Do You Talk TO or WITH?

On LinkedIn there is an informative article about what you need to do to prepare for a conversation. The title of the article is “How to Talk To a CEO.”

I believe the author is trying to convey the importance of being prepared, however, before I could even digest the contents of the article, I had to deal with my struggle over the title.

I would prefer to talk WITH a CEO or anyone rather than talking TO. Parents talk TO. Keynote speakers talk TO. Business professionals talk WITH. It is a more collaborative thought process. 

Could this be the difference between men and women? The author, Mark Stelzner is the founder/principal of IA HR. Or was it simply a tiny word choice?

Speaking TO Someone:

Here are the thoughts that come to mind if we prepare to speak TO someone:

  • We are pitching something
  • We see ourselves as a vendor
  • It is a one time conversation
  • It involves a directive or presentation

Speaking WITH Someone:

  • The conversation will be collaborative – with give and take
  • We are looking to build a relationship
  • We bring value to the conversation and trust that value will be received
  • We are approaching the conversation as a partner rather than a vendor

Getting past the “to” vs. “with” angle, the article does offer some valuable information. Certainly you want to prepare, whether you are meeting with the CEO or middle management but the section on being specific was well said.  In that, Mark has this to say:

Nothing is more valuable to a CEO than their time. If you are granted an audience ensure that you have a very detailed plan and purpose. Need a decision to be made? Perfect. Have all the relevant pros and cons at your fingertips and the high level numbers and impact in tow. Keep handouts to a minimum. And finally, think through the questions you’re likely to be asked and all possible courses of action so you don’t have to reschedule after you’ve “looked into that“.

Preparing to meet WITH a prospect, a center of influence or a referral requires thinking, planning and research. Should you read Mark’s article, take time to also read the responses. The subject spurred quite a bit of discussion such as:

Jennifer Page Business Woman .Artist . Writer who said: 

hmmm……my thought a CEO is a person no more no less. A conversation would be no different than with anyone else that you need to have a conversation with.

And Jim Nico, CEO/Founder who had this to say:

I am with you Jennifer. I am a CEO and my only hope if someone approaches me is that they be genuine and have a good reason.

But my favorite comment comes from Anthony Christiaanse,CEO who says this:

I have been the CEO of a $4 billion company. If I would catch you with 4 (Feed Their Ego), the meeting will again last no longer than 7 minutes. As for 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6, these should be followed for every meeting, not just for a CEO meeting. A good CEO has actually time enough for you, why otherwise plan a meeting in the first place? There are many employees with far less time to spare. If the CEO is smart, he/she will ask questions to learn from you.

Regardless if you are speaking “to” or “with” always end the conversation with a Thank You!