“HOW can I get through to them?” is a common question that I am asked, which is usually followed with a sentence starting with “I continually tell them not to…”. On the surface this seems fair enough – your employer tells you not to do it and therefore you should follow instructions. The challenge that the employee is confronted with is that there is often not an alternative provided.
I observed a supervisor walk up to one of his staff and tell the staff member “I do not want you to continually check emails all day, I want you to get on with the real work”. The employee worked in a sales role and many of the orders came in via email and therefore was confused as to what to actually do.
Firstly the supervisor failed to explain what he meant for the employee to stop doing and also what he meant by doing the real work. If the communication had been structured with what to do then the employee would have been able to act in the way that was expected.
By saying something like: “I would prefer if you could cluster the reading of your emails to four times a day. Doing this will allow you to focus on the priorities of processing the orders when they come in and meeting the clients’ agreed deadlines”.
This communication framework changes the focus away from them telling them what not to do – “I do not want you to continually check emails all day” to what to do – “I would prefer it if you could cluster the reading of your emails to four times per day”, and the priorities of “…processing the orders when they come in and meeting the clients’ deadlines”.
Although you as the leader or supervisor may think that it is obvious what needs to be done and how, telling others what not to do and making assumptions that they know what to do is setting yourself up for a “How can I get through to them?” discussion, which can be avoided by remembering the principle of “tell them what to do not what not to do”.
Dr Brenda Jamnik is a specialist in business leadership with more than 20 years’ experience in executive coaching and building high-performance teams.