senior Manager of Brand and Product Marketing at Base, where she is on a mission to build a world-class EA community by connecting them with top-notch thought leaders, invaluable resources, and cutting-edge insights.