Being specific about your expectations might not be something you’ve thought about before

So let’s start with your language.

How often do you think about the language you use with your teams?

No, I’m not talking about whether you swear or use terms that might be offensive. Just wondering if the words you use mean the same thing to other people as they mean to you.

Believe me, when I say …they often don’t.

And when what you think you’ve said is taken to mean something completely different, things can get complicated.

Can you relate?

The impact of not being specific about expectations

For example, one of my leadership clients recently shared how they’d asked a team member to do a ‘paper’ on X. The team member went on to write the paper and delivered it in plenty of time for the deadline. However, the leader saw that it didn’t cover what it needed to and had an unprofessional tone. Knowing she had to present it at an executive meeting the following day, she smiled and thanked the team member.

Then proceeded to go home and rewrite the paper herself!

Is this crazy?

Should the leader have rewritten the paper herself?

You might be thinking the leader isn’t delegating properly. Why did she not hand the paper back for a rewrite?

Well digging deeper revealed that the problem was in the original instruction given to the team member.

How understanding ‘fat words’ can help with being specific about expectations

Let me introduce you to my concept of ‘fat words’ or ‘bulky words.’

They describe words that seem to say everything, but actually could mean far too many different things. They’re just too bulky!

As individuals, we all attach a different meaning to words based on our experience. To be sure that we all agree what they mean, they need breaking down. Otherwise, all we end up with is vagueness and uncertainty.

For example, as a leader, you may think you trust your team based on your definition and experience of the word. Yet if I sat down and asked your team, they might not even think of the word trust, based on their experience of you.

Our perception of the situation is based on our interpretation of the word. And when interpretations are different, engagement can drop, mistakes are made and leaders end up re-doing delegated tasks.

What happens when you’re not being specific about expectations

When we go back to our example of the team member producing a poor or unprofessional paper, the leader felt they’d explained what needed to be done. But digging deeper we discovered they gave brief instructions in a very short space of time. This wasn’t even face to face, it was over an email, which gave little or no opportunity for the team member to question or clarify, and lots of opportunity for misinterpretation!

During our discussions, it became apparent that they were expecting their team to ‘just know’ what was required – after all, they were basic instructions and they’d been working there for enough time. But as we’ve seen, what you think of a word, in this case a ‘paper,’ can mean something completely different to somebody else.

The experience my leadership client had tells you how important it is to be specific about your expectations. After all, no one wants to be working late at home re-doing tasks you’ve delegated to your team.

What my client did, and what you can do straight away

  1. Challenge yourself to think about the meaning of the ‘fat word’ for yourself
  2. Take an extra five minutes to involve the team member in the task at the beginning
  3. Clarify what the ‘fat word’ means for the team member
  4. Clarify the expectations and outcome of the task

By following these steps, it will lead to a better understanding of the task at hand, and is also a great way to role model engaging behaviours whilst holding the team member accountable for the outcome.

Want to be more specific with your team and hold them accountable?

It’s time to put yourself first and get some one-to-one, personalised support. Support from someone outside your organisation who’ll give you the space you need to speak your mind, listen without judgement, encourage you to open up and listen to your inner self, look at things from different perspectives, and come up with your own answers.

Book a coaching call with me to explore how I can support you lead with confidence.


Click here to book a coaching call with me to explore

Click here to join our Leadership starts with you community

Click here to see a range of coaching testimonials from my leadership clients