"Guess the Right Answer" is a game played by many leaders in a misguided attempt to empower their people. In this game, I as the leader, give you the description of a problem and then tell you to go off and find a solution. You come back to me with a proposal which I compare to my pre-conceived idea of what the solution should be and then I tell you it is a good idea (like the one I had already) or that it is a bad idea (unlike the one I had already).
While most employees and followers get frustrated at the leader for playing this game, they also tend to be active participants in the play. It is easy to blame the leader, but how is it getting to that point to begin with. When sent off to solve the problem, they meet in solitude without any contact with the leader and then also get frustrated when their answer is far off-base.
Assuming that neither group of players in this game actually wants to create such a
frustrating situation, there is a simple solution that for some reason proves to be elusive for most teams. Whether it is an issue of ego or simply not wanting to look ignorant, neither followers nor leaders tend to specifically ask for what they need. As the leader in this situation, you can make a difference immediately by taking two simple actions:
1. Ask for what you need. As simple as this sounds, we have a tendency to not say what we need and then leave the communication setting complaining about the fact that we didn’t get it. When you think about the fact that some of us need lots of detail while others need the bigger picture…some get jazzed by the energy behind a project while others want the bottom line…it’s no surprise really that we often get crossed up in effective communication because, while we want the same outcome, we need to understand different things in order to get there. Jack Canfield has an interesting book called “The Aladdin Factor
” which deals with this issue as well. If we establish the habit of asking for what we need, not because we’re arrogant but because we want to do the best we can, we will find that the other person is often willing to deliver it.
2. Ask for what THEY need. While it would be great if we were all equally as willing to ask for what we need, it is a simple fact that we also make it difficult sometimes for others to ask for what they need. Either because of our position of authority or because of our own style, we place hurdles in the path to understanding by making it an heroic effort for somebody to say, “Hey. What I really need to know right now is…” or “I’m not understanding exactly what the point of the exercise is.” If you want to improve your communication with others, offer them the opportunity to easily get clarification. Practice asking, “Did I tell you everything you need to know?” On occasion ask them if they understand the purpose of the exercise or if you left anything out.
These two simple acts…asking for what you need and asking for what they need…can immediately change the tenor of your conversations, whether in one-on-one situations or with groups. There aren’t that many legitimate mind readers out there so help the rest of us out by taking the initiative. In the end it doesn’t matter whether they “should” know what you need or whether they “should” understand. If you are not happy with the consequences of your communication, either delivering or receiving, you have the ability to have an impact by simply asking the right question.