10 Signs You Aren’t As Clear As You Think You Are

Article by , July 6, 2018

Here are 10 common signs that you aren’t as clear as you think.

1. You ask people to review things such as documents and plans.

A coaching client of mine told me he had been waiting three weeks to get his VP’s reaction to his marketing plan. I asked him what he’d asked for.

“I asked him to review my plan.”

“What do you need?” I asked.

“I need permission to implement.”

The next morning my client asked permission and his VP said yes. After three lost weeks.

“Review” is what I call a “treadmill verb” because you can review forever. There is no way to know when you are done. When you ask someone to do a review, you could not be less clear. Do you want them to review for the big picture? For grammar, spelling and punctuation? Completeness? The quality of ideas? Likely risks? Likelihood of acceptance by someone else? These are just a handful of the many possibilities and each one is a very different request.

2. You ask people to report on their activities.

“Report” is another treadmill verb. Asking someone to report is an open invitation to talk about whatever comes to mind. If you can’t be more specific than that about what you need and why, you certainly can’t claim to be clear.

3. You fail to ask clarifying questions when asked to report, review or other treadmill verbs.

Clarity is a two-way street. Vague requests are incredibly common. That should make clarifying questions even more common. They aren’t. No one should report or review without first determining what success would look like and why it matters.

4. You start meetings without knowing specifically what must be different when you are done.

If you start a meeting without a tangible destination in mind, how can you hope to get anywhere worthwhile? You may have an interesting discussion, but that doesn’t mean you will accomplish a thing. (See 5 Reasons Meetings Never Improve for more information.)

5. You can’t articulate a clear process that you regularly use for making decisions.

If you aren’t following a process, you are wandering. That’s like trying to drive across the country without a map. If you have nothing better to do, wandering is fine. But I can’t think of anyone with time to wander around at work these days, so why would you want to wander through decisions, especially when we make so many of them every single day? If you want to make better decisions faster, synchronize the brainpower of everyone involved, and increase buy-in, you need a process.

6. You struggle with delegating and tend to alternate between tossing tasks over the wall with crossed fingers and micromanaging.

Clarity of process is the easy path to successful delegating for two reasons. First, the process shifts attention away from the individual, which can be exceedingly uncomfortable for both parties, and establishes both clarity of expectations and trust in next steps. Second, the process makes it possible to establish and agree on autonomy levels and check-in points.

7. You open meetings with “Do you want to start off or should I?”

This common meeting opener is a sure sign that you aren’t clear about purpose, process, roles, or all three.

8. You have more than three priorities and so do your direct reports.

If you have too many priorities, they aren’t priorities and you aren’t likely to accomplish much of anything. You can only have one priority at any given moment because you only have one brain. More than a couple more priorities in the wings leads to juggling and diminished productivity.

9. You scramble for action items at the end of meetings to justify the time spent.

If you are completely clear about what a meeting is supposed to accomplish before it starts, the action items will also be completely clear and well-defined when the meeting ends. Efforts to drum up action items when that clarity is missing are notorious for piling on extra work that has no connection to strategic priorities.

10. You understand the importance of production line uptime and efficiency, but don’t notice the disruption and inefficiencies that waste up to 90% of non-production working hours.

Studies by major corporations, as well as my own surveys, find that non-production employees can average as little as an hour a day of truly productive time. The rest of the time is spent dealing with email, sitting in meetings, waiting for others, responding to vague requests, juggling too many priorities, planning, making painfully slow decisions, revisiting decisions, pursuing buy-in, leaping to “solutions,” etc. If you tolerate, or can’t even see this waste, you just aren’t very clear.

So where do you and your co-workers stand?

How many of these signs are you willing to admit you exhibit? How about your co-workers? Think your organization is due for greater clarity and the improvements in performance, profits, and engagement that naturally follow?

Ann Latham is an expert on strategic clarity and author of The Clarity Papers.

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This article first appeared on Forbes, May 31st, 2018.

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