There are 2 kinds of people.
- One never asks for directions
- One always asks for directions (or at least is not hesitant to ask)
In a past Tips on Thursday newsletter, I wrote about taking the initiative, finding your own course of action, and making a decision based on experience, availability, practicality, etc. This mindset seems to match those who never ask for directions because they can make their own decisions.
But here is where not asking questions becomes a problem.
Let’s say you’ve just given one of your team a new set of guidelines or a specific, but complex, task to do. As you described the “job”, your employee nodded his head a few times then ended with “OK, I’ve got it and will start working on that right away”. Great, thanks. “John is a bright guy, I know he’ll make it happen”, you say to yourself as you move on to YOUR next task.
How Uncertainty Costs You Money
About an hour later you decide to check in on John to see how things are coming along, only to see he’s doing it wrong, and the past hour of work has been wasted. Product is unusable and resources squandered.
“John, why are you doing it like this?”, you say. “But boss, that’s what you told me to do”, John answers back. “No, that’s not what I said, I told you to do it like. Don’t you remember?”, you continued. “Oh, man, I’m sorry, I thought you meant to do it this way”, John says.
This scenario could have easily been avoided by either John repeating back to his boss the steps he was asked to take or the boss asking John to confirm back to him what to do. How else can we be assured that your message was understood as intended?
A Frontiers in Psychology article entitled, “The Relationship Between Uncertainty and Affect” states, “Uncertainty and affect are fundamental and interrelated aspects of the human condition. Uncertainty is not equivalent to mere ignorance; rather, uncertainty is the conscious awareness of ignorance”.
We are not mind readers, and we shouldn’t think our team are mind readers either. If you don’t write out the directions or tasks needed you must at least confirm that the message was understood, and your team member knows exactly what to do.
How to Stop Sending Mixed Messages
On the other hand, we shouldn’t believe that at the first hearing of new procedures or processes, we are fully versed in exactly how and why the task should be done.
- Have I understood it correctly?
- Do I have all the information I need to get it done? Is something missing?
- Should I ask him again or just start working on it?
The worst possible scenario is this: “I don’t want to seem dumb in front of others so I’m not going to ask.”
4 Ways to Make Sure Your Message Was Understood Correctly
“The assurance of your message being understood begins with the message and the manner of delivery. Here are some general guidelines for assuring that your message is clearly communicated.
- Communicate just one message at a time. Don’t confuse the receiver with multiple messages and make them sort through them.
- Express your message in clear language. Don’t try to “sugar coat” tough messages. Don’t try to embellish the message.
- Use the appropriate media. Detailed messages need to be written. Oral messages should contain minimal content. Both formats may be useful as reinforcements.
- Give an example to support your message. People learn from examples as much as they do words because examples create visual images.
Evaluate Your Message
You can evaluate whether your message is being understood by one or more of the following:
- Ask the receiver: “Tell me what you just heard.”
- Ask the receiver to do something in response to the message. This will at least assure you that the message was received. The quality of the response should be a good indicator of whether the message was properly received.”
Mistakes cost you money. Errors cost you money. And uncertainty costs you money.
The least we can do is confirm what you want them to do and don’t be afraid of “asking for directions or sounding dumb”.