Note: This is an excerpt from my book, “No” Doesn’t Always Mean No.
One of the biggest reasons teams falter is poor communication. When giving orders or directions to other people, one of the worst things you can do is be ambiguous.
Do yourself a favor–devise clear and specific tasks and requests for others to follow.
You do not want to create confusion and frustration by issuing directions in uncertain terms. Muddled directions provide ample opportunity for contention. Leaders may take to labeling subordinates as ‘incompetent’ while followers may resent having to decipher and act on unclear orders. Crystal clear, meticulously detailed orders facilitate group success and limit the chances that a message is lost in translation.
Similarly, it’s in your best interest to ask pointed, specific questions when seeking information. The ability to elicit information through comprehensive questioning is a skill that anyone can develop through practice. Clarity and specificity are fundamental components of effective questions. You want to ensure that your subject understand exactly what sort of information you are seeking from them.
Ex: “Can you explain the thoughts and emotions behind your choice of to participate in (activity x)?” vs. “why do you participate in (activity X)?”
One of these questions leaves plenty of room for interpretation and may leave your conversational partner uncertain about what you want to know from him (or worse, lead to an answer that doesn’t give you the information you need). The former guides the other party to the information you want them to divulge.
The quality of the answers we receive is directly related to the quality of the questions we ask. The ability to create and present specific questions is essential for obtaining the information you desire.