How many times have you heard that you should be more effective, more senior, communicate or listen better, that you should deal better with this or that, that you should be a better manager?
And how many times you had the feeling that you more-less understand what is requested but not quite.
The easiest would be to ask what the requestor have in mind when telling you this, but there are doubt and fear or maybe even an element of shame that stops you from asking – cause you should KNOW it, right? What will they think if you ask?
And what if I ask back?
I used to think that asking clarifying questions means that I am not good enough for the position I was holding, especially right after being promoted. I was carrying my imposter syndrome with me for a long time before I realised that I am setting myself for a failure and wasting tons of time and energy by not asking back. There were a few interesting things I noticed when I finally started asking back:
- the person requesting me to be more senior/communicate better/be less emotional usually did not really know what they want from me. By asking them, I helped clarify many things not only for myself but also for my bosses.
- I usually was exaggerating my faults – usually, it was a small thing that I needed to improve instead of the revolution I imagined.
- other people got encouraged by my example and started asking back themselves plus I often heard a “thank you for asking that, I had no idea what he means…”
- I NEVER got back any unpleasant comment nor look saying “you must be super stupid if you don’t know what I mean”, I instead heard “thank you for asking”
- I saved a lot of time and energy by doing so, and I quickly was known for my asking back and for being persistent which meant that anyone who wanted me to do or change anything had to really understand what they want.
When they ask you to be better at something (listening, communicating, delegating, managing) or be more of anything (more senior, more patient, more efficient), don’t assume you know what the person means – ASK. There is no shame in asking; there is a waste of time in not doing so. Don’t assume, ask.
Set your team for success too
I started applying the same rule when giving my team tasks or when having our regular 1-on-1’s. I became very precise about my requests and my feedback – you can’t tell someone that they need to communicate better without explaining what you mean by that and expect them to change. I noticed that it brought comfort and feeling of control to my team members. When they knew what to change, they could figure out how and ask for help if needed. It brought calmness and sense of accomplishment.
Being precise about what you expect and what you are seeing as an improvement point is making the cooperation better, saves time and energy, and enables your team to grow faster by focusing on the things they should be doing rather than second-guessing what you actually meant.
Define and Ask
It is not enough to say that you need to communicate better as it can mean multiple things.
What would be helpful is to specify if it is about the message’s content, or perhaps the body language or tone of voice of the person that should be adjusted. Maybe the problem is the vocabulary used in the e-mail or the fact that the person is not looking in the partner’s eyes when talking. Perhaps their message is not clear and not adjusted to the audience level of understanding. There can be multiple reasons you think your team member is not a good communicator or why your boss does not perceive you as one.
The same applies to being more senior, better team player, better listener or better manager – each of these can mean many things to work on. When you know which of the gazillion of possibilities you need to focus on, it makes the job much more straightforward and gives you a great chance of succeeding in achieving it.
So when you want to set your team for success – define what success means. And if you’re going to position yourself for a good start – don’t assume – ask back.