Communicating Your Expectations is as Easy as 1-2-3

Conflict often occurs between two people at work – or at home – when either party fails to clearly communicate one’s expectations. Here’s a simple way to communicate what you want.


One of the most important things you can do when assigning a task to an employee is to clearly state the results you expect. You particularly need to specify the level of quality you wish the employee to deliver as he or she performs the task.

For some tasks a high quality output is crucial regardless of the time it takes to complete the task. It is more important to take whatever time is needed to ensure the results are perfect. But there may be other tasks where speed of delivery is more important than quality. For example, being first in the market with a new product sometimes can be more profitable than having a late-entry product of greater quality. Not every task has to be performed perfectly. There may be times when it is in the best interest of the company, or your interests as the manager, to get the work out on time at an acceptable level, rather than late and perfect. Conversely, there may be times when it is better to be late and right, than on time and wrong.


Need to be Clear

I learned the importance of being clear in my performance expectations while raising my young son. For many years I got irritated when he didn’t clean up his room when I told him to do so. It seemed to be a constant battle to get my son to do what I wanted. I’d tell him to clean up his room and, like most children, he’d always say: “I will in a minute.”

After several minutes I’d return to my son’s room and find the room had not been cleaned. He was still playing his video game.

I told you to clean up your room,” I’d say again, this time telling him a little louder.

I WILL in a minute,” he’d whine.

Do it NOW!” I’d demand in a threatening voice, as I angrily turned and walked away.

A short time later I’d return to my son’s room and get furious when I’d see him still playing video games and the room not clean. That’s usually when I’d rush into the room, grab my son up off the floor by his arm, swat him on his rear, and say: “YOU DO WHAT YOU’RE TOLD! GET THIS ROOM CLEANED UP NOW!!!”

This always made my son cry; but the room finally got cleaned.

Sadly this little battle went on for several years. Then one day, when my son was eight, I realized this method of getting him to clean his room did not work. I needed a better way of getting through to my son. I wondered why he didn’t do what I asked him to do when I asked him to do it. So next time I wanted him to clean up his room I asked him.

I’m curious as to why you don’t clean up your room when I tell you?” I said.“I’m your father and I think you ought to respect my wishes. When you don’t do what I ask it makes me feel like you don’t respect me and you are ignoring me. That’s why I get angry. I don’t want to get angry at you. I just want you to clean your room. So why don’t you clean your room when you’re told?”

Because I don’t know what you want?” my son replied.

This confused me. I thought it was obvious – I wanted him to clean his room. What’s so hard to understand about that? So I repeated that I wanted the room cleaned.

Yes, but what do you want?” he pressed.

It’s simple,” I stressed, getting frustrated that my son wasn’t understanding men. “I want you to CLEAN . . . UP . . . YOUR . . . ROOM. What part of that don’t you get?”

That’s when my son started to cry because he didn’t like me treating him like a child. “But what do you WANT?” he said through his tears.

Here is a clue for you as a parent – and as a manager. Whenever you make a person cry, you screwed up. Whenever you make your employees cry or they get angry at you, you’ve done something wrong. They are not the problem; you are! Your lack of communication caused them to become so frustrated they started crying or got angry. So look inward and try to figure out what you need to do differently. Find a different way to communicate.


Know What You Want

I sat there perplexed for a few seconds. Then I realized the answer to the problem was in my son’s statement — he didn’t know what I wanted. That’s when it hit me. He didn’t know my expectations of how I wanted the room to be cleaned. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized I actually have three different expectations – or levels of cleaning – that I could want from my son, depending on the situation at the time when I ask him to clean his room.

I list the three levels of cleaning here in ascending order of quality, with Level 1 being the highest order of quality:

Level 3 Cleaning— Get everything out of sight so the room LOOKS clean. Throw stuff in the closet, in a drawer, or under the bed so no one can see it. Pull up the covers on the bed so the bed looks made. Make the room look like it is clean.

Level 2 Cleaning — Pick every-thing up and put it where it belongs. Make the bed. Straighten everything up so the room IS clean.

