In my consulting work I see a familiar pattern: The employee is unclear about an assignment but too afraid to ask for further understanding. I’ve seen the same patterns with peers. Members of a non-profit board voting on issues where they are clueless! Board members nod their heads in agreement and say “Aye” without understanding the consequences, or the implications involved. In short, they fail to seek clarity.
In strategy sessions we throw around words like alignment and results yet without clarity there can be no alignment, and without alignment, we get disappointing results (as well as a fair share of workplace drama.)
The same pattern happens in personal relationships. We get “mixed messages” from a spouse, friend, or colleague and we make assumptions. We say, “They must be angry with me,” or “They are just trying to get one over on me.” We suspect the other of ulterior motives instead of seeking clarification. Then we blame them for not communicating when the results are less than desired.
How to Seek Clarity
It’s not that difficult to seek clarity. You can say any of the following:
- I’m confused.
- What does that mean?
- I don’t understand.
- Can you give me an example?
- Say more.
- I’m curious to learn more…
Why People Fail to Seek Clarity
If it’s so easy why do most of us fail to seek clarity? Seeking clarity is an act of courage. You have to admit you don’t understand. When you do this, the other person may judge you. You might trip their trigger. You might be perceived as confrontational. The other person may view your question as an act of resistance. If you will admit it, you may not really want to hear what the other person has to say.
But without clarity there can be no alignment. And without alignment your results will be disappointing at best. If you are feeling confused, or if you are getting mixed messages, don’t assume. Don’t ask the one who can’t do anything about it. Go straight to the person and ask the question:
What do you mean?
What do you really want?
How can I know when I have achieved what you seek?
But…what if they blow up? What if they accuse you of resisting? What if you feel a little embarrassed?
You need to be clear about what success looks like before you can be successful, whether that is in your role as spouse, executive, co-worker, or employee. Seeking clarity is an act of courage. Now…go ask!