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7 tips on how to give clear, understandable instructions to staff

7 tips on how to give clear, understandable instructions to staff

Giving clear understandable instructions is one of those things that sounds easy to do but in real life can actually be more complex, especially in an office environment or within a business. Mixed messages, assumptions and multiple options mean that the message received might differ from what we actually meant.

Earlier this year, I decided to enlist the assistance of a VA, (virtual assistant), from elance.com. I had never used a virtual assistant before and it quickly taught me the importance of giving clear, defined direction if you expect your instructions to be understood and acted upon in the way you want! This is particularly important when you are not face to face to deliver the instructions, as when directions are given over email or written it is hard to gauge the tone and you cannot physically point things out!

Furthermore, my VA was based in Malaysia where English was not his first language, thus it was even more important to give out clear instructions!

From my experiences, I want to share with you my top 7 tips on how to give instructions that are clear and get the job done that you want!

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1. Don’t assume they know what you mean

You know what they say, that assumption is the mother of all mistakes! Don’t be the fool that assumes people know what you mean. Whist most people in your office or business will be intuitive and switched on, they are not mind readers. An imperative when delivering clear instructions is to not assume the recipient knows what you mean, and this can be for anything from industry acronyms to who to contact in different departments or organisations. It will only take you a few seconds more to explain the details.

For example, I had instructed my VA to use tweetdeck (an app that schedules pre-written tweets), however just because I had heard of tweetdeck doesn’t mean that they have and I was wrong to assume that they had.

2. Be clear and specific

Everyone loves a waffle (dripping in maple syrup please) but no one likes waffle in conversation and especially not in an email or when it is a set of instructions. Whilst you don’t want to ramble on in your set of instructions (that would be a waste of your time and to be honest, they’d switch off after a while) you do want to ensure that your instructions are clear, specific and concise. Personally I prefer not to butter it up, and would rather get straight to be the point on what needs to be actioned or delivered, rather than making the instructions too flowery, which will only confuse.

For example, don’t just instruct “send a selection of the briefings to a few key stakeholders”, instead state how many stakeholders and to who, and what briefings! I often find it helps to bullet point as it reduces the temptation to waffle on and it helps your instructions and actions be more focused.

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3. Give time frames

Do not confuse matters by not being specific with your time frames and deadlines. What you consider as “soon” might be very different from your colleagues. If you think “soon” is the next couple of hours, yet your staff who you have instructed considered it to be in a few days then this communication is going to have serious implications in any business or project!

4. Give examples

Whenever possible, make sure you give examples. This will be especially beneficial if they are new to the role, or if they haven’t carried out the task before. This will help to add clarity to you instructions and help form a clearer picture of what it is you mean and want.

For example, if you are asking them to design a customer satisfaction survey for your new product then you might want to send them examples of other surveys previously used to give them bit of an idea.

5. Give alternatives

When delivering your instructions it is worth considering giving some alternatives just in case your preferred option of instruction is not viable or available.

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For example, it could be “I want you to set up a meeting on the 20th of this month for 2 hours with the Finance Director. If they are not available on the 20th, then the afternoon of the 26th will be fine, or we can meet with the Commercial Analyst instead”.

By giving alternatives you are empowering your staff to get the job done with minimal fuss and constant checking back in with yourself. The beauty of tasking someone else to do something is that you don’t have to do it, which will save you time. By setting alternatives they don’t have to keep coming back to you, after all it won’t save you time if you have to keep responding to queries.

6. Set boundaries

Personally I am not one for micro managing and because of this I am not one for people to keep checking in with me whether they should do something or not. Once a task is set, the instructions should be clear enough that further confirmation and clarification is not needed (however saying this it is obviously best to seek clarification if unsure!) If this rings true with you then you need to make sure that your instructions are clear so that they are certain what they are doing and don’t feel the need to keep coming back with questions. As with tip 5, setting boundaries is very important, especially if you cannot think of alternatives at the time then boundaries might work.

For example, you might instruct “go to the supplier and order 100 units. If the normal supplier is out of stock then it is fine to use a new supplier so long as they are no more than 10% more expensive and can deliver within 3 working days”. Here you haven’t been specific with your alternatives but clear enough on boundaries for them to make the call.

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7. Get clarification

Before you let your staff loose on the basis of your instruction, it wouldn’t hurt to seek clarification from them to ensure that they understand what the task at hand is and what is expected. You could simply ask at the end if there are any questions but the one issue with that is that it is all too easy to just simply say “no”. Either they might think they understand or they might even be too shy to ask! Perhaps ask them to recap on what is required, or what the priorities/objectives are so that you can ensure what you’ve said is what’s been heard!

