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We Are Not Psychic

Scenario time! You are neck deep in a project. You’ve been to all the meetings, have worked out the details for what needs to happen when, have notes and emails and files with all the information, and have had this as your sole focus at work for the past several months. You’re only one person and cannot do it all.

Do you:

  1. Forgo sleep and consume all the caffeine your body can’t handle, reverting to habits you thought you’d left behind when you finished school and thought that all-nighters were a thing of the past?

  2. Delegate?

Congratulations, you chose to delegate! Some people would insist that the only way to get something done right is to do it oneself, but not you. You trust your coworker and are willing to delegate! But … what comes back was not at all what you expected. There’s a rather lengthy email that you quickly skim over, and several attachments. The first one you open is a complete mess of seemingly random notes.

Do you:

  1. Get angry and send off an email blasting them for their incompetence?

  2. Resend your original request, demanding that they do it right this time?

  3. Lament the fact that you’re not working with a psychic who could intuitively know exactly what needed to be done?

  4. Take a breath and take the time to properly read over their full email and look at all the attachments, at which point you realize they asked a number of questions due to them not having access to all the information that they needed and were asking for clarification? And that the first attachment you opened was a copy of their raw notes with the information that they did have, and the subsequent attachments were different rough drafts that would be finalized once their questions were answered?

Most people will of course select D because that is the reasonable option. No one wants to think that they are the type of person who would do A or B, and few will admit to wanting option C. However, I know there are people reading this who have been on the receiving end of A or B.

So how do we avoid being the person who responds with A or B? Effective communication to the rescue!

“But I did effectively communicate! I told them what to do!” comes the protest. Did you really effectively communicate though? Did you take the time to make certain that they had access to all the information that they needed to succeed? Did you clearly lay out your expectations? Did you set aside time where you could check in with each other and questions could be asked and clarifications given?

“But I’m busy and don’t have the time to do all of that! That’s why I asked someone else to handle this aspect!” This response pairs nicely with one of my personal favorites, “If I have to take the time to explain all the details I might as well just do it myself!” (OK, clearly we’re going to need to discuss time management in a future post). On the surface these seem like completely reasonable responses, and the people saying them certainly seem to think so. However, they are not even remotely helpful in addressing the situation. Below are some tips that are helpful:

  • Taking the time at the start to make certain that the person tasked with assisting you has all the information and details that they need to succeed in the assignment is less time consuming than trying to fix multiple mistakes stemming from a lack of information and details. Less frustrating too. Share the information you have, rather than assuming they have the same background level of knowledge on the topic that you do (yes yes, we’ve all heard the thing about making assumptions. No, I’m not repeating it).

  • When sharing information, make sure that it’s organized in a way that will make sense to other people and not just yourself. I know that when I create a folder of documents to share with other people, it will be clearly labeled, each document will have obvious names, and there will likely be subfolders grouping related documents together. This is in complete contrast to the folders for my personal use which can generously be described as organized chaos. While they make sense to me, I recognize that they will be difficult for other people to navigate. So, if sharing a folder full of information I take a bit of time at the start to organize everything in a way that makes sense to everyone, not just to me. It prevents confusion and headaches further down the line.

  • If you are part of an email chain that contains the details and instructions of what needs to be done, but that information is spread across 15 separate messages from 3 different people –simply forwarding the email chain with a message saying, ‘do this’ is not the way to go. No one wants to get that email, including the person sending it. Instead, summarize the parts that you need the person to focus on, or at the very least highlight the relevant parts in bright pink so they’re easy to find (bright pink is not a standard business color, which means it’s going to stand out). Expecting someone to sift through an entire email chain to try and figure out what it is that you need is just going to result in confusion at best, and aggravation at worst.

  • Details are your friend! While the details may seem redundant to you, this may be the first time another person is being exposed to the situation. Remember, you’re not working with psychics (probably).

  • Be clear in your expectations and ask for feedback. Ask if there are any questions or if anything needs to be clarified. Leave the metaphorical door open so that if the person helping you has questions later, they are comfortable coming to you with them.

Science has not yet created pills that will turn us all psychic, so the information in your head regarding an assignment is not necessarily the same information in your coworker’s head. We also don’t currently have ways to directly download information from one brain to the next (and sci-fi keeps giving me mixed messages on whether or not this is a good idea). So, until science steps up its game and turns us all into mind readers, we’re going to need to rely on written and verbal communication that works for everyone involved.


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