In my role as a business coach, I have the pleasure of working with different companies of every size, revenue and employee count. The one roadblock that I keep running into with all of them is that team members keep waiting for their peers to behave how they want, rather than just telling them.
For some reason, these individuals have a habit of treating peers like mind readers, expecting them to anticipate exact wants and needs. This always leads to frustration on both sides.
Whether it’s leader to direct report, peer to peer, salesperson to prospect, account manager to client or even spouse to spouse (this one can be a bit tricky, so be careful!), wouldn’t it be easier to tell people exactly what you want from them? Then they’ll actually know what you’re expecting without any of the guesswork. Communication is key to making sure that everyone is on the same page.
For example, a client told me one of his biggest issues was not getting referrals from his existing client base. As we began to talk through his organization’s proposed referral program, everyone started to come up with ways to make it easier for clients to give referrals and to incentivize them and make the process more appealing.
I finally asked what would happen if they asked for a referral right now, and everyone looked at me like I had two heads. Apparently, they saw it as taboo to ask straight out for the referral. You could have knocked me over with a post-it note.
I also had a one-on-one conversation with a larger firm’s founder and CEO, who was concerned about one of the members of his leadership team. He said that the leader “is very well-liked, friendly and a great guy,” noting, “He knows his role very well and overall he does a very good job. It’s just that I’d like to see him work with more of a sense of urgency, and I don’t know if he has it in him?”
Well, being the “master of the obvious” coach that I am, I said, “How about you tell him that word for word and then see how he feels about it? Chances are he doesn’t know that he is not working as urgently as you’d like, and only after you’ve let him know very specifically what you have observed can he begin to make those changes you are seeking. He needs to know what the expectation is before he can begin to deliver it to you.”
Sometimes, the most effective approach is the simplest and most direct. So here are four simple ways to improve the communication both within your business and personal relationships:
1. Be specific.
Talk about exactly what results you want, and share with that person what it takes to get that result. He will let you know if it can be done or if help is needed. Either way, there won’t be any confusion about your expectations.
2. Ask in person.
Emails and text messages are too easily ignored and misconstrued. Go see someone in person or, at the very least, via a video call. That way, she can see that you’re concerned about the results you want and that your intention was not to personally attack her or her character. Follow up that conversation in writing with an email, and then look forward to the activities and results to come.
3. Ask early and often.
This is the new mission of my upstart referral-based company. Don’t wait until a problem gets out of hand or you’re overdue on a project to share with others what you need from them. Include others in the process to make sure you can accomplish the task without any mishaps or surprises.
4. Express gratitude.
Now that you have gotten much better at communicating in a direct and real way, make sure that you say “please” and “thank you”—and mean it. Positive reinforcement is an important step to have direct conversations, receive feedback and attain success with coaching.
It seems so simple, this idea of being honest and direct with people, but it is rare—and sometimes shocking—when it is done face to face. Making this kind of communication the standard inside of your place of business, or inside of your home, can make your everyday life much less challenging and provide stability in your relationships.
Now that you have a better understanding of how to be direct and specific, go out into the world and help make this the rule, not the exception.