Seek first to understand

Whilst mooching through social media this weekend I came across a fascinating thread. Someone within my network had posted a rather generic request for help on a pretty generic topic. It was one of those moments that we’ve all had where we ask, “does anyone know anyone who can xxx”.

What fascinated me was that despite the very generic nature, the thread was filled with responses, “I can” or “I recommend x”. It was only after about forty or so responses that someone answered, “I think I might be able to help, but I need a little bit more detail. What specifically are you looking for, who are the people you’re looking for this for and where and when would you need it?”

It reminded me of many of the conversations that we have at work. A problem is generically stated and immediately we all pile in with attempts to fix it. Suggestion after suggestion is made in the attempt to solve a problem that we haven’t even fully understood. From the limited data that’s presented we all form our own individual interpretation and yet we rarely take time to check that our understanding is the same.

The impact on the original requestor can be overwhelming as they are inundated with solutions that can often be contradictory to one another meanwhile the other participants can get frustrated as their “obvious” answer to the problem goes unheard. But what if instead of being at the end of the thread, those questions had been at the beginning? Would that have led to a better quality of response?

It would be easy to say that the originator of the question should have thought it through, but I disagree. The nature of collaboration is that we work together to try to find a solution and that is particularly true in the workplace. If we all take responsibility to ask questions and seek to understand all the aspects of a problem, rather than making assumptions, we not only help to achieve better answers, we save everyone time and effort in the process.

 

Getting the job done

When my kids were little I’d ask them to clear the table. In response they’d take their plates and put them on the side. As they grew older and with a little direction, they learnt to take other peoples’ plates too and maybe put the salt and pepper back in the cupboard. As young adults now, I consider it a win if on asking them to clear the table, they take the plates, cutlery and glasses and put them in the dishwasher, tidy away the condiments and wipe the table clear of any stains or spills.

The same instruction, different interpretations of completion.

Throughout our lives we are faced with tasks , some we are given and some we give to others. How often as leaders do we have a clear vision of completion without a clear articulating of the outcomes that we want to see? And how often do we find ourselves frustrated when we complete a task, only to be told that it doesn’t meet the requirements of others?

Our ability to successfully contract is critical to collaboration, to organisational efficiency and to the effective delivery of goals. We have to balance the clarity that we need to achieve desired outcomes, with the empowerment that is required to ensure engaged, motivated teams working with forward momentum. It’s a tricky balance.¬†And of course, the onus is not on one party, but all of those involved.

So next time you’re handing out a task, project or objective, or alternatively next time you’re being asked to complete one. Consider what assumptions you’re making about the outcomes that you think are required. Have you clearly articulated what’s important and what is free to be determined? Being specific and clear at the beginning might take a little more time and thought, but ultimately it will improve the performance of your organisation or team.