If nothing else, be clear. - David Arrington
Several weeks ago I was conducting an all-day leadership course for an organization. As we were working through an exercise designed to help participants set and communicate clear expectations, one member the group shared that his team contained two highly capable individuals who couldn't work together. Unheard of, I know right?
With his permission, I led the group as we helped him first clarify his own expectations for his non-cooperative team members. His first draft highlighted the bigger problem, his expectation was that "they worked together because they are adults." He followed that up with a request for them to work out their differences "ASAP."
Clear? Nope. Actionable? LOL. Measurable? Not really. What becomes readily evident is that we often confuse brevity with clarity.
His lack of clarity was unintentionally perpetuating a difficult team environment. This type of confusion leads to missed deadlines, frustration, and us just doing the work we didn't take the time to explain clearly enough. This is one of many leadership mistakes we make frequently. Check out my other post on 5 Leadership mistakes you are probably making.
Influential leaders work hard to ensure that they are clearly understood by the people they work with and for. For more on this check out 7 Leadership Skills you need to have.
We often undermine our best intentions by falling prey to three common communication assumptions. First, we assume we are making ourselves clear, second we assume that we were understood, finally we assume it's the other person's job to understand and interpret what we are saying and what we expect of them.
1. Decide to be clear
As a leader, it's your job to think through the outcomes and understand what you need your teammates to provide. If you take the extra 15 minutes to consider what you need and how they can best assist in realizing that goal you will save yourself countless hours of frustration.
I've spoken with leaders who would just forward emails along and add "see below." When there are 10 emails in a chain, what does that even mean? What exactly do you want them to see and what specifically do you want them to deliver?
This is where a decision to be more clear is critical. That small decision will help you to move from "see below" to see the section below I highlighted in yellow and let me know if you can provide that by next Tuesday. Which we can all agree is more helpful than "see below".
Don't expect your people to interpret your shorthand emails, cryptic conversations, and cubicle flybys effectively. The onus is on you to be as clear as possible when you communicate.
2. Understand what you want
You cannot set clear expectations if the outcome is still unclear to you. Half-baked ideas lead to poor communication, unclear expectations, and your eventual misplaced frustration. Misplaced because you will most likely be frustrated with the person who gave you what you didn't ask for when you should be frustrated with your lack of clarity at the outset.
3. Ask them what they heard
One of the simplest ways to know what someone heard is to ask them. Just ask open-ended wrap-up questions that help them restate what their action items are following the meeting. Clarify deadlines, details, and any concerns they may have.
4. Make time to communicate
Asking people to do things for you as you pass in the hallway or through cryptic short e-mails is a recipe for frustration. If it's important enough to require their time then it should be important enough to schedule a 15-minute meeting to make sure you're on the same page.
If you liked this article, you will probably enjoy 8 Critical Factors for Leading High Performing Teams as well. How important do you think setting clear expectations is and do you have any tricks I missed? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.