Be Clear to Get Results

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Are you repeatedly frustrated because your team members (or coworkers, reports or supervisors) do not seem to understand what you are asking of them? You tell them what you want in a direct, clear manner, and judging from their response or the work they present to you, it seems like they heard the opposite! How can this keep happening? Why aren’t they getting it?

If this happens once or twice, you can chalk it up to misunderstanding or a late night. But if your people frequently turn in work that flies in the face of your requests, maybe it’s time to look at your communication style. Here are some simple solutions to common communication trip-ups.

Define your ask

Before you try to communicate, make sure you are yourself clear about what you want from your listener. Write out for yourself, preferably in one sentence, a simple description of what you’re seeking. You’ll use that as a starting point for more detailed requests. If the ask only comes up over the course of a meeting, jot down notes for yourself during the discussion and use them to formulate your request.

All words are not created equal

Although the totality of what you say may include everything important for your listeners to know, the most important stuff may be getting lost in verbal clutter. You elaborate your points so much that there’s no clear hierarchy to your ideas. It’s as though the salient information is hiding. That means your listeners have to do a lot of work to determine which words and ideas to attend to or prioritize. If they guess wrong, no surprise that you get the opposite of what you’re looking for.

Use your vocal highlighter

Do you speak in a monotone? If so, it’s a lot like verbal clutter. When there’s no inflection, there’s no hierarchy to the ideas and people have to guess. Instead, highlight important words and phrases with the up and down of your voice, with volume, pace, and with pausing before and after those parts. It’s a much more expressive and clear way to communicate, plus people will pay better attention if they’re not being lulled to sleep by your flat tone and even cadence.

Flag and repeat

Go out on a limb (or a flagpole?) and “flag” what should be important to your listener. Say it directly: “what I want you to take from our meeting today is___.” To be really certain they get it, flag it and repeat it: “the most important thing to focus on in this project is ___. Let me repeat that: the most important thing to focus on in this project is ____.”

Ask for a summary

At the end of the meeting, ask if one of the listeners can summarize what you are looking for. Then ask if anyone else understood something other than that. If they did, you’ll have the chance to clear up discrepancies before they get to work.

To be extra sure…

If there were misunderstandings at the end of the meeting/conversation, or if your ask was something you came to over the course of the meeting (rather than one you prepared beforehand,) send out a brief email summarizing what you’d like from your listeners.

Once you’ve integrated these suggestions into your communications, you may start to wonder why your listeners suddenly became so much more perceptive!

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