Much of the time wasted on nothing special in our daily lives has its origin in us being unclear in come way. It might for example be that we decide the time and place for a meeting in such an ambiguous way that we have to e‑mail or call the person we are meeting with several times as the date of the meeting approaches to clarify where and when we should meet.
Sometimes we formulate what we have to do so vaguely that we do not understand what we meant as we see the note made on the to-do-list a week later. We might describe how to do something in such an ambiguous way that it is difficult to find room for improvement even though we often experience that the method we are currently using is a hassle and requires more time to use than it should.
The whole group agrees that we are not working in an optimal way and that it would be much easier to attain the desired goals and results if we simply did what we agreed we would do the last time we discussed the matter at the conference a few months back. But, rather than clearly and concretely defining what we need to do differently and in what situation or context, we conclude that “we need to do better”. And that’s that. No real progress has been made and the problem remains.
In a surprisingly large number of instances, I serve the purpose of being the one who helps my clients concretize and clarify things. I give immediate feedback and often ask “Yes, but how?” several times in a row, almost sounding as if someone has pressed my “Repeat”-button. With a stubborn approach to attempting to clarify what’s what, I seek a specific and concrete answer to this important question since it makes our work so much easier.
Be concrete and distinct
Being distinct is to describe something as realistically as possible. Describing it concretely is to express something in such a way that you can see it vividly before you. You have described something concretely and distinctly if you can respond to it with the attitude of either “yes, absolutely” or “no, no way”.
If you are concrete when formulating what you are to achieve it is easy to define the next step and it will be a piece of cake to get started. But if you on the other hand are imprecise, you have paved the way for extensive misunderstandings and made it much more difficult to figure out what the next step it, hence risking the entire project or task to stop progressing completely.
Sometimes I think of the art of photography. Besides for in some forms of artistic photography, we strive to snap sharp images in the highest resolution possible. Doing so will provide us with as much information as possible to work with both visually and technically. We will have the greatest extent of freedom to alter the image to our liking. If the picture is blurred or even just slightly out of focus, we will have less opportunities to make alterations and improvements. If we have distinct and concrete material at hand, we also have greater opportunities to do what we want or need to do with it.
Express yourself as concretely and specifically as you can when communicating both with others and yourself. For example:
- State the time, number, amount or some other distinct noun as often as you can:
- What day can the client expect the delivery?
- How many?
- How much will it cost?
- Where will we meet and when?
- Use distinct verbs (call, discuss, decide, write, send) rather than ambiguous (see each other, fix, solve, handle, deal with).
- Write full sentences and use as few abbreviations as possible when formulating to-do-tasks. “Fix DKG fo GD wed + mess YS ab LGR” can seem obvious at the moment, but after two phone-calls, three e‑mails and a coffee-break it might not make as much sense as you would like it to.
- Rather than just thinking through how you usually perform the time-consuming routine you often do, draw and map it out as a process by letting each step be represented by a box. When you have sketched it out it will be much easier to mix and match the steps of the process, remove redundant steps and find the bottlenecks.
- Concretely define what you need to differently in the group in order to achieve better results, preferably expressed in terms of to-do-tasks rather than just saying that you will make a greater effort since you are probably already working as hard as you can.
The benefit of clarifying
The more concretely you express yourself, the fewer misconceptions and misunderstandings followed by last-minute-emergency-solutions will be the result of your actions. If you start formulating your e‑mails more explicitly and clearer, you will receive fewer e‑mails with questions on what you meant (which requires even more time to respond to). If you are clear and unambiguous in communicating what you wish to achieve it will be much easier for others to think of ways in which they can assist you.
The more specific you are when defining and communicating what needs to be done by who, the more certain you can be that all those involved agree on what has been decided, and less time will be spent worrying that you are expected to do something you are currently not aware of.
What is your situation like?
Has being more concrete and distinct in how you formulate yourself made a difference in your daily work? How!? Please share your thoughts. Write a comment!