Message From Julie: I Told You Once…
If you are like me, one of your frustrations as a leader may be having to tell your team the same thing multiple times. But have you ever stopped to think it might be you – not them?
Recently I was facilitating an Everything DiSC® Management session. We were watching a video of a manager (ineffectively) providing direction to a team member. The manager in the video had some changes she wanted made to a document. But she wasn’t really very clear, even in her own mind, what she wanted. The manager’s request to the team member was just clean it up a little and make it clearer. As a result, her team member had no idea what actions she wanted him to take, or what she was expecting the revised document to look like.
I was horrified as I heard my own voice in my head sounding very much like the actors in the video. I realized I sometimes don’t give clear directions – often because I am not totally clear myself – and then expect my team members to figure out what I want and provide it to me.
The reality is, there is always a gap between how clear we think we have been and how clear those we are communicating believe we have been – even when we know exactly what we want or need.
Bridging the “Clarity Gap”
There are several factors that contribute to this “clarity gap”. First, much of what is in our head doesn’t come out our mouth. As a result, others are not provided with complete information. Have you ever re-read an email with instructions for someone else and realized that there were big gaps in what you were communicating?
It was all in your head, but it didn’t all make it from your head to the tips of your fingers and into the email. An email gives us the ability to spot and fix the gaps. A conversation does not. To help overcome this gap, give those you are communicating with an opportunity to ask questions and clarify any information that may have been left out.
Another reason people don’t get it the first time is because of “noise” in the environment. There are all kinds of distractions that get in the way of people comprehending our communication. As a marketing professional, I learned that you must get your message in front of a prospective customer five to seven times before they remember it and take action. (It is probably even more now with all the digital distractions that constantly bombard us.)
I am not suggesting that as leaders we should have to tell our team members something five to seven times before they “get it”. What I am suggesting is that we need to be aware of barriers to communication in the environment and work to eliminate them as much as possible before we make a request or provide direction. It is also helpful to follow-up a verbal conversation with written information that can be referred to.
A colleague, Stephen Julian, recently wrote about a factor influencing message comprehension that I had not previously considered – what he referred to as the “power differential”. Julian suggested that when we communicate with a direct report or when there is a “power differential” the person will not hear the message the first time – no matter how clear you are. They are often so focused on reading the power relationships within the room that they are not giving full attention to your words.
Creating a culture of trust psychological safety, where team members can be themselves, share ideas, and admit mistakes can help alleviate this issue. But as Julian says, “Say it again. And sometimes again. You’ve thought about your message. It is clear to you. The words on paper may be unambiguous, but to those who are concerned about who is delivering the message or how the message impact them, one time will never be enough.”