One Simple Step to Help Avoid Misunderstandings in Work Conversations

concept photo of man and woman hiding behind masks of misunderstMany of the coaching conversations I’ve had lately have trended to the same theme: work that is almost, but not quite, on the mark. Since this is a keen issue for my clients, perhaps it is for you, too.

In these conversations, I’ve learned that a leader believes she’s been clear about what needs to be done, or a direct report thinks he knows what is being asked of him. But then the deadline comes and goes without delivery. Or the project is presented, but only in the most rudimentary manner.

What happened?

In reviewing these situations with clients, regardless of whether the client was in the role of leader or direct report, the expected steps emerged: goals were set and deadlines were mentioned—but what didn’t happen also surfaced. Missing in these conversations was the opportunity to review and confirm what was discussed. The leader stated the deadline, but did the other person hear it? Did the leader mention the milestone delivery dates? Did they define the elements of the presentation? Did the direct report know how to deliver on what was expected, who to consult with, and what was not to be done? Did they know what a good job should look like?

To support someone in achieving a goal, it is essential to move from the implied to the specific. Almost everyone has the best of intentions. But to achieve success, people need more than good intentions—they need clarity.

Leaders need to make time in work conversations to add the essential step of reviewing what is expected. For best results, the person who received the assignment should do most of the talking during the review— this will clarify what they see as their responsibilities while illuminating any missing steps or misunderstandings. Remember, the person who does the talking learns the most. Finally, this kind of review will allow the leader to listen and endorse the direct report.

Taking the extra step to review and gain clarity before work starts will position both leader and direct report on the side of success. There is a huge difference between almost complete and complete. Leaders who take the time to review will enjoy the satisfaction of hitting the target every time.

About the Author

Mary Ellen SailerMary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D., is a Coaching Solutions Partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Coaching Services team. Since 2000, Blanchard’s 130 coaches have worked with over 14,500 individuals in more than 250 companies throughout the world. Learn more at Blanchard Coaching Services. And check out Coaching Tuesday every week at Blanchard LeaderChat for ideas, research, and inspirations from the world of executive coaching.

6 thoughts on “One Simple Step to Help Avoid Misunderstandings in Work Conversations

  1. This is terrific advice. I can think of a lot of instances where I didn’t get the confirmation from the individual, only to pass the deadline without achieving a successful outcome. In looking back, I can see that he/she really didn’t understand what was expected or by when. I will adopt this simple step in the future and am confident it will increase the success rate.

  2. I agree…………..however many managers will make the leap to seeing this as a need to teach when in reality it is about clarifying goals. Managers don’t confuse the two, if you have someone who has done this or a similar task before “ask” them from their perch what are the key milestones and what dates do they expect to deliver them. Use this as an opportunity to verify, if they don’t have experience then this is an opportunity to teach.

  3. Unfortunately, I see this all too often. And with the ever-increasing pace of business, I see more and more instances where real communication and clarity around expectations does not take place because of the pressure to “do it now!” Albert Einstein said, ““If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” I believe the first part of that quote includes the discussion around expectations. Without that, the 5 minutes spent working on solutions will lead to the wrong result.

  4. Pingback: One Simple Step to Help Avoid Misunderstandings in Work Conversations | It just Dawned on me...

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