Featured photo credit: picjumbo via picjumbo.com

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Last Updated on November 5, 2020

Why You Have the Fear of Failure (And How to Overcome It)

Why You Have the Fear of Failure (And How to Overcome It)

Nobody enjoys failing. Fear of failure can be so strong that avoiding failure eclipses the motivation to succeed. Insecurity about doing things incorrectly causes many people to unconsciously sabotage their chances for success.

Fear is part of human nature. As an entrepreneur, I faced this same fear. My ego and identity became intertwined with my work, and when things didn’t go as planned, I completely shut down. I overcame this unhealthy relationship with fear, and I believe that you can, too.

Together we’ll examine how you can use failure to your advantage instead of letting it run your life. We’ll also look at how to overcome fear of failure so that you can enjoy success in your work and life.

What Is Fear of Failure?

If you are afraid of failure, it will cause you to avoid potentially harmful situations.

Fear of failure keeps you from trying, creates self-doubt, stalls progress, and may lead you to go against your morals.

What causes a fear of failure? Here are the main reasons why fear of failing exists:

Patterns From Childhood

Hyper-critical adults cause children to internalize damaging mindsets.[1] They establish ultimatums and fear-based rules. This causes children to feel the constant need to ask for permission and reassurance. They carry this need for validation into adulthood.

Perfectionism

Perfectionism is often at the root of a fear of failure.[2] For perfectionists, failure is so terrible and humiliating that they don’t try. Stepping outside your comfort zone becomes terrifying.

Over-Personalization

The ego may lead us to over-identify with failures. It’s hard to look beyond failure at things like the quality of the effort, extenuating circumstances, or growth opportunities.[3]

False Self-Confidence

People with true confidence know they won’t always succeed. A person with fragile self-confidence avoids risks. They’d rather play it safe than try something new.[4]

How the Fear of Failure Holds You Back

Unhealthy Organization Culture

Too many organizations today have cultures of perfection: a set of organizational beliefs that any failure is unacceptable. Only pure, untainted success will do.

Imagine the stress and terror in an organization like that. The constant covering up of the smallest blemishes. The wild finger-pointing as everyone tries to shift the blame for the inevitable messes onto someone else. The lying, cheating, falsification of data, and hiding of problems—until they become crises that defy being hidden any longer.

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Miss out on Valuable Opportunities

If some people fail to reach a complete answer because of the lure of some early success, many more fail because of their ego-driven commitment to what worked in the past. You often see this with senior people, especially those who made their names by introducing some critical change years ago.

They shy away from further innovation, afraid that this time they might fail, diminishing the luster they try to keep around their names from past triumph.

Besides, they reason, the success of something new might even prove that those achievements they made in the past weren’t so great after all. Why take the risk when you can hang on to your reputation by doing nothing?

Such people are so deeply invested in their egos and the glories of their past that they prefer to set aside opportunities for future glory rather than risk even the possibility of failure.

High Achievers Become Losers

Every talent contains an opposite that sometimes turns it into a problem. Successful people like to win and achieve high standards. This can make them so terrified of failure that it ruins their lives. When a positive trait, like achievement, becomes too strong in someone’s life, it’s on the way to becoming a major obstacle.

Achievement is a powerful value for many successful people. They’ve built their lives on it. They achieve at everything they do: school, college, sports, the arts, hobbies, work. Each fresh achievement adds to the power of the value in their lives.

Gradually, failure becomes unthinkable. Maybe they’ve never failed yet in anything that they’ve done, so they have no experience of rising above it. Failure becomes the supreme nightmare: a frightful horror they must avoid at any cost.

The simplest way to do this is never to take a risk, stick rigidly to what you know you can do, protect yourself, work the longest hours, double and triple check everything, and be the most conscientious and conservative person in the universe.

If constant hard work, diligence, brutal working schedules and harrying subordinates won’t ward off the possibility of failing, use every other possible means to to keep it away. Falsify numbers, hide anything negative, conceal errors, avoid customer feedback, constantly shift the blame for errors onto anyone too weak to fight back.

Loss of Creativity

Over-achievers destroy their own peace of mind and the lives of those who work for them. People too attached to “goodness” and morality become self-righteous bigots. Those whose values for building close relationships become unbalanced slide into smothering their friends and family with constant expressions of affection and demands for love in return.

Everyone likes to succeed. The problem comes when fear of failure is dominant, when you can no longer accept the inevitability of making mistakes, nor recognize the importance of trial and error in finding the most creative solution.

The more creative you are, the more errors you are going to make. Deciding to avoid the errors will destroy your creativity, too.

