Stop Agreeing To Unclear Requests [New Post]

Unclear requests wreak havoc in organizations, families, friendships, and civic life.

This is particularly true when the one receiving the request blindly says “yes.”

What is an unclear request? It’s when you ask me to do something but are vague about what you want.

Scenario A: Omission of the “What.”

Imagine that you are the design manager for a team creating a new product for the home refrigerator. When attached to the fridge, it senses when the door isn’t closed all the way and emits a sound. When Henry Homeowner hears this sound, he knows to go back and find out what’s blocking the door.

I’m your lead designer, and we have a preliminary conversation about the product and what it will do. You close by saying to me, “Give me something by Thursday at 5pm.”

I think to myself, Hmm, I don’t really know what “something” means, but that’s what they pay me to do, and I don’t want to look stupid by asking a question. So I say, “You got it, boss.”

I work hard on this for three days, and on Thursday afternoon give you what you asked for. Ten minutes later, the phone rings. “That is not what I asked for” you say with audible frustration. I feel dejected and angry. What a waste of time!

Scenario B: Omission of the “When.” 

Same product, people, and situation. But this time, you say, “Give me a 3D prototype with basic specs next week.”

When I hear this, I understand what will satisfy you and know that it’s urgent. So I shift my schedule around to allow me to get you the prototype by next Friday at noon, five hours before your deadline.

On Wednesday morning, you knock on my door. “Where’s the prototype?” you ask.

My throat tightens, and pressure mounts in my forehead. In a low apologetic voice, I reply, “I’m working on it.”

The frown on your face tells me that this isn’t the answer you were looking for. “I told you I needed it this week. We’re already halfway through the week.”

Oops.

Scenario C: Omission of the “What” and the “When.” 

Same product, people, and situation. This time, you say, “Give me something ASAP.”

Although I don’t know what will satisfy you or when you want it, I agree to the request.

What happens next: as the saying goes, I get my just dessert.

Who messed up? 

When it’s time for the team’s annual Broken Trust Awards, which one of us gets to walk away with a medal?

The answer, of course, is both. You receive the Fuzzy Duddy Award for making the unclear request. I get the Dummy Award for accepting it.

What can I do differently?

The obvious answer is to resent you for being so unclear. You’re the manager. You’re supposed to know what you’re talking about. Stop jerking me around!

Or, I can own up to my part of the situation. The next time you make an unclear request, I choose to do one of the following:

  • Ask for clarification. “I get what you’re looking for and want to make sure I understand when exactly you want it. You said ‘next week.’ When during the week did you have in mind?”
  • Propose something more specific. “OK, so you want something by Thursday at 5pm. I want to make sure that we are on the same page in terms of what you want. If I gave you a table of features and benefits, will this work for you, or did you have something else in mind?”
  • Promise to propose something more specific. “I’ve got the timeframe and understand that it may not be clear exactly what you’re looking for. What I’d like to do is take two hours and come back to you with a proposal for what I’ll have for you by Thursday at 5pm. Will this work for you?”

 

Episode 65: Parenting 3-7 Year-Olds With Ba Luvmour [The Amiel Show]

Ba2

This week on the podcast, I welcome back Ba Luvmour to discuss parenting kids ages 3-7. Ba is the headmaster at Summa Academy in Portland, which our older son attends–and loves!

Ba and I previously spoke about parenting 8-12 year-olds and parenting teens.

Highlights

  • 7:00 The importance of “rightful place”
  • 13:00 Loving touch, the nourishment of this stage, comes in many forms
  • 16:30 Being patient with a child’s egotism and expressions of power
  • 24:30 Kids this age don’t read time well
  • 36:30 Being a mountain for the child
  • 43:00 Do these kids need to sit at the dinner table while adults talk?
  • 47:30 Rejoicing in a child’s experience versus saying “good job!”

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Episode 59: Innovation Through Liberating Structures With Keith McCandless [The Amiel Show]

One day in the late 1990s, a friend sent me a link to a new search engine called Google. Up until then, I had used Yahoo to find what I was looking for by diligently clicking through the myriad menus and submenus. It was laborious and frustrating, but what option did I have?

Google changed all of that. It was clean, simple, and fast. This is incredible! I never returned to Yahoo–not even once.

Now, imagine you could experience an equally dramatic shift with meetings.

keith-mccandless

Yeah, I know, it’s hard to imagine. In most organizations, we stick to old habits and settle for mediocre results.

Sure, we might occasionally call in a professional facilitator for an offsite retreat but then we head back to our old ways. What other choice do we have?

This week’s guest, Keith McCandless, has an answer to that question: liberating structures.

Liberating structures are novel, practical, and non-nonsense methods to help you increase innovation while keeping everyone engaged. And when I say “you,” I mean everyone reading this. Keith and his colleague, Henri Lipmanowics, have taken the best conversational practices from organizational development, chunked them into simple usable morsels, and invented some of their own.

This stuff is so practical and “sticky” that I started using it within days of purchasing their book The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures.

