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Q: I have meetings and discussions with people. We agree on what they’re going to do and then they do something completely different. What’s happening here?

A: We've all experienced the frustration that comes when someone doesn't deliver what they told us they would or when the result we get bears little resemblance to what we requested. “It’s not rocket science! I give you a task and you complete it like I asked you. It’s simple.” Yet too often, we end up walking away shaking our heads and mumbling unflattering descriptions of the other person’s competence, character and commitment.

Luc Beaudry
Principal, Cygnus
Training & Consulting
Before you completely write off these people as inept and lazy, consider this trifecta of factors that have been known to cause misunderstanding, confusion and conflict:

You might not have been as clear as you thought you were

Omitting specifics leaves a lot to the imagination and others will happily fill the missing pieces with a version of details that work for them. “I need a detailed status update by Friday” might mean something quite different to you than it does to them. Which details? How much detail? Formatted how? What does by Friday mean?

You may have made one of four fatal assumptions

In their book “The Leader’s Voice”, Boyd Clarke and Ron Crossland remind us that just because you communicate something, it doesn’t mean that the other person:

1. Understands it: They may be confused or may have understood something different than what you meant.

2. Cares about it: If your request is a low priority for them or they don’t see its’ relevance, they will treat it accordingly, leading to delays or corners being cut.

3. Agrees with it: Even if they care and understand, any disagreement with the method, timing, format or approach is likely to result in an output different from what you expected.

4. Will take the expected action: A gap in understanding, caring or agreement will almost certainly affect what action the person takes. Even with no gaps, how clear is their commitment to delivering on the specific result you expect?

When someone is unclear on your expectations, they’re unlikely to ask you for clarification

If you doubt this, take a moment to think back to situations where you were unclear about someone else’s expectations and see if you can find at least one occasion where you didn’t seek clarification from them. That didn’t take too long, did it? Why does this happen? Because we think:

  • “I don’t want to sound stupid”

  • “They must expect me to know, or else they wouldn’t have asked me to do it”

  • “I’m sure I can figure it out”

  • “I tried to ask, but they just sounded annoyed”

  • And so many more

    Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to increase the odds of getting the result you expect:

    If you have a specific expectation, state it!

    Specify the what, where, when, who and how. “I’m looking for sales volume of any products that are below last quarter’s sales numbers in our top 3 markets and I need it by 2pm on Friday so I can prep for my 3pm exec briefing.”

    Provide context for others to know why it matters and why they should care.

    “By doing this, we can set accurate order quantities and delivery dates for the month. Without it, you’ll be getting a flood of complaint calls from suppliers.”

    Use language that matches your expectations.

    If something is a “must”, then don’t say “I’d appreciate if maybe you could…”

    Distinguish the “must haves” from the “nice to haves”.

    It will be easier for others to prioritize and deliver if they know what’s critical. They’ll also appreciate you as one of the few who don’t say “it’s all important!”

    Confirm mutual understanding.

    Avoid closed questions like “do you understand?” or “is it all clear?” For many, there’s a risk with saying “no”. You may get a half-hearted “yes” that with the time pressures you face is very tempting to accept as full understanding. Instead, ask them to play back to you what they understood, what the next steps are.

    Find out what obstacles they see to accomplishing the task.

    Whether you ask or not, the obstacles are there. Wouldn’t you rather know so that you can make necessary adjustments? Ask “On a scale of 1-10, how confident are you that this will be achieved?” For anything less than a 10, follow up with “What’s missing for it to be a 10?”

    Schedule check points.

    Make their purpose an opportunity for questions and discussion of any changes to the expectations.

    People don’t think with your mind, so remember to be specific about what needs to be made clear and be proactive about fully confirming how the other person understands your request. They will appreciate your clarity and concern. You will also be less frustrated and more productive.

    Luc Beaudry is Principal of Cygnus Training & Consulting and can be reached via email at luc@cygnustraining.com.

    NOTE: Luc Beaudry will be presenting on Build Confidence - Inside & Out at the Toronto One Day Conference on May 8, 2013. Click here for more details

    Battle the New Workplace Epidemic

    Q: Most of us today suffer from lack of sleep. Can you provide some practical tips on ways to improve sleep patterns and get some much needed rest?

    A: We all experience occasional bouts of restless or insufficient sleep. For the most part, our bodies can get by on less than ideal quality and quantity of sleep for short periods of time. The more pressing matter is that our culture requires a constant ‘response to stimulation’ cycle that perpetuates varying levels of stress and resulting disturbed sleep for most people. If this cycle is not mitigated through both awareness and adopting some strategies to counter the situation, simple sleep deprivation can escalate into chronic insomnia... and this is not good. Chronic sleep loss can contribute to health problems such as weight gain, diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and a decrease in the immune system’s power as reported by the Harvard Women’s Health Watch.

    Marla Ericksen
    Empower ME
    Here is a list of suggestions for creating conditions for a more restful slumber. Some of these are “no-brainers” and others are more subtle. Most of this you have heard about and already know. But knowledge alone isn't enough-you must put this into practice. Try experimenting with just one of these ideas for a week and see if it works for you. If it does, keep it up and cultivate a new habit. Then try the next on the list for a week and see what happens.

    1. Don’t be a lunatic (late night moon gazing)! We weren't designed to stay up late and wake up late. Try retiring and waking a bit earlier. Our sleep-wake cycle is regulated by a circadian clock that works best when we honour natural rhythms.

    2. Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine. A calming, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall and stay asleep.

    3. Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, white noise machines, humidifiers or aromatherapy diffusers.

    4. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive and that your pillows support the position you usually sleep in.

    5. Reserve your bedroom for sleep and sex only. This strengthens the healthy associations between bed and sleep, and bed and sex… all good!

