When I was first out of college (many, many moons ago,) I taught third grade in south-central Los Angeles. One of the most surprisingly perplexing subjects to teach was cursive handwriting.
I did my best not just to model how to correctly formulate each new letter, (“the lowercase ‘m’ has three round mountains, with no points on top,”) but also to show as many incorrect ways to write the letter as I could think of, as contrast, to try to help the students avoid mistakes and get it right the first time.
“Is this right?” I’d ask, drawing an ‘m’ with four mountains instead of three.
“No!” the class would shout in unison. (They loved to correct my “mistakes.”)
“Is this better?” I’d ask, making the next one with just two mountains.
“No!” they’d shout again, with even more energy.
“How about this one?” as I drew one with a combination of points and ‘U-like’ valleys.
“No! Not like that!” they’d cry out in mock frustration, and describe to me what I had done wrong, trying to help me
Then the most amazing thing would happen: the students would begin their individual practice writing the letter of the day, and as I walked around to monitor their progress, I inevitably realized that 30 children each came up with their own completely unique way to incorrectly form the same letter!
It boggled the mind every time: How could I have tried to be so clear, and still have missed the mark?
Sometimes it was simply a matter of trying to figure out how to get a proverbial square peg (cursive letter formation) into the round hole (an 8-year-old brain.)
But even when it’s with other adults, sometimes we don’t realize how much effort it may take to have someone else understand what we need and why.
After a while, we often just think, “Ugh, I’m tired of explaining. I just need you to be able to read my mind and figure out what I want!”
It can often feel like a verbal Groundhog Day: If Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, we’ll be doomed to six more weeks of repeating ourselves! (And that’s definitely NOT the version of the holiday I want reflected on the calendar tomorrow.)
In particular, clearly communicating expectations the first time around is important when giving instructions to direct reports (or receiving instructions from your direct supervisor,) especially in today’s digital world.
That’s why in this week’s Speaking to Influence podcast episode , Phyllis Song, A.K.A. the “Queen of Virtual Assistants,” Founder of Phyllis Song Consulting, having placed more than 400 virtual assistants (VAs) in 2021 alone, shares insights into how to flatten the learning curve with a new assistant, and ensure you both understand what the other person needs and expects in order to get the message across accurately the first time.
Phyllis and I dove into some of the unique challenges of communication between clients and VAs (with plenty of overlap into communication patterns between supervisors and direct reports,) particularly when there are not only time differences of 12 hour or more, but also cultural differences, including different dialects and proficiency levels of English, and their relative importance depending on the nature of the task delegated.
It’s very common in these situations to assume that people “should know what you mean,” without having to articulate every detail explicitly… but that’s often a recipe for disaster.
Let’s face it: If you can't explicitly articulate your own needs and expectations, it’s not realistic to expect someone else to be able to figure it out for themselves.
Phyllis shared tips on how to identify what information your VA or counterpart needs you to provide in order to meet your expectations and standards, especially when one or both of you are new to the respective role and relationship.
For example, simply making the shift from asking, “Do you have any questions?” to “What questions do you have?” can be the difference between receiving a product that makes you say, “That’s not what I asked for at all!” and one that makes you smile and say, “That’s perfect!”
This is just as important to establish a trusting, mutually respectful and successful working relationship whether you are working with a VA or an employee/boss.
Oh – and by the way: Even if you’re not officially an “entrepreneur,” don’t assume a VA isn’t for you! Listen for some inspiration on ways to leverage a VA for personal assistance in order to reclaim more time in your own life for the things that are most important to you, too!