By Guy Higgins
I’ve posted on various communication topics before, but I want to cover a somewhat different topic – communicating versus silence.
I, personally, find it frustrating when I’m asked to do something and then, following my completion of that something, I find that it is not what they wanted or only part of what they wanted (“wrong rock”). This situation, which occurs often, does not indicate incompetence in either party. It’s just that people (as in all of us) have a tendency to first assume that other people know and understand what we know and understand. Then we are surprised when we find out they didn’t understand everything. This is a problem that actually has a name – Projection. We project onto others what we know, understand or assume.
Today, there is a fairly strong tendency, in an effort to avoid micromanagement, to minimize detailed direction. I’m a huge fan of avoiding micromanagement, but if there is some point that I want to make sure is addressed, I need to make that explicit. I need to communicate that point and my expectations regarding it. It’s like when my wife asks me to pick up buttermilk at the grocery store. It used to be that she would just ask me for buttermilk. She figured, “If you love me enough, you’ll know what I want.” That just doesn’t work when it comes to buttermilk. Do you have any idea how many different characteristics the various choices of buttermilk have? My wife has now known me for long enough to know that she has to tell me to get a pint of Schmuck’s cultured buttermilk with an expiration date on it closer than XX, and in a bottle not a carton. If those kinds of things are important, then it is equally important to make them clear – otherwise, I’m going to get the first half-pint carton of buttermilk I see.
As leaders, we certainly need to refrain from micromanagement, but we also need to ensure that our people have all of the information that they need to succeed in their tasks, and that means that someone needs to tell them. Many times, that someone is us.
This imposes on us, as leaders, the responsibility to understand what we’re asking people to do, to ensure that they have the information and tools necessary to succeed, and that they understand our expectations – our “commander’s intent.” We need to be clear about that intent and our expectations. This need not be long and detailed and wander into micromanagement. During the Austro-Prussian in 1856, the Chief of the Prussian General Staff, having ensured that his people were trained and equipped, sent his orders for the next day’s battle to the generals commanding the three Prussian armies that would be engaging the Austrians. His orders totaled 276 words (BTW, the Prussians routed the Austrians).
So, remember, while your people may respect you, they don’t “love you enough to know what you want” unless you tell them.