The other day I was having a conversation with an associate. I was frustrated because she wasn’t doing what I need her to do. She was frustrated because she didn’t understand what I was asking her to do. It’s very easy in those situations to take things personally, when in reality it is simply a communication issue. The moment I realized it was a communication issue, it allowed me to step up my leadership and resolve the situation almost immediately. I needed to provide greater clarity, which would then allow for her to perform according to expectations and for me to hold her accountable for those expectations. In fact, I believe 90% of leadership is providing clarity for others – clarity about our goals, clarity about our priorities, and clarity about expectations. Well-run meetings result in greater clarity (though I’m sure we’ve all been in meetings that resulted in the exact opposite!). Budgets provide clarity about priorities. Coaching sessions provide clarity about growth and expectations. You get my drift.
Communication only exists if common understanding happens between two or more parties. It’s one thing to share information, it’s another thing to effectively communicate information. Clarity comes from a Latin word that means “to remove obstacles to understanding.” Clarity seeks to communicate information in such a way that everyone understands and is on the same page. As I’ve grown in my own leadership, I’ve identified two killers of clarity and some solutions for addressing both.
Ambiguity is uncertainty of meaning or intention (dictionary.com). Ambiguity is when you walk out of a meeting and are unsure of your next steps. Ambiguity is when you are unsure of what is expected of you in a role, so you spend a lot of time guessing or trying to read minds. Ambiguity is when you have multiple stakeholders vying for priority and you aren’t sure which one takes precedence. We all face ambiguity at some time – it’s inevitable in a changing workplace. But while ambiguity is inevitable, it doesn’t have to be permanent. Here are three tips for seeking or creating clarity when you are faced with ambiguity:
- Ask powerful questions – Whenever I begin to feel like expectations or priorities are murky, I immediately begin to consider what questions I haven’t asked yet that might help us find clarity. Questions like, “What does success look like?” and “How will I know we have been successful?” are great starters.
- Make it visual – I’m a visual learner, so seeing something on paper can often help me sort it out and find clarity. I’m also a bit nerdy, so creating a chart, table (think pros and cons list), or a mind map is an effective way for me to sort out information to make decisions and draw conclusions.
- Identify what can be clarified and what can’t – Often ambiguity exists because of change and the subsequent unknowns. When you identify what can be clarified and work towards clarity in those areas, it often makes the areas that remain ambiguous easier to navigate.
Complexity is the state of being so convoluted or intricate as to be hard to understand or deal with (dictionary.com). A common example is an email that contains so much information your brain is unable to identify the information that matters most. Another is a presentation that goes into so much detail that most of the listeners check out because it doesn’t apply to them. Here are three tips for creating simplicity in your communication:
- Keep it concise – Less really is more. In an effort to “over-communicate,” we tend to inundate others with information. If you must provide a lot of information, find ways to highlight and reiterate the most important information. When you are done writing an email, review it for unnecessary information and filler words.
- Chunk information – Chunking is a form of organizing information, similar to categorizing it. Think of it this way – your brain works as a filing cabinet. Every time you learn something new, your brain files it with similar information. Our brains are inherently lazy, so if your brain perceives the information it is receiving is disorganized, it may check out. The better you organize your information, the more brain-friendly (and effective) it becomes.
- Use formatting in emails – I highly recommend using bullet points, numbering, boldface and underline formatting in email. It helps the eye know where to focus, thus helping the brain know where to focus and what to retain. It also communicates that the information you are sharing is important enough you took the time to organize (chunk) and format it, which makes your reader more likely to give it the attention it deserves.
I hope these tips help you break through challenges and improve your communications with your teams as they have for me.
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