Last week I heard almost the exact same story from 2 clients. One came from a high level executive, and the other from a Client Services Team from an entirely different company. The CEO from Company A told me that he had a meeting with his staff on a very important topic. He explained what he wanted done, asked if anyone had any questions, which they didn’t, and then left them to discuss other issues amongst themselves. After the staff meeting was over, one of his direct reports came into his office and asked for a moment of his time. She proceeded to tell him that after he left the meeting, everyone looked at each other and said, “Does anyone know what he meant?” No one had a clue as to what he wanted them to do. The CEO was shocked. He asked if anyone had any questions. No one spoke up.
The Client Services Team from Company B was taking part in a communication training class at my training center. We were discussing the importance of being clear when you communicate with coworkers and customers, and they asked, “What happens if your manager is the one who is not clear?” I asked them to elaborate. “She comes out, gives us some instructions and goes back into her office and no one has any idea what she wants us to do.” I asked them why they didn’t ask her for clarification. They looked back and forth at each other……. “We just talk about it amongst ourselves and try to figure it out.”
Two different companies, same scenario. Bravo to the one person who finally had the courage to tell the CEO in Company A what was going on. But the question remains, why is it so difficult to ask for clarification? When I asked the CSS Team from Company B why no one spoke up they shared things like, “I didn’t know if I was the only one who didn’t understand.” “I didn’t want to look stupid.” And, “I knew she didn’t want to hear it.”
She didn’t want to hear that you guys were going to spend the next 30 minutes trying to figure out what she wanted, and then cross your fingers that you got it right? I don’t think so. Managers are high powered, busy people. They often come across as short and stressed. It may seem like they don’t have the time to spend explaining things, but trust me, inefficiency is a bigger pet peeve. Have the confidence to ask smart questions to assure you got it right. 9 times out of 10, the manager does not realize that people don’t understand him. They are thinking at a higher level and coming from a place of greater knowledge. Help them to be a better communicator by professionally and assertively letting them know you need clarification.
Paraphrasing is a great way to show you were listening, but make sure you got it right. Instead of simply stating that you don’t understand or asking the boss to go over it one more time, try re-stating to the best of your ability and in your own words, what he just said. This sometimes helps the manager see where perhaps they were not clear. If you just ask them to go over it one more time, they probably will just say the same words again, because it makes perfect sense to them. Remember, if you really want to know what he just said, ask.
Thoughts??? Email me at abbe@TECResourceCenter.com