Magazine article Work & Family Life

Be Clear and Don't Expect People to Read Your Mind

Magazine article Work & Family Life

Be Clear and Don't Expect People to Read Your Mind

Article excerpt

Mary was having difficulty getting people to do things around the office that were nobody's job in particular: "I'd say something like 'this table is a big mess' a few times. Then on Friday, when everybody was getting ready for the weekend, I'd see it was still messy and I'd clean it up myself-feeling annoyed at my staff, of course."

A better approach for Mary would have been to raise the issue of how to handle shared spaces at a sraff meeting, work out a cleanup routine and post it so everyone knows who's responsible.

Some of us are highly responsive to suggestions, but most people are not. That's why it's important on the job to state our messages clearly and directly-and to make sure that our coworkers have the same understanding we do.

Observational learning is overrated

Many supervisors believe that reasonably motivated employees should be able to figure out on their own what is expected of them. But it doesn't work that way. Studies have shown that only about one person in five is a good observational learner. That leaves the great majority of us who need some teaching and direction at the workplace.

Also, many managers perform well themselves but are less adept at analyzing and explaining to their employees or coworkers what they've done and why. For one thing, they may not appreciate the practical reality that people have different learning styles.

And the typical workplace is diverse. Employees come from different generations, cultures and backgrounds. English may be a second or third language. And many people have some difficulty figuring out the nuances of a supervisor's behavior or what she or he expects of them.

Matters of style count too

Getting ahead on the job requires more than picking up new skills and information.

"People need to understand matters of style-the way things are done-and to be sensitive to the political realities of their company," according to Albert Bernstein and Sydney Craft Rozen, authors of Sacred Bull: The Inner Obstacles that Hold You Back at Work and How to Overcome Them. "Your future on the job may depend on how well you are able to learn the things nobody ever tells you."

New strategies to try

Whether people report to you or you are leading a work team, chairing a committee or mentoring a coworker, the fact is that all of us need some help at one time or another to figure things out at the workplace.

This is primarily a communications challenge. If our messages are vague or seem to be getting lost in the shuffle, Bernstein and Rozen suggest these strategies:

* Be dear in your own mind what you think someone ought to know and what you want her or him to learn. …

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