Committing to clarity

One evening I was in Rochester, NY for business and I went looking for Indian food. I decided to check out a place that someone recommended as being “very authentic.” I went in and ordered, and the waitress asked me how spicy I wanted my meal. My generic answer is “mild” but she offered “medium, or spicy?” I thought “well, medium is the less spicy option; I’ll just go with it and hope for the best.”

Bad idea. On this evening, authentic Indian food meant “really spicy” and I had trouble eating the meal. I certainly didn’t enjoy it.

What happened? Why didn’t I ask more questions, get more clarity on what she meant by “medium or spicy?” I think in retrospect I was tired, hungry, and just wanted to eat. I so badly wanted it to work out that I didn’t press forward and ask the key clarifying questions that might have told me if I’d get what I wanted. And what if the restaurant simply didn’t have mild food? Did I really want to go somewhere else? By not facing the tough questions early on, I ended up with a bad result.

And let’s face it: this phenomenon happens in work situations all the time. Does this sound familiar?

A trusted coworker commits to sending me a deliverable by Tuesday. Tuesday at noon rolls around and it still hasn’t arrived. I send email to find out what happened. “Oh, you wanted it by noon? I thought end of day.”

So he rushes to finish it by 3PM, and it arrives. But it’s a Word doc. All text. I wanted a Power Point presentation. With pictures. Big trouble.

It’s one thing for me to have built trust with a coworker, so that I know that he has good intentions. But it doesn’t mean that we can read each other’s minds. Getting clear and specific is a critical way to build working relationships.

How to solve this? Here’s my best shot.

  • First I get as clear as possible on what I want. If I’m even a little confused, the other person will be even more confused.
  • I pay attention to noticing when I’m just “hoping for the best.” When I’m reluctant to ask questions, it’s a sign of trouble and a cue to ask myself “what’s going on?”
  • I remind myself that misunderstandings are much easier to fix early in the process. If it’s painful now, it won’t get better later.

Consider the people you work with. How clear are they on your expectations? How do you know?

Paul Konasewich, connectleadership.com

© 2007 Paul Konasewich

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