4 Questions To Clarify Assumptions

Helping your people move from confusion to clarity

Everyone you lead has a set of internal questions that they need answered. Whether they are cognizant of them or not, they are there and are being asked. If you don’t answer them accordingly, it will impact negatively your leadership of them.

One of the most common mistakes leaders make is the error of assumption. Communicating in such a way that both parties clearly understand is difficult under the best of circumstances.

Good communication requires that the major details are not left to assumption. Asking a few simple questions can help clarify if what it taken for granted is merely taken for granted.

4 Questions to help get to clarity

1. What do you want me to do? - This centers on Responsibility.

This needs to be done at the beginning of any new responsibility you assign. It is not a job description as such but a discussion to clarify exactly what their responsibilities are. There are normally 4-6 of them.

How many times has there been a problem and as you talked about it, their response was , “Oh, I thought you were asking me to do…”

2. What does it look like when done well? - This deals with Expectations.

This gives your leader an opportunity to flesh out what success looks like and what is expected of them. We often never really think past the process. Usually, our immediate thoughts go to the question of how to tackle the problem. The outcome of the process is rarely clearly thought through and defined. The process is important. The correct understanding of the outcome is critical.

To get there successfully, we must ask the question, “What does success look like?” It allows those we lead to see clearly what fulfilling the responsibility looks like.

If you have a teenage in your family, you’ve probably experienced this. You ask them to clean up their room. They moan and push back some but eventually agree to do it.

You come back in an hour to what appears to be the same disarray. When you say with a bit of frustration, “I thought I told you to clean up your room,” they respond with, “I did.” And they are sincere.

The problem? Different definitions of what a clean room looks like. It’s critical to be on the same page regarding expectations. This needs to be discussed when the assignment or project is given.

3. Will you help me when I need it? - This is about Support.

Most people relish the opportunity to exercise their gifts and strengths in accomplishing the assignment. They want the freedom to figure it out and bring their talents to it. They say, “Give me the ball.”

However, unless they are exceedingly arrogant, they also recognize that they can’t do it all. They don’t want you holding their hand or micro-managing them. They also don’t want you to be completely disengaged with them.

Fully delegate the responsibility but don't abdicate your role to stay available and engaged.

4. Will you periodically let me know how I am doing? - The key here is Feedback.

We both fear feedback and desperately want it at the same time. When the leader has developed an environment of trust and the commitment to the other person’s success, feedback is so appreciated.

I find all of us as asking the question, “How am I doing?” We want to succeed. We want to do well? We want to contribute and make a difference.

Yet, it is difficult to accurately assess this if we are in a vacuum. We really agree with the old adage that “a stitch in time saves nine.” Periodic review keeps us on track and avoids lots of wasted time and energy.

These questions counter assumptions and help prevent the prevalent problems of micro-managing on one side and isolation on the other.

Which of these questions do you find most challenging to answer for your people?

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