“I thought I was clear.”
How many times have you said that after a communications breakdown with someone on your team? I’ve heard it more times than I can count. Often, it includes the word very.
“I thought I was very clear.”
Let’s think about that for a minute. If you are saying that to someone about a teammate who failed to do something, what is the one thing that IS clear? It’s that you obviously weren’t clear. You see, what’s clear to you is not always what’s clear to the other person. In one of our leadership workshops we talk about clarity and do an exercise where we pair people up. We ask one person to think of a song that should be easy for the other person to recognize. You know, like Happy Birthday or Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer. Then we tell the person to use their finger and tap out the tune on the table. Meanwhile, the other person needs to guess what song it is. Guess how many people know the song? It’s really close to zero. The individuals who get it are the ones who are partnered with the guy that taps out Happy Birthday right after you used it as an example. Try it with a friend. It should be evident that what you think is very clear to you may not be so easy for the other person.
4 Steps to Enhancing your Team Member Communications
So what is the manager or leader to do when setting expectations to help ensure clarity and increase the chances the right things are going to happens. There are four things you can do that will help:
- Be very clear that you are assigning a task or making a request. A phrase like, “Do you know what would be helpful?”, creates confusion. The listener could assume that you were simply sharing a tip for some other task in the future. Instead, try “I need your help with..”, or “Can you do this for me?”
- Focus on behaviors. Be very specific about what you want done. Instead of ]saying that the group needs to work harder in order to reach the quarterly sales goal, tell each sales rep to make six more face to face visits with prospective customers.
- Specify a due date. Do the six additional visits need to happen before the end of next week? A common mistake I see leaders make is asking someone to edit a report when they get a minute. If the report needs to be edited by 5 pm Friday, you need to be very clear about that.
- Verify understanding. People push back on this one because they think it seems condescending. But the simple fact is the only way to be certain the other person understands the expectation is to have them tell you what you just asked them to do. You don’t have to ask them to parrot back your objective, but asking them to send you an email note to confirm their understanding not only gets them to remember what you just asked, but it also allows you to correct any misinformation before too much work is done.
Once you have built a good pattern of communicating expectations and knowing that the other person hears the same thing you intended, you will not have to be so rigid in your process. Until that time though, you will save yourself a ton of re-work and frustration by taking the extra time to make sure everyone is clear.