How Communicating With a Lack of Specificity is Sabotaging Results in Your Organization
by Skip Weisman
Communication is a catchall phrase for things that go wrong in companies and relationships. Unfortunately, the concept is too ambiguous to do anything constructive to fix it.
There are seven communication mistakes that lead to mis-understandings, and cause conflicts between co-workers, and bosses and their subordinates, which lead to low morale and toxic work environments.
They are called the "The 7 Deadly Sins of Organizational Leadership Communication." This article will address the least understood and most common of these leadership communication sins, a “lack of specificity.”
The "Law of Specificity" states, "the level to which communication lacks specificity is the level to which individuals are required to become mind readers, guess and assume. We all know what happens we assumptions are made.
Three of the most common areas for non-specific communication, which will be addressed in this article, are:
• Lack of Specific Details
• Lack of Specific Direction
• Lack of Specific Meaning
Lack of Specific Details
This is one of the most regularly violated. It's a simple as leaving out dates, times, and locations, etc. when making a request. Here is an actual client example:
"Steve, I need you to get me details of all of our vendor and sub-contractor relationships by the end of next week so I can evaluate them for next year's budgets I'm submitting."
This request seems straight forward, but Steve did not meet the expectations of his boss. Steve took "the end of next week" to mean by "the end of the day next Friday." His boss meant that he was submitting his budget proposal by the end of the day the following Friday and therefore needed Steve's information by the first thing Friday morning, or preferably Thursday.
As you might imagine, this caused a conflict between the boss and his direct report. It wasn't the first time. To improve their communication both were coached on using more specificity in future requests.
You will notice that a statement like the one below is much more specific:
"Steve, I need to submit our budget proposal by the end of next week. So I need a detailed report on our vendor and sub-contractor relationships by Thursday at 5 p.m. This way I can use those figures in my proposal, which I will be finalizing next Friday. Based on your present priorities is that a time frame you can make happen?"
This request has much more specificity. It is also very respectful of the other party's priorities. It doesn't assume that he or she can just drop everything to fulfill this request. It allows for honest and open negotiation so both parties feel supported and expectations can be met.
Lack of Specific Direction
In this situation my client, a CEO, had a habit of moving things off his desk by putting them in his office manager's in-basket." Because of his position, the office manager assumed that if he was giving her something "it must be important."
Every time she would immediately stop what she was doing to work on the latest thing he had given her. On the surface this seems like very proactive assistant getting things done. The challenge is that it was frustrating the office manager as it prevented her from getting other priorities accomplished. She was becoming stressed by her inability to keep up with her workload and that of her boss.
The problem was solved in 30-seconds by asking the CEO if everything he put in her in-box was an urgent priority that required immediate attention. He said, "no," that he was just trying to get stuff off his desk.
Moving forward the CEO began putting notes on items identifying the required level of urgency. This allowed the office manager to prioritize and schedule those items around her work without having to assume and mind-read.
Lack of Specific Meaning
A wife recently accused her husband of leaving the front door to their home "open" when he came home from appointments during the day. Her meaning for the word "open," as it pertained to the front door of our home, and the husband's meaning were found to be very different.
Upon further discussion it was learned the wife meant the door was not "locked" so as to seal the door to keep the cold winter air from seeping through the weather stripping.
The husband's meaning for an "open" front door was that the latch was not shut and the door was truly open so one could see outside. Words have different meanings to different people in different contexts. Often times we assume the other person has our same point of reference. That is often not the case, causing misunderstandings and trust to break down.
A lack of specificity is just one of seven communication mistakes organizational leaders are making when interacting with their peers, direct reports and those they answer to such as shareholders and board members.
To learn more about the communication sin of a "lack of specificity" and the other six deadly leadership communication sins, go to www.HowToImproveLeadershipCommunication.com and download the free special report "The 7 Deadly Sins of Organizational Leadership Communication" which will give you even more case studies with details as to how to fix these sins, communicate like a champion and build a championship organization.
Skip Weisman of Weisman Success Resources, Inc. of Poughkeepsie, NY (www.WeismanSuccessResources.com) works with organizational leaders to improve personnel, productivity and profits by helping them “Create a Champion Organization,” one that communicates effectively and takes action with commitment towards a shared compelling vision. His latest White Paper is “The 7 Deadly Sins of Organizational Leadership Communication” available free at www.HowToImproveOrganizationalCommunication.com