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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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Alice Dartnell

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Last Updated on November 5, 2019

How to Use Visual Learning to Work More Effectively

How to Use Visual Learning to Work More Effectively

Knowledge is essential to become successful in life, your career and your business. Without learning new concepts and becoming proficient in our craft, we cannot excel in our chosen careers or archive knowledge to pass down to the next generation.

But content comes in various forms, and because how we learn influences how much we know, we need to talk about learning styles. This article will focus on how to utilize visual learning to boost your career or business.

The Importance of Knowing Your Learning Style

Knowing your learning style enables you to process new information to the best of your ability. Not only does it reduce your learning curve, you’re able to communicate these same concepts to others effectively.

But it all starts when you’re able to first identify the best way you learn.

As a college student, I soon figured out that taking online courses without visual aids or having an instructor in front of me led to poor retention of concepts.

Sure, I got good grades and performed excellently in my online exams. However. I discovered that I couldn’t maintain this performance level because I forgot 80 percent of the course content by the end of the semester.

There are several types of learning styles known to mankind. To give an idea of how visual learning stacks up against other learning styles, here’s a brief mention of some of the different types of learning styles we have.

The four most popular types of learning styles are:

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  • Visual learning style (what this article talks about).
  • Aural or auditory learning style (learning by listening to information presented).
  • Verbal or linguistic learning style (learning that involves speech and writing).
  • Tactile learning style (learning by touching and doing)

But for the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on using visual learning to boost your career or business.

How to Know If You’re a Visual Learner?

When it comes to boosting your career, business (or education), a visual learner is one who would most definitely choose shapes, images, symbols, or reading over auditory messages.

I’m talking about preferring to read an actual map when navigating to a new place over listening to verbal directions. I’m talking about discovering that you actually have trouble remembering what your manager said at the meeting because there were no graphs or illustrations to support the points raised.

Most people who struggle with learning probably aren’t leveraging their best learning styles. The earlier you identify how your learning style can boost your success, the less struggle you will encounter with processing new information throughout your career.

However, visual learning in particular CAN 10x your career or business whether it is your preferred learning style or not. And here’s why:

Several studies have arrived at the conclusion that the brain retains more information with the help of visual aids. In other words, images are directly processed by our long-term memory which helps us store information for longer periods of time.[1]

While some lessons can be performed orally, several concepts can only make sense if you have an image with an explanation of sequences (i.e learning about the human DNA).

Visual learning does use a different part of the brain and visual cues are processed by the part of the brain known as the occipital lobe.

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By engaging more parts of the brain during learning, you’re able to have a fuller understanding of concepts and facilitate better interaction with your immediate environment.

How to Use Visual Learning for Success

Here’re 4 ways to use visual learning to boost your career or business:

1. Bring back the to-do list. Then add shapes and colors to boost productivity.

We live in an age where computers have taken over virtually every aspect of productivity and most human functions. But written lists are making a comeback, and with an endless number of important tasks to complete, having a to-do list of tasks in order of importance can improve your productivity.

While coming up with a list is initially challenging, adding colors and shapes to written lists that you personally write and manage gives you an extra layer of assurance and boosts aids recall so that you actually get stuff done.

I have tried this technique in my work as a registered nurse and discovered that adding shapes and colors to to-do lists helps me delegate tasks, recognize where more work is needed, and makes it easy to cross off completed tasks at the end of the day.

2. Add graphs, charts and symbols to your reports.

Yes, it seems like more work cut out for you. However, graphs enable you monitor the heartbeat of your business.

Graphs and charts help you trend your finances, budget, and pretty much any data overtime. With the help of free and premium software available on the market, it has become easier to take plain data and in a matter of seconds, have relevant information displayed in different shapes and images.

As an entrepreneur, you can make predictions and allocate funds wisely when you’re able to see whether your efforts are rewarded. You can use colors and charts to delegate actions to members of your team and track performance at the same time.

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And when broken down into monthly, quarterly, bi-annual or annual goals, graphs and charts communicate what ordinary text cannot.

3. Effectively brainstorm with mind-mapping.

Mind-mapping is not new but I don’t think it’s been talked about as often as we do to-do lists.

With mind mapping, you’re organizing information accurately and drawing relationships between concepts and pieces from a whole.

Think of a mind map as a tree with several branches. For example, the tree can symbolize healthcare while each branch stands for nursing, medicine, laboratory science, and so on. When you look at nursing, you can further branch out into types of nursing; pediatric, women’s health, critical care, and so on.

It’s an interesting relationship; the more ideas you’re able to come up with for your chosen subject, the deeper you get and the stronger the association.

Mind maps really show you relationships between subjects and topics, and simplifies processes that might seem complicated at first glance. In a way, it is like a graphical representation of facts presented in a simple, visual format.

Mind mapping isn’t only limited to career professionals; business owners can benefit from mind mapping by organizing their online learning activities and breaking down complex tasks into simple actions so that you can accurately measure productivity.

4. Add video streaming to meetings.

What if you could double the productivity of your team members by video streaming your meetings or adding flash animation to your presentation at the same time?

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When you offer video as an alternative method of processing information to colleagues, there is a greater chance of retaining information because we recreate these stories into images in our minds.

For organizations that hold virtual meetings, it can also be an effective way to enhance performance during if people can see their colleagues in addition to flash animation or whatever form of video is provided during the meeting.

Is Visual Learning Better Than Other Learning Styles?

No, that is not the point. The goal here is to supplement your existing dominant learning style with visual learning so that you can experience a significant boost in how you process and use everyday information.

You might discover that understanding scientific concepts are much easier after incorporating visual learning or that you’re able to understand your organization’s value when projected on a visual screen with charts and graphs.

The overall goal is to always be learning and to continue to leverage visual learning style in your career and business.

More About Learning Styles

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

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