How and Why to set clear expectations

The other day, my toddlers asked me if they could help me with chores. Yes! The answer is always yes to this question! I was restocking the toilet paper in our downstairs bathroom so I handed them each a roll and asked them to please restock their bathroom. I later went into their bathroom to find the two new rolls on the holder and the partial roll on the windowsill. Not exactly how I would have restocked the toilet paper.

Often times, we get frustrated when something doesn’t go exactly how we envisioned and we tend to blame the person delivering the work rather than examining the expectations we set. One of my favorite quotes from Brene Brown (and there are many) is “clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” Rather than assuming my three and four year olds knew what “restock the bathroom” meant, I could have asked them to “please put the toilet paper rolls underneath the sink”. That would have given them clear guidelines for how I expected them to restock the bathroom rather than leaving room for interpretation.

During our COVID crisis, it is more important than ever to examine how we communicate expectations. Whether we are adjusting to a remote work scenario or online school, or we are learning how to be with our family members 24/7 or we haven’t seen another human being in days, we are all navigating a new normal. When we are out of our personal routines, we are more susceptible to missing the unspoken details. To mitigate frustration and avoid telling stories about what is happening around us or to us – let’s commit to clear and timely communication.

Think about a time where you asked someone to do something and when they delivered, your response was “this is not what I expected.” Perhaps you asked someone to lead a meeting at work or you requested someone draft up documentation for a client. When reflecting back, did you offer clear expectations for the task at hand?

Here are four questions to ensure your communication is clear:

  • Did I state what done looks like?
  • Did I give a timeline for delivery?
  • Did I provide context for why this is a priority?
  • Did I say thank you?

That last question isn’t about clear nor timely communication, it’s about clear and timely gratitude, something we could all use a little more of these days, even before our work is done.

Let’s put it into action: “We need you to lead our requirements gathering call on Friday.” A few more details set you up for greater success: “We need you to lead our training requirements gathering call on Friday. The client has new team members and recently rolled out new product features to their network. Please draft an agenda and send to the group on Wednesday so they come prepared to talk about their needs. After the call, please send a recap of topics for them to approve. Thank you for leading this!”

Remember, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” It’s a simple motto with big results.