Communications Skills – How to Be Specific

teamof2 To be a successful manager you must be able to communicate effectively with others. One way to become a better communicator is by being more specific with your message.

Do you talk with a team member about an issue but the behavior or problem continues? Do you assign tasks that are not done they way they should be? If so the problem may be you are not being specific enough when communicating with them.

When you communicate using general or vague terms you risk the listener not getting the message. How well you communicate can determine how you are seen as a a manager and as a professional so it is important that your message is clearly understood. You can make sure of this by learning to be specific.

Are You Being Specific?

The inspiration for this post comes from a recent conversation I had with a colleague about problems with his team.

“Frank needs to be more of a team player. Eric needs to act more professional. Jane is always late for work. None of them seem to listen to what I say. They are driving me crazy. I have talked with them many times and they still do not get the message.”

I asked him to be more specific about the problems. He basically repeated everything he had said about each team member he was having a problem with.

If he spoke to his team members about the problems the way he spoke to me about them it was clear why his message was not getting across. I offered him two words of advice. Be specific. When you talk to your team members always be specific about what you say.

Be Specific

If you want to clearly get your message across to someone you must be specific when talking to them. You can not generalize an issue and expect them to understand what you want them to do. Telling someone that they need to be at work on time is not specific enough to be effective.

  • When discussing an issue with a team member refer to the specific problem or behavior. To illustrate your points give examples of actual situations.

“I want to talk with you about your attendance. This month you have been late for work seven times.” (read them the specific dates and times from their PLog).

“On the 9th you were 20 minutes late. On the 13th you were 40 minutes late. Last Monday you did not arrive at work until 9 AM. This is unacceptable.”

“Last Monday I did not know if you were coming in or not since you did not call me. I had to pull Tim over to cover your job. This meant Tim had to do his job and yours.”

  • You want to paint a clear picture of what you are talking about and the effect it has.

“You are an important member of this team and I depend on you to be on time each day. Your morning report  must be sent out by 8:30 each morning. Other people depend on that report to do their job.”

“When you are late for work and do not call me I don’t know if you are going to be five minutes late or an hour late. If you call me and let me know when you will be in I will know if I need to ask Tim to do your report.”

  • Describe in detail how you want things to be done differently.

“Anytime you are going to be more than five minutes late for work you must call me and let me know. You must work on this issue and be on time for work every day.”

  • Be specific on the outcome should they fail to follow your instructions.

“The next time you are more than five minutes late for work and do not call me you will be written up. If you are late for work more than three times in a month corrective actions will be taken.”

  • Ask them if they have any questions and get feedback to be sure they understood your message.

“Do you have any questions about what you need to do? Tell me how you are going to correct this issue.”

That will be far more effective than just telling someone “You need to be at work on time”?

Always Be Specific

A manager must always be specific when communicating. When you are giving someone a task to do are you clearly communicating to them what you want them to do? Do they come back to you for clarification or is the work not done the way you wanted?

You need to include the why, when and how when assigning a task. They need to clearly understand why they are doing it, when it needs to be done by and how they should do it. Ask them if they have any questions and get feedback on what you just told them to be sure they understand.

If you want to learn more about how communications works read these posts.

Be specific with your team members, your boss, your vendors, with everyone. By being specific in your communications you will see better results. You will be a better coach, resolve issues without having to revisit them and have tasks completed the way they should be.

Best of all you will keep your sanity and not be at your wit’s end like my colleague was.