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Balance counts more than you think. Some tartness must season the sweetest dish. A little selfishness is valuable even in the most caring person. And a little failure is essential to preserve everyone’s perspective on success.

We hear a lot about being positive. Maybe we also need to recognize that the negative parts of our lives and experience have just as important a role to play in finding success, in work, and in life.

How to Overcome Fear of Failure (Step-by-Step)

1. Figure out Where the Fear Comes From

Ask yourself what the root cause of your negative belief could be.[5] When you look at the four main causes for a fear of failure, which ones resonate with you?

Write down where you think the fear comes from, and try to understand it as an outsider.

If it helps, imagine you’re trying to help one of your best friends. Perhaps your fear stems from something that happened in your childhood, or a deep-seated insecurity.

Naming the source of the fear takes away some of its power.

2. Reframe Beliefs About Your Goal

Having an all or nothing mentality leaves you with nothing sometimes. Have a clear vision for what you’d like to accomplish but include learning something new in your goal.

If you always aim for improvement and learning, you are much less likely to fail.[6]

At Pixar, people are actually encouraged to “fail early and fail fast.”[7] They encourage experimentation and innovation so that they can stay on the cutting edge. That mindset involves failure, but as long as they achieve their vision of telling great stories, all the stumbling blocks are just opportunities to grow.

3. Learn to Think Positive

In many cases, you believe what you tell yourself. Your internal dialogue affects how you react and behave.

Our society is obsessed with success, but it’s important to recognize that even the most successful people encounter failure.

Walt Disney was once fired from a newspaper because they thought he lacked creativity. He went on to found an animation studio that failed. He never gave up, and now Disney is a household name.

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Steve Jobs was also once fired from Apple before returning as the face of the company for many years. [8]

If Disney and Jobs had believed the negative feedback, they wouldn’t have made it.

It’s up to you to notice your negative self talk and identify triggers[9]. Replace negative thoughts with positive facts about yourself and the situation. You’ll be able to create a new mental scripts that you can reach for when you feel negativity creeping in. The voice inside your head has a great effect on what you do.

How To Be A Positive Thinker: Positivity Exercises, Affirmations, & Quotes

    4. Visualize all Potential Outcomes

    Uncertainty about what will happen next is terrifying. Take time to visualize the possible outcomes of your decision. Think about the best and worst-case scenarios. You’ll feel better if you’ve already had a chance to mentally prepare for what could happen.

    Fear of the unknown might keep you from taking a new job. Weigh the pros and cons, and imagine potential successes and failures in making such a life-altering decision. Knowing how things could turn out might help you get unstuck.

    5. Look at the Worst-Case Scenario

    There are times when the worst case could be absolutely devastating. In many cases, if something bad happens, it won’t be the end of the world.

    It’s important to define how bad the worst case scenario is in the grand scheme of your life. Sometimes, we give situations more power than they deserve. In most cases, a failure is not permanent.

    For example, when you start a new business, it’s bound to be a learning experience. You’ll make decisions that don’t pan out, but often that discomfort is temporary. You can change your strategy and rebound. Even in the worst case scenario, if the perceived failure led to the end of that business, it might be the launching point for something new.

    6. Have a Backup Plan

    It never hurts to have a backup plan. The last thing you want to do is scramble for a solution when the worst has happened. The old adage is solid wisdom:

    “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”

    Having a backup plan gives you more confidence to move forward and take calculated risks.

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    Perhaps you’ve applied for a grant to fund an initiative at work. In the worst-case scenario, if you don’t get the grant, are there other ways you could get the funds?

    There are usually multiple ways to tackle a problem, so having a backup is a great way to reduce anxiety about possible failure.

    7. Learn From Whatever Happens

    Things may not go the way you planned, but that doesn’t automatically mean you’ve failed. Learn from whatever arises.[10] Even a less than ideal situation can be a great opportunity to make changes and grow.

    “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.”

    Dig deep enough, and you’re bound to find the silver lining. When you’ve learned that “failure” is an opportunity for growth instead of a death sentence, you conquer the fear of failure.

    For more tips on how to overcome fear of failure, check out the video below:

    Final Thoughts

    To overcome fear of failure, we can start by figuring out where it comes from and reframing the way we feel about failure. When failure is a chance for growth, and you’ve looked at all possible outcomes, it’s easier to overcome fear.

    Stay positive, have a backup plan, and learn from whatever happens. Your failures will be sources of education and inspiration rather than humiliation.

    “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” -Thomas A. Edison

    Failures can be blessings in disguise. Go boldly in the direction of your dreams and long-term goals.

    More Tips for Conquering Fear

    Featured photo credit: Patrick Hendry via unsplash.com

    Reference

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