Overcoming Intimidating Titles

`Parla con il suonatore d’organetto e non con la scimmietta. Talk to the organ grinder and not the monkey.

Titles and Functions

The concept of the organ grinder and the monkey is about titles and functions.  Overcoming intimidating titles (Chief Financial Officer, Chief Executive Officer, Executive Vice President, Chairman, etc.) is valuable in many ways.  Dealing directly with people with intimidating titles can help in solving relationship and communication problems.  The person with the difficult title is often the ultimate decision maker.  I can get things done more quickly when I am dealing directly with the decision maker.  There is less risk of confusion when I speak directly with the decision maker.  I can work through more intricate details when I am working directly with the decision maker.

Titles and Personalities

Also, I have often found that the people with the intimidating titles are terrific people.  The title says nothing about the person who holds the title.  They got to their level of responsibility through their skills in working with people.  Their title is intimidating, but often the people are not intimidating at all.

It is so easy for me to avoid calling the person who can help me the most when I can easily speak with one of the people on the staff.  After all, these people are earning their living representing powerful people.  Their titles are less intimidating.  I may even be able to accomplish the same things with a staff member as I accomplish with a person with an intimidating title.

In many cases, the correct person to contact is the staff member.  Dealing effectively with a staff member can greatly strengthen my relationships in a company.  The person can help me understand who holds other positions and how to contact those people.  Therefore, I should never discount the value of working with a staff member.

Timing and Preparation

They way that I deal with discussions I have with people who hold intimidating titles is through timing and preparation.

First, I have to know when I can reach the person.  For example, I have worked with more than one senior executive who answered their own phone before their staff arrived in the morning and after their staff left in the evening.  I called these people when I knew that I could get through to them.

I prepare for the conversation.  I make a list of questions.  I make a list of information I anticipate that the person will want to know.  I try to focus on questions that a staff member cannot easily answer for me.  I focus on questions that require the senior person’s decision.

Not a New or Unique Problem

There are a number of sources crediting the organ-grinder phrase to Winston Churchill.  “Never hold discussions with the monkey while the organ grinder is in the room.”  Given the popularity and variations of the phrase, I suspect that it has come from a number of popular sources.  However, getting past the intimidating titles to speaking to the correct person helps me with relationships and communication.

Image: Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr

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