Communicate in detail for best results

Have you ever had a situation where you told someone what to do, and they didn't do it like you wanted them to?

Of course you have. We all have, and it's very frustrating. We throw our hands in the air and sigh about how hard it is to find good people.

CommunicateWell, here's a news flash. The problem may not be with the other people. You may be causing this problem for yourself.

Most people want to do a good job, and they try to do what managers tell them to do. The problem is, managers often make assumptions about what employees know and understand.

You may think you've told them something you haven't. In your head, the path or process to follow seems very clear. In fact, it sometimes seems so clear that you may fail to consider other approaches. If you don't discuss the approach or process, employees are likely to use their own, and that may not always coincide with what you were thinking.

Here are a few keys to being specific and getting the results you're after:

1. Determine your goal. Are you looking only for an outcome, or does the approach matter? If the end result is all that matters, describe in full what the end result should look like.

For instance, what format do you need the report to follow? What feedback do you want from the employee on the completed assignment? What headings need to show on the spreadsheet? If you have in mind what the end product should look like, you can better describe it to the employee and increase the chances that you'll get what you want.

2. Describe the context of the task in question. Don't assume the employee knows how the task fits into the bigger picture. If you discuss the context, that may prompt questions from the employee or suggestions that will make the task more effective. The explanation will also help the employee understand the importance of following specific steps that are assigned.

3. Go over the result. Whether the result is good or bad, it's important to provide feedback for future assignments. At times, we get lucky and an employee performs beautifully. We assume that's because they really understood what we wanted. Sometimes, it's just a fluke. If you go over what is good about an employee's work as well as what needs improvement, you'll reinforce behaviors that you'd like to see repeated and hopefully eliminate those you don't.

This concept was illustrated by an exercise in which an individual had to instruct someone on how to prepare a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Sounds simple, right?

The instructor assumed the person knew how to open the bread bag, and he assumed the person would use a knife to spread the peanut butter. He made a lot of assumptions that resulted in a mess and not much of a sandwich.

Don't skip steps when giving instructions. Leave time for questions in case anything isn't clear. And always think through what you want before you assign it. If you're not clear, the employee can't possibly deliver what you want.

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