As a leader, have you ever felt like you aren’t getting the results you expected from the team you’re working with? Ever felt completely misunderstood? If there’s a disconnect between your expectations and reality, you’re not alone.

Here’s a common scenario I’ve worked through with a number of my clients: 

A leader is dealing with someone (or a group of someones), and they’re not getting the desired results from that relationship. The leader chalks it up to a misunderstanding on the part of the other party. It usually comes out in the form of, “well, I guess they didn’t understand what I needed.” And therein lies the problem.

If someone you’re working with isn’t doing what you need them to do, check in with yourself. You might feel as though you’re being “crystal clear.” But are you? Really? If your answer is, “I think I am,” we have some room for improvement.

Any time you use the word “think,” that should be a trigger to pause and reassess. It’s a wake-up call: you don’t know for sure. There’s only one way to truly know if you’re being “crystal clear.” And that is to know what the other person heard, because communication isn’t what you say, it’s what they hear.

Consider Nonviolent Communication Rule #1: Repeat back what you heard. 

This verification is a commonly missed step in today’s hair-on-fire, too-much-to-do-with-too-little-time-to-do-it world of communication.

Consider this next time you feel misunderstood: If you express your needs to someone and simply assume they “get it,” even though you have evidence they might not, why not just ask them and see if you’re on the same page. It might sound something like this:

“Just to make sure we’re on the same page, how would you summarize the objective?” Or better yet, get in the habit of ending such conversations with a working document you create in the moment that spells out the facts, so you can ensure you are, quite literally, “on the same page.”

In short: Pause. Verify what’s been heard. Assess whether there’s a disconnect.

But don’t stop there.

See, there are two parts to the problem of understanding (or, rather, misunderstanding). It’s not enough to simply state your request, then verify what’s been heard. 

To avoid misunderstandings entirely, you need to ask yourself

  1. Is this person (or group) clear on the objectives and instructions I’ve provided? 
  2. Is this person (or group) clear on the appropriate timeline on which to get it done? 

What is urgent to one person may not be received with the same urgency by the other party. In other words, what feels like an approaching hurricane to you may register as little more than a blip on the radar of the person receiving your instructions. 

This is a crucial misstep I see clients make again and again. They seldom communicate a timeline or real urgency but feel it’s obvious or implied. The receiver has other things that they might feel are more important and urgent. If your communication isn’t adequate, as the saying goes, “poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” If timeline and urgency are not named, addressed, and discussed, there will be a disconnect in results. 

As the leader, it is also incumbent upon you to be cognizant of the impact of what you’re asking for. Something may have to give. Let them know that’s okay. And if they need help prioritizing the four projects you just gave them—with the same level of urgency—this morning, help them. You’re not doing their job, you’re ensuring your communication is clear.

Need a concrete way to get clear on timelines, priorities, and urgency? Consider using the Covey Time Management Matrix. Work with your team to divide the work at hand among the four quadrants. The result? Everyone knows which things come first and which things can be left for later. 

As the person giving instructions, it’s crucial to recognize that the person on the receiving end might have aligned their matrix differently than you had in mind. If you’re not clear on where the work needs to fall in each of their quadrants, in relation to all other responsibilities, you’ll be disappointed in the results and the timeline in which you get it. 

The work of communication is never done, and there will still be misunderstandings on occasion. But if you can clearly state your instructions, verify what’s been heard, and get everyone aligned on desired timelines, you’re off to a terrific start.

Photo by Luke Peterson on Unsplash