“Should” — The Single Most Unrealistic Word


Last week I coached a trio of mid-level managers who enjoy pressing each other’s buttons and sabotaging each other’s work. Don’t ask!

Betsy (name changed) reassured me that given the horrific conditions at work there’s no way I could help her. She went on to say that she’s frustrated when she talks with the people on her team. She sighed, “When I tell them to do something, they should do it. I shouldn’t have to repeat myself.” Really — how realistic is that? She proudly told me that if she and her brothers didn’t do what their parents asked, then there were consequences.

While it’s true that companies can take on the dynamic of a family, they really aren’t a family. Parents might be able to get away with the “or else” mandate, but workers are seldom motivated by fear. Fear doesn’t get you to the finish line.

Betsy said that her team knows they can come to her any time with questions. When I asked if they do come to her, she looked annoyed. “No, of course they don’t. They’re too lazy.” Hmm — the problem is that most people don’t feel comfortable asking questions of a person whom they fear. And I’ve no doubt that her team fears Betsy.

I read an article (whose author I forget) that maintained, “three is the new one.” The author claimed it takes three times for a worker in today’s workplace to grasp what you’re saying because no matter how important it is what you’re telling a co-worker, your message is competing with so many others.

Saying something is not the same as communicating.

While each of us has a responsibility for letting the other person know if we don’t understand them, it’s also true that you have a responsibility to make sure that you know if the other person hasn’t understood you. Telling a worker to “see you” if they have any questions just isn’t enough. Most people are embarrassed to ask questions and won’t!

So, what can you do to gain insight into whether the other person has understood you? There are three things you can do:

  1. Have the person repeat back in their own words what it is you’re asking them to do. If they can’t, then they don’t understand what they’re supposed to do.
  2. If the project extends beyond three days, decide on a time when the two of you will touch base and make sure things are on schedule.
  3. Reassure them that you genuinely want them to come to you with questions.

To insist that you “shouldn’t” have to repeat yourself is unrealistic and only leads to the frustration of not having your (unrealistic) expectations met.

Please send your communication questions to me at: jp@jpr-communications.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jprweddings.

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