Those who build things learn to live by the phrase, “Measure twice, cut once”. If one miss measures and the piece is too short, then another piece has to be cut at the cost of time and materials. If one miss measures and the piece is too long, then time is wasted making another cut. To measure twice, is to be clear and certain the piece will fit the first time.
This phrase came to mind recently as I was working with a management team for a company I have been consulting with. We were talking about how to hold employees accountable to instructions and job expectations. One overlooked area, when it comes to holding people in account, is the clarity of the initial instruction. The question is, “Does the employee have clear instruction, or is it assumed he/she does?” We then talked about strategies for communicating clear instructions. That’s when the phrase above really came to mind.
What a simple concept that can eliminate a large number of problems as we lead. In fact, this true for our everyday life. Between manager and employee, parent and child, spouse to spouse, friend to friend, clear expectations and communication is one key to avoiding wasted time and effort fixing what should have been clear all along. There really are some simple steps to communicating clearly that admittedly, most of us do not practice. These steps only take a few seconds to a few moments longer and could save us hours of extra work in the long run. Measure twice, cut once. Below are three that can allow us to avoid the results of what I sometimes call “assumicide”.
First, repeat what was said and/or expected. When I have an expectation, I should take an extra 30 seconds and repeat that expectation.
Second, have the expectation mirrored back to you. “What did you hear me say?” This allows us to hear how we are perceived. All of us have perception filters we process messages through. Hearing back allows me to make sure my intent was communicated correctly. This allows for clarity if needed.
Third, summarize and paraphrase. “To be clear, we agree to…” “If I am hearing all this right, we will…” The summary is one last verification that all parties are on the same page. This allows for any new wrinkles to the expectation to be added or taken away. This agreement is key to holding the person accountable without needing to use extra emotion.
These all seem very simple…and they are. However, putting them into practice takes time. I know that for myself, I tend to assume too much and take for granted the relationship I am in. The result is I become disappointed when my expectation is not met. Sometimes, I try to hold the other party accountable when there really was no clear agreement. This also opens me up to blame others.
Where can you apply some or all of these steps to your everyday communications? How will you benefit? How will those around you benefit? Begin by taking baby steps by practicing some of these with those closest to you. The results may surprise you.
Photo Credit: Sean McEntee via Creative Commons