From an organizational perspective, clarity helps achieve alignment, which best-selling author Patrick Lencioni writes about in his new book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. (If you want to learn more, see 3 tips for leading with clarity.)
From an individual standpoint, clarity helps you work faster with higher quality. If you’re clear about what you need to do, you do it. You don’t have to pause to crack the code, repeat the handoff or fix the error—all time-wasting activities.
Three big barriers to individual clarity, especially for work communication, are pronouns, passive voice and abbreviations.
- Pronouns. How many times do you have to read an email message sprinkled with “he,” “she” and “we” to figure out if “he” is Jason, Jeremy or Jonah? Is “she” Heather, Hillary or Hannah? And what about “we”? Is it the “royal we” referring to a single person holding a high office or multiple people? Email messages should not be mini-mysteries for you to solve. At least when you’re speaking with someone, you can jump in and ask them to clarify who they’re referring to with “he,” “she” and “we.”
- Passive voice. When people use passive voice, they hide—either intentionally or accidentally—the true subject of the action. So rather than state, “The CFO signed off on the new expense policy,” a colleague might say, “The new expense policy has been signed off on.” You’re left with at least two questions: who signed off and was the sign off an approval? And then there are the questions of what, if anything, you and others need to do differently and when? More mysteries.
- Abbreviations. TLA’s (three letter abbreviations), which proliferate in many organizations, also cause confusion. Think about the new comers who are just learning the lingo and adapting to the new culture. Will they be able to quickly decipher what you’re talking about? Shorter and longer abbreviations are problematic too, not only for colleagues but also customers. For example, my mortgage broker kept referring to the five-letter “HELOC” recently when I was refinancing. I had to ask to learn that it’s a “home equity line of credit.” Even in the Summer Olympics, swimmers stymied me when they kept talking about “IM.” Instant messaging didn’t make much sense for pools. After searching, I learned the swimmers were referring to their individual medleys.
Call me a curmudgeon for wanting clarity about little things as well as the big vision and goals.
However, my outlook is mild compared to the management guru and well-known (and self-proclaimed) agitator and curmudgeon, Tom Peters.
Last year, the two of us debated on Twitter whether clear communications was an oxymoron (his point of view) or smart goal (my perspective). You can see the exchange at this blog post.
A year later, I continue to push for clarity to make our lives better and work easier. It’s hard work, as I still can confuse myself and others. But I look in the mirror and strive to improve.
How about you? What’s your POV (Oops! point of view) about clarity?
Connect the dots plus dot the “i”s to be more intentional, inquisitive and inclusive
How well are you tapping into the skills and wisdom you need to lead in a BANI world?
All the old playbooks are out-of-date. Instead, you need to reach inside yourself, tap into your wisdom, and connect the dots for yourself and others.
To start, you can use these 5 tips to embrace your humanity and become a better leader.