Level 1 Cleaning — Company is coming! Pick up the mess. Put everything away. Change the bed. Dust the shelves. Vacuum the carpet. Make sure everything is SPOTLESS and perfect so visitors will think this is how clean our home is all the time.

I had no idea I had different expectations for how a room should be cleaned until my son forced me to think about it. Now that I was aware of my true expectations, I asked my son what level of cleaning he thought I meant whenever I asked him to clean his room. He said he thought I meant Level 1.

But he was wrong. I usually only want a Level 3 cleaning. That’s why I expect it to be done immediately. A Level 3 cleaning should only take a few minutes to complete. So I expect my son to do it immediately without argument. All I want him to do is momentarily put his video game on pause and take the few minutes necessary to do a Level 3 cleaning. That's why I didn’t think I was asking for much.

But my son thought I expected a Level 1 room cleaning. A Level 1 quality job means he has to stop playing his video game, since a spotless cleaning takes time to achieve that level of quality. That’s why he asked for a “minute” to finish playing his game. He had every intention of doing what he was told, but, since it would take him away from his game, he felt I should respect his need to finish the game before starting the task. In his mind he wasn’t asking for much.

A Level 3 room cleaning can be done in very little time with very few resources. But a Level 1 cleaning takes time, materials, equipment and a whole lot of effort. The same is true at work. A complex Level 1 task may require more manpower and resources to get the work done in the allotted time. Level 3 tasks can be accomplished with minimal effort.


Clarifying Expectations

A great deal of conflict at occurs in work and interpersonal relationships because of a failure to communicate one’s expectations.

For example, have you ever wasted countless hours doing a Level 1 job for someone, only to learn later that all the person really wanted was a Level 3 effort? Have you ever prepared an extraordinary, whiz-bang Level 1 sales presentation for a customer who prematurely cuts you off mid-stride because he is only interested in the price? Or have you ever prepared a marvelous dinner feast for someone who would have preferred a hamburger? Wouldn’t it have been nice before you went through the Level 1 exertion to find out you could have gotten by with a Level 3 effort?

The opposite also happens. Have you ever done a Level 3 quick analysis on a report that your boss wanted right away, only to be grilled in depth with Level 1 questions about your assessment? Has your boss ever dumped a complex task on your shoulders at the last minute and still expected everything to be done perfectly? Have you ever been given an unrealistic deadline with Level 3 time to accomplish a massive Level 1 project? Or, worse yet, have you ever been given Level 3 resources to do a Level 1 job that requires time, materials and staff to pull it off?

Sadly too many people in too many companies spend countless hours on projects that have little or no value to the company or customers. Likewise, why should my son have to do a Level 1 cleaning of his room when there is no special occasion that warrants it? A Level 2 or Level 3 cleaning should be good enough for most days. And, in many situations at work, good enough is good enough. When everything has to be perfect, few things get done perfectly. Not everything matters at work.

Level 3 tasks can be done quickly with minimal effort and limited means. Conversely, Level 1 tasks require considerable time and resources. People working on Level 1 tasks need to be given the time and resources to deliver the level of quality expected. You cannot expect a Level 1 result from an employee who only has Level 3 time or resources to accomplish the task. Nor can you cannot expect Level 1 results from an employee who keeps getting interrupted with Level 3 administrivia. Level 1 tasks require Level 1 focus, time and resources. Level 3 tasks can be done immediately with minimal effort.

Whenever you delegate a task to an employee you should clearly define the level of effort he or she ought to put into accomplishing the results. You should tell them whether you expect Level 1, 2, or 3 results. The clearer you are in communicating what you want, the greater the chances you will get what you want. That’s because clear communication gets clear understanding and specific expectations get specific results. §


Innovative Management Group offers a host of supervisor, manager and executive development programs that teach leaders how to establish clear, specific performance expectations and hold people accountable for delivering on those expectations. Please contact us at 702-592-6431 for a list of our customized management training programs.

04:57 am am  01-26-16
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