There’s no turning back.

Highlights

  • 9:00 Keith is physically restrained from repeating old habits
  • 12:00 Brainstorming and open discussion become a “goat rodeo”
  • 21:00 People’s breath is taken away
  • 25:00 “1-2-4-All”
  • 34:00 “TRIZ”—curmudgeons get creative
  • 39:00 “15%” Solution—do what’s in your power
  • 48:00 “What I Need From You (WINFY)”
  • 56:00 Keith’s “stopping doing” list gets tested at a top business school

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Through 1-2-4-All, people handle decisions they usually would kick upstairs

–Keith McCandless   Tweet this quote

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Episode 57: Servant Leadership At Zingerman’s With Ari Weinzweig [The Amiel Show]

Ari Weinzweig

In 2003 Inc magazine called the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses the “coolest small business in America.”

Step inside the Zingerman’s Deli or any of its other businesses, and you’ll quickly see why. There is a buzz in the air. An aliveness. Customers and employees alike seem genuinely happy to be there. It’s as though there are secret air ducts bringing dopamine (the “feel good” neurotransmitter”) into the building and taking cortisol (a stress hormone) out.

And the food? Well, it is amazing. And world famous. In 2007 Bon Appetit gave its Lifetime Achievement award (an honor rarely bestowed—past winners include Alice Waters and Julia Child) to Zingerman’s cofounders, Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw.

From a financial perspective, Zingerman’s pulls in $50 million a year. As my father would say, “not too shabby!”

Zingerman’s has a special meaning to me. It’s in my hometown, Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Deli opened during my teenage years when trying to fit an overstuffed roast beef sandwich into the mouth became a thrilling challenge. Today, every time we go back to Ann Arbor to visit, I take my sons there two or three times–even if the visit is only a few days long!

As a customer, I’m satisfied. As a student of leadership, I’m curious: what goes on behind the scenes to make this business so special? How do the leaders treat employees? How do employees interact with each other? What are the rules of the game that make the outcomes so extraordinary?

Cofounder Ari Weinzweig has explored these questions in a series of books called Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading. The latest just came out and is called A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to the Power of Beliefs in Business.

In this week’s episode, Ari and I talk widely and deeply about all of this–and share some laughs along the way.

I think you’ll enjoy Ari’s clarity, energy, and Chicago accent. Please do the show a favor and share with friends who love food, care about leadership, and/or enjoy feeling alive.

Highlights

  • 18:00 Treating staff like customers – each one is different!
  • 23:00 Ari pours water for thirsty employees
  • 27:00 Peer-to-peer versus parental relationships
  • 34:00 Anarcho-capitalism
  • 40:00 Energizing the workplace
  • 46:30 Front-line employees know the numbers and manage the business
  • 52:00 Determining who will manage is a peer-to-peer decision
  • 1:00:00 Ari uses daily journaling to stop ruminating
  • 1:02:30 The Three Good Things exercise

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The more we use authority, the less effective it is.

–Ari Weinzweig, Co-founder of Zingerman’s  Tweet this quote

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Episode 56: Charles Feltman On The Four Kinds Of Trust [The Amiel Show]

Charles_Feltman_2016_3 (2)

When you say that you “trust” someone–or that someone else “trusts” you–what exactly do you mean? We toss the word “trust” around left and right. We make major life decisions based on it. But what does the word actually mean?

If you want to improve relationships and outcomes at work and beyond, a simple unified view of “trust” just doesn’t cut it.

According to this week’s guest, Charles Feltman, there are four different dimensions to trust: competence, reliability, sincerity, and care.

What happens when you trust someone’s reliability but not their sincerity? Or how about when someone trusts your sincerity but considers you incompetent at a particular activity?

The distinctions that Charles offers in this interview–and in his wonderful book The Thin Book of Trust–can literally change how you make sense of your leadership. And life.

Please listen in and share with friends.

Highlights

  • 9:30 Who gets to decide how trustworthy you are?
  • 16:30 The big problem with the trust/distrust distinction
  • 18:30 Four assessments of a person’s trustworthiness
  • 22:30 What if you’re competent and sincere, but not reliable?
  • 28:30 Drive by requests
  • 40:00 Enemies of trust in sincerity—telling probable truths
  • 51:30 Let key people know where you are not competent
  • 56:00 Approaching someone you don’t trust
  • 1:02:00 What if you sense someone doesn’t trust you?

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Trust is making something I value vulnerable to another person’s actions.

–Charles Feltman  Tweet this quote

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Episode 54: Geoff Bellman on The Consultant’s Calling, Money, And Power [The Amiel Show]

Geoff Bellman pic

This week I speak with Geoff Bellman, author of The Consultants Calling: Bringing Who You Are To What You Do.

This was the first book that told me — when I read it in 1993 — that it was OK to be myself while working. What a novel idea!

Geoff has seen a lot and has a folksy reflective manner I think you’ll enjoy.

Join us for this conversation about consulting, money, friendship, and power

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