    6. Finish eating at least 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime. It is best to avoid a heavy meal too close to bedtime. Try to restrict fluids close to bedtime in order to prevent night-time bathroom visits.

    7. Regular exercise is helpful. It is best to complete your workout at least a few hours before bedtime. Our body temperature rises during exercise and it can take up to 6 hours to return to normal. A cooler body temperature is associated with sleep onset.

    8. Avoid caffeine past mid-afternoon. Caffeine is a stimulant and products such as coffee, tea, colas and chocolate can remain in your system for 3 to 5 hours. Even if you do not think caffeine affects you, it may be disrupting the quality of your sleep. It’s best to stop caffeine consumption after 2:00pm.

    9. Nicotine is also a stimulant and smoking before bed makes it more difficult to fall asleep. When smokers go to sleep, they may also experience withdrawal symptoms from nicotine. Difficulty sleeping is just one more reason to quit smoking.

    10. Avoid alcohol close to bedtime. Even though a nightcap may help you relax and fall asleep faster, it’ll likely make the second half of your sleep cycle restless and unsatisfying. Alcohol decreases deep sleep and increases arousals from sleep. If you like a glass of wine in the evening, have it with dinner and drink in moderation, so it’ll wear off by the time you go to bed.

    11. Getting in a little gentle, restorative yoga before you hit the sack can help put your mind at ease, steady your breath and reduce muscle tension while inducing the relaxation response.

    Reclined Butterfly pose:

    Lie on your back with the soles of your feet together and your knees bent and dropping toward the floor. Place your arms, palms up, by your sides, keeping your shoulders back and your chest open. Close your eyes and inhale through your nose while slowly counting to four, then exhale while counting back down to one Continue for 10 minutes, or as long as it takes you to feel fully relaxed.

    12. Turn off all the technology gadgets that you own. It’s recommended that you disconnect from everything an hour before bed. Avoid late night TV, turn your smartphone off, power down your computer and put any gadgets on an out-of-reach dresser or in another room so they aren't easily accessible.

    If you have trouble falling asleep, maintaining sleep, awaken earlier than you wish, feel tired in the morning or suffer from excessive sleepiness during the day, you should consult your physician. Be sure to tell him/her if you have already tried these tips and for how long. Keeping a sleep log, noting your energy levels and how you feel can be an interesting way to discover the techniques that work for you. Be patient and persistent with your sleep program. You will be rewarded with the necessary and satisfying sleep you need to function optimally in your life.

    Happy snooZZZZZing!

    Marla Ericksen is an integrative fitness specialist, exercise rehabilitation therapist and Yoga teacher. She owns and operates Empower ME Yoga in Ottawa. She can be reached at marla@empowermelifestyles.com

    How to Lower the Risks in Hiring

    Q: Hiring decisions are among the most challenging that we as managers face. We are constantly reminded that hiring the wrong person can have damaging consequences such as losses in revenue and profits, work disruptions, litigation and more. What are the really key issues in making effective hiring decisions?

    A: Some key issues are obvious such as identifying required knowledge and technical skills but others may be less immediately clear.

    Daniel Bentley
    Personnel Psychology
    Centre of the Public
    Service Commission
    Here are some points worth consideration along with some solutions.

  • In a hiring process, even after outreach and marketing, choice is limited by availability and time, i.e., who has applied and the urgency of making a decision.

  • The information that can be collected about an applicant is always limited, so what information about the candidate is the most valuable to have?

  • The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour, but what is the best way to verify a person’s history? It also seldom happens that a person’s work history provides a perfect fit, so how do you identify the elements that are the most crucial?

  • What actually do you want to achieve when you hire someone beyond just replacing or duplicating a current position?

  • The best way to start, as we are told, is with an accurate job analysis but is the information available on the job accurate, complete and up to date? What does the job contribute to the work of the organization? How fixed or flexible is it? How might the job change in the future?

  • How much can we expect a potential employee to bring to the job and how much should we expect to train or teach them what it takes to be an effective performer?

    We can do a few things to simplify the challenges.

    Recognize some of the qualities of people that apply in all situations, namely the ability to think, ability to work conscientiously and ability to work productively with others. These can all be validly measured in a number of ways. Ability to think, to analyse a situation and work out solutions explains about 30% of work effectiveness generally; the other two are significant but not as powerful. There are tests, interview questions, reference checks, case studies and simulations that can all be used here.

    Work out a concise set of guiding principles that link the environment and goals of your organization to the qualities to look for in the people you need to recruit – qualities likely to make the most effective contribution. If an organization’s markets are unpredictable and unstable, the best employees will be highly flexible in technical and team skills for example. If the work is precise, painstaking and strenuous, that will call for people who pay close attention to detail, perhaps work alone without supervision and persistently for extended periods.

    This approach is called Competency Profiling. Widely used in large organizations, it is just as applicable on a smaller scale. In hiring and in subsequently managing performance, a set of competencies are determined that directly match employees to the needs of organization. To make things easier, although each organization has its own particular needs, there are broad groupings that overlap widely. These may include the need for client or advising skills, adaptability, ability to move things forward with persistence, attention to detail, leadership and others.

    It is our responsibility as managers and directors to ensure that the set of competencies we develop are the most relevant and also meet the needs of our organization. Make sure you have all the competencies related to the specific position from the onset. Then we can work out what these imply in terms of the desired kinds of behaviour for the positions we are looking to fill. When enough time is spent on developing the core competencies, this can serve as a reliable guide to meeting all the issues we began with and avoid being challenged in the courts.

    Daniel Bentley is an Assessment Consultant at the Personnel Psychology Centre of the Public Service Commission and can be reached via email at PersonnelAssessment@gmail.com

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