Communicate Your Expectations

In my line of work I am often assigned a job with incomplete information; something along the lines of “Go here to look at this boat.  Leave now.”  It’s part of the business and helps keep things interesting.

A similar instruction came through recently and I began to plan my trip as usual; flight, rental car, hotel.  Set my alarm to wake early the next morning to head to the airport.  Later that night when I checked my email I found one more message, stating specific limits on the expenses.

I was already past that by a wide margin.  The next hour was spent calling cancelling each one of my bookings and stressing about the situation.

*Clear Expectations

The story illustrated above is an example of how the expectations of the job were not clear from the beginning.  While certainly not earth shattering, these small issues are not uncommon and they add friction where it isn’t needed, and uncertainty which doesn’t help.

Stating your expectations clearly is one of the core tenets of *ClearCommunication.  This is important to ensuring that quality work is delivered and there is no miscommunication surrounding the issue.

*ClearExpectations can be defined as:

  • The right info
  • To the right people
  • At the right time

The Right Info – The right info means all the info required to do the job.  This has two components; Completeness and Accuracy.

Completeness doesn’t necessarily mean all the info available on the subject, as this could quickly bog you down in minutia.  But the info must be comprehensive to your specific task.  Often times people get so close to an issue or situation that it becomes commonplace to them.  Because of that they start to feel that other people have the same handle on things as they do, so key info is left out.

Assume nothing.

Accuracy of info is self explanatory. It needs to be correct.  Poor information only supports poor decisions.

The Right People – How to define which people are the right people, especially in a large organization?  The answer is to include everyone involved.

I have sailed on vessels with close to three hundred personnel on board, each with a specific function.  While the cook doesn’t need to know exactly what the engineer is doing, they do need to know what the job is about so they can best support the project.  There is a fine line to walk between sending company-wide email blasts, and forgetting to include somebody involved, but this can be mostly circumvented by some careful thought at the beginning of the project about who needs to be included.

The Right Time – This has to do with timeliness.  To support decision making people should receive the information they need before it is required.   This way they will have time to process it before ultimately making use of it.

The difference between Just in Time and Too Late is often only minutes apart.  The best time to pass needed information is to pass it when it’s needed!  While that may not seem helpful I firmly believe that people know intuitively when to do the right thing and the only reason they don’t is due to a lack of accountability.

Conversely, there can be a tendency to send everything all at once, right in the beginning.  This too should be avoided as it bogs the receiver down and the info that will be needed at a later date runs the risk of being overlooked in the process.

Communicating Expectations

To state your expectations clearly you first need all of the facts.  If you go off half-cocked then chances are you will say or do something that isn’t appropriate to the situation.  Make sure that you have all of the information required to make a good decision.

Another common miscommunication is when assumptions are made as to how much the other person knows.  Sometimes when you are close to an issue it is easy to forget that others don’t have the same insight and knowledge on the subject.  Make sure that sufficient background information is included when needed.  If in doubt err on the side of repetition.  If you are covering material that is already known then you can skip it, but you need to make sure that it is indeed known.

Once your expectations are stated it is important to close with a recap of what was agreed and a timeline for completion.  This way there can be no misunderstandings.  The second thing to nail down at this stage is a timeline for you to follow up in.  If the project is due in two weeks, schedule a follow up discussion in a week to review the progress.

When following up it is important that you schedule these in your calendar so as not to miss them.  Otherwise it becomes an idle statement.  Progress check-ins are a great way to ensure that the original timeline will be met, or to get things back on track before they go too far in the wrong direction.

The Receiving End

What about if you are on the other side and are unsure what the expectations are?  In this case you need to take ownership of the situation and figure out what is expected.  The only way to do this is by asking.  While it may be uncomfortable to do so it is imperative that you take command of the situation and clarify the requirements.

This is an important point.  Many people feel that if they weren’t told something by their superior it gives them a pass.  But being professionals it is everyone’s duty to do their job to the best of their ability.  This sometimes includes asking when unsure about something.  Everyone needs to take ownership of every situation; both up and down the chain.

The Bottom Line

Having somebody do unnecessary work because of poor communication is unprofessional.  The most effective way to mitigate this is by ensuring that everyone involved knows what is expected ahead of time.  Use the facts to make the best decisions possible, then communicate that to the people that need that information to do what is needed.

By clearly setting down your expectations, and following up in a timely fashion, you will ensure that the job gets done properly and on time.


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