Some clarification questions
Imagine you’re a leader and one of your direct reports likes to clarify things. The kind of clarification questions they would ask might go like this:
- What would this development mean to our various stakeholders?
- What is the rationale behind these choices?
- Which goals are more of a priority?
- Can other people also contribute to this process?
- Why does this need to be done that way?
- How long do the various parts of the process need to take?
- Can you explain how x relates to y?
- What is your assumption behind that statement?
- How can we leverage the differences in the team?
- What do you mean by x, y,and z?
Doesn’t it just sound like that person is being a complete pain? They may have the best intentions by asking these questions but you can just feel the energy ZAP out of the room.
It’s just not sociably OK to repeatedly stop the momentum for the sake of complete clarity, despite the obvious usefulness of complete clarity in terms of execution at the team level.
Quite often, clarification-type enquiries force people to stand back, rethink, and either go away and do some research, or justify their views.
Research shows Leaders and Managers take the short-cut
In my humble opinion, that’s exactly what happened behind some new research, just reported by The Oxford Review. The research shows how Leaders and Managers ‘get around’ contradictions between company messages and the experienced reality instead of dealing with those contradictions.
The study, by Lindberg, Rantatalo, & Hällgren, was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Management and details how Leaders and Managers conspire, unconsciously, not to deal with the paradoxes and inconsistencies that their own messages send out. They do this by telling shifting stories, explanations and using conflicting forms of logic to reduce any perception of contradiction without actually dealing with the contradictions themselves.
Making it easy
When we work with teams on clarity and alignment, we set expectations about why this is an important area in its own right. We talk about why developing a better shared current reality through clarity and alignment leads to teams being more prepared to succeed. We look at what effective dialogue looks like – as a means to gaining clarity and alignment. And we look at what the team is currently thinking and feeling about their work so we know where those dialogues need to start.
Helpful clarification then, between two parties, needs expectation management, the right environmental conditions, and a spirit of curiosity, patience and helpfulness to stick.
I agree that this is a vital area. In my experience, an effective leader should provide the context and other details (as requested by the team member above) up-front in their communications to their teams. You should know what’s likely to be asked and pre-empt this, thus achieving clarity sooner.