Don’t Make Me Guess

There is a frequent weakness in communication which frustrates the communicator and the responder.  Either the person communicating does not get what they expect or the person receiving the communication does not reply with the detail or in the time frame expected and some simple approaches can alleviate this and reduce potential problems. 

Yesterday I was in a meeting that had taken months to arrange, and in the meeting the host spent about 20 minutes describing several issues or weaknesses in the current proposal and the points were very well made.  What was fascinating is that while the problems were well articulated and given in great detail, the presenter did not state at the end what it is they wanted, we kind of had to assume.  In other words they never specifically said, “what I would like you to do is this and this by this and this” and then be very practical in the expectation.  They never articulated what they would have preferred to see.

The response I initially get from people when I bring this up, is they say, “well I don’t want to be too demanding”, or “what if they don’t want to provide what I ask for?”.  I respond with, well if you don’t ask, how are they supposed to know?  Are they just supposed to guess?   If you don’t summarize what you are asking for in one simple sentence, with each point you make, asking whomever you’re targeting, with specifically what you would like, how can you ever have the conversation about whether it is appropriate or not, doable or not, or even achievable?  If you don’t ask you’re left in never-never land.  Better to get it out on the table and then let the other side say whether or not they can even deliver. 

When asking for something, try this:  “So in summary, from my perspective, to clarify this would it be possible for you to provide a half-page description, with bullet points detailing exactly what this document looks like?, or is there another way that you can see that would help me understand this.”  Then you can open up a discussion about whether that is realistic or even appropriate.  But if you don’t start it, it will be the 100 pound gorilla in the room. 

The important thing about asking for something is, stating it from your personal perspective.  “In order for me to understand what is being provided ….”, or “It would help me greatly if you could …” and then sincerely ask them if they have other ideas as well.  If you feel that it is such a sticking point that it is a show-stopper to success and you cannot proceed without it then the articulation of your reason should justify itself.  In other words your explanation should be easily able to be grounded in the success of the project, or you have no business asking for it in the first place, and if you ask sincerely, this will be borne out in the discussion. 

For face-to-face, always summarize the meeting with yours and others expectations of what they will provide, it’s shape and size.  When you have agreement on that then you can move to when.  As difficult as that seems, and as hard to bring up in tense meetings, it is far worse if you are not specific about what is being delivered, and everyone will be left guessing and frustrations and misunderstandings will ensue.