Say what you mean
I watched with interest the James Comey meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee. Highly interesting on many levels and I am sure this is not the last we have heard about the situation. The main learning I took from the meeting is that Leaders need to be clear when giving instructions or making a request. Much of the meeting with the Committee seemed to be based around the phrase “that’s what I took him to mean”.
Being vague, hoping the other person gets the hint on what you are looking for or what you want them to do can get you, and Presidents, into hot water. From reading the Comey statement of the events that led up to his termination https://www.vox.com/2017/6/7/15758258/comey-testimony-senate-intelligence it appears that neither side were very open and honest in checking their understanding. Currently we can only reference one side of the story, but in Comeys statements it appeared that the President hinted rather than gave direction or orders and Comey didn’t confirm his understanding, apparently leaving key information out of his answers – both were left to assume that they understood what was happening and what action should be taken and as the meetings were between the two of them, no one was present to confirm to deny what was agreed.
Misunderstanding can obviously lead to confusion within businesses (as well as the White House!). We work in a region where a high number of a Company’s employees do not have English as a first language although this is the business language used. Within such diversity it becomes even more important to give clear messages and follow up that what you have asked for has been actioned.
Here are some ideas to help give a clear message, regardless on the level you are within a business:
- Be clear. If you want something done a certain way, then give the request as an “order”, a message that cannot be misunderstood or deviated from, something that needs to happen the way you want it to happen. In these instances, there is no room for misunderstanding. Less words are better than more – we can sometimes have a habit of “going around the houses” before getting to the point. Be direct, use words of less than 2 syllables, this stops confusion.
- Get clarification. Before you let your staff loose based on your instruction, seek clarification from them to ensure that they understand what the task is and what is expected. You could simply ask at the end if there are any questions but the one issue with that is that it is all too easy to just simply say “no”. Either they might think they understand or they might even be too shy to ask. Ask them to recap on what is required, or what the priorities and/or objectives are so that you can ensure what you’ve said is what’s been heard!
- Don’t assume. when delivering clear instructions do not assume the recipient knows what you mean, and this can be for anything from industry acronyms to who to contact in different departments or Companies. It will only take you a few seconds more to explain the details.
- Put your request in writing. The clearest way to be certain what was said and meant by a request is to follow up in writing. Do not confuse matters by not being specific with your time frames and deadlines. What you consider as “soon” might be very different from your colleagues. If you think “soon” is the next couple of hours, yet your staff who you have instructed considered it to be in a few days then this communication is going to have serious implications in any business or project! Use action plans and ensure there.
- Follow up often. Make sure everything is completed to the standard you need it to, if it looks like it’s not going the way you need it to, then correct the mistake and ask them to repeat what they now need to do. Is there a timeline showing when you need the action to have been completed? Having a reference document is a great way to keep everyone on track.