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When it comes to socializing with company executives, many employees get a case of social anxiety. It can strike at a company social event, sitting with senior management at a Chamber lunch…or worse, the dreaded elevator ride with just you and the company CEO!

But, engaging with executives doesn’t have to give you clammy palms and weak knees. It can be an experience in which you feel confident (but, not cocky!) and comfortable in your own skin. It’s part of good business and social etiquette.

Here are three ways to socialize with company executives…and make them happy you’re on board:

1. Be an active listener.

Active listening means paying attention to what’s being said by the higher-ups so you can learn what issues and topics are important to them. Active listening also helps you add relevant comments and shows the C-suite group you can engage in appropriate conversations. This type of socialization is mutually beneficial and productive for the individual (especially if you’re looking for internal advancement) and for the organization.

2. Polish your small talk skills. Around the table at a Chamber lunch, or in a small conversation group with executives, you can engage in small talk more easily if you’re “well read.” Read print or online editions of the local paper, the community’s “people” and “business” magazines, and your company’s website news regularly. Know what’s in the media about the company, what awards it’s recently won, and what community involvement the CEO is passionate about and values. Be sure to read any blog posts by the CEO and watch any YouTube videos by the CEO on the company’s corporate YouTube channel.  Again, this knowledge will help you to be able to ask relevant questions and make appropriate comments. “The weather was sure great last Saturday for the Susan B. Komen race. I think the company’s participation was up this year,” or “I enjoyed your blog post on ___. The points you made helped me to see why this issue is so important to our company.” 

3. Be mentally prepared to talk one-on-one.

 In large companies, the CEO will not know everyone’s name and face. So, for example, if only the two of you happen to be in the elevator and you’ve not met, it’s natural to feel a bit awkward. But, this is not the time to act shy. Be confident and extend your hand, introduce yourself and say your job title and department. Always have in mind three current things you’re working on. That way, if the CEO wants to engage in further conversation and asks, “Well, what’s new in your department” or “What are you currently working on?” you’ll be able to communicate professionally and clearly. “Last week our team got a new oil & gas account. We’re also putting the final touches on a ribbon cutting for the university’s new building, and I’m preparing a presentation for an Oklahoma City law firm that’s interested in our services.” Your confidence and initiative will assure the CEO that you were a good hire!

And…don’t expect a CEO to discuss a topic above your pay grade just because you have a captive audience with him or her. For example, don’t use the opportunity to ask if the company is giving raises this year. Keep your conversation appropriate and professional.