Instructions and Explanations
The benefits of plain speaking
For managers in any organization the task of communicating clearly can be a complex and sometimes stressful business. Often this is because managers see the communication process as something that just happens and is just part of the job. And, for many specialists engineers, designers, accountants, surgeons, scientists, architects etc.- their focus is usually on the process for which they have been trained - rather than the art of communication.
Put simply, engineers and designers will concentrate on making things work or look the way they want them to; accountants will put their energy into the figures and calculations; and surgeons will dedicate themselves to the required surgical procedures.
For many skilled and professional managers the communication process is not something to which they will give too much time, care or attention. The consequences of this approach can be extremely negative, both for themselves and for their organizations. Here are some examples:
- Sally, marketing manager, is keen to introduce new systems and procedures into her department. She calls a team meeting but, because she is pushed for time, she gives a brief (and unsatisfactory) explanation of how she wants things to be done in the future
- Outcome: Everyone who works in the Marketing Department- apart from Sally - is confused and annoyed because her proposals just do not seem to make sense. Staff feels threatened because; it seems to them, they will have to work harder, and for longer hours, for -so far as they can see no appreciable benefit.
- Lee, human resources director, knows that, shortly, the company will be down-sizing and he will need to start thinking about who can be offered early retirement and who will have to be made redundant. Stressed and disheartened by the prospect of what lies ahead, Lee focuses on the task in hand and pays little attention to the quantity or quality of his communications with his own human resources team,
- Outcome: Because his own team have some information but not the full picture-and because Lee seems to be unable to explain, clearly, what the future holds, his team quickly become de-motivated and cynical about the future, Their unrest slowly spreads to the rest of the workforce.
- Lynne, financial director, is asked to talk to the board about her ideas for a new and radically different pension plan. Lynne - an expert in her field - gives a highly technical talk which most of the board find totally incomprehensible.
- Outcome: Lynne's plan -which could have been of great benefit to both the workforce and the organization-is dismissed out of hand because no-one understands what she is trying to do.
- Mike, the police officer leading a murder investigation, gives instructions to Louise, a new member of staff regarding the collection of forensic evidence from the scene of the crime. Mike assumes that Louise understands the procedures and knows what to do. His instructions are minimal and open to misinterpretation.
- Outcome: Louise misunderstands the instructions and, as a result, loses important forensic evidence. As a consequence the investigation runs for a further six months at considerable expense -by which time there is still insufficient evidence to make a strong case for the prosecution. The Crown Prosecution Service advise that the case against the prime suspect should be dropped.
Because the consequences of ineffective communication can be so serious it is worth taking the time to ensure that what you say -to staff, colleagues and customers - is clear, and clearly understood.
When giving instructions, it is important to:
- Be clear, in your own mind, about what it is you want some one to do, stop doing or do in a different way.
- Make sure that the person to whom you are giving the instructions has the necessary competence and experience in order to carry out the instructions. Usually,just one or two of the right kinds of question will give you this information.
- Check that the person receiving the instructions has heard and understood. You can do this most effectively by asking your listener to simply replay the message and tell you what you have asked them to do.
When giving instructions:
- Do be clear in your own mind about what you want someone to do, do differently or stop doing.
- Do be specific and give concrete examples.
- Do be realistic to your expectations. Make sure that people have the time and resources to do what you are asking. If you are giving instructions to new or junior staff they may feel unable to say that you haven't allowed sufficient time, or you haven't provided the appropriate resources.
- Do check that the person, to whom you are giving the instructions, has the skills, knowledge, competence expertise, authority etc. to do the job. New and Junior staff will often find it difficult to admit they don't know or can't do something.
- Do watch your listener's face for signs of confusion or anxiety. As soon as it seems as though your listener is losing track of what you are saying, stop, summarise and check to find out how much they have understood so far. E.g. - OK, so l'd like you to go through the 12-month files, Contact the people who haven't purchased in the last year and find out, from them, who else is supplying them.
Next week: Clarity of giving instructions, do's and don'ts
Excerpts from The University of Leicester Diploma in Management – offered via Resource Development International (RDI) Jamaica (www.rdijamaica.com)
Last updated: February 14, 2007