Have you ever wanted to improve something at your office only to give up on it because it was too much hassle? Have you ever tried to collaborate on a project but found that it was not worth the time and effort? Have you ever listened intently to a colleague who sounded really smart only to realize you have no idea what she is saying?
Most of us can answer “yes” to all of those questions. Let’s face it. We have a propensity to make things overly complicated at work and it is exhausting.
In fairness, of course, plenty of work situations are complicated. And even when a problem is not complex in and of itself, the involvement of many parties creates complication. As leaders, we have to meet that challenge effectively.
One skill that sets truly effective leaders apart from average ones is that the most effective leaders can understand the complexity of a situation but address it and communicate about it in a way that is simple and straight forward.
I have had a few coaching clients who needed to learn this skill. These folks had plenty to offer their teams and organizations, but they frustrated colleagues who were often unable to figure out how to work with them. Issues seemed complex and confusing if these leaders were involved.
None of us wants to be those ineffective leaders. Here are some tips to help you navigate and communicate amidst the complexities of work:
1. Be clear about the goal you are trying to achieve. What would success look like? What is the impact that needs to occur as a result of what you are proposing? It is okay if there is more than one goal but there cannot be five goals. That’s too complicated.
2. Begin any dialogue you initiate about this complex issue or problem by stating the goal. Plain and simple – here is what we need to accomplish.
3. Present only the relevant background information. There may be a lot of related data, similar problems or interesting stories connected to the issue at hand. If you want to be a clear, effective communicator, skip all that unless asked. Figure out what information is most salient and have your collaborators focus there.
4. When you are addressing a complex problem, don’t crowd the room with every possible person who might be interested in the issue. It may be necessary to widen the circle of conversation and problem solving once you begin to get traction, but until there is a common understanding of the problem and the direction, have dialogues with smaller numbers of people.
5. Keep your focus on the issue or challenge at hand. Don’t succumb to what we call “scope creep” in project management – the tendency to start to tackle related issues and, as a result, dilute or confuse the work you intend to be doing.
6. Document, in simple bulleted form, the results of the conversations/meetings on the issue. As much as possible, you want to avoid the unnecessary complexity created simply by the parties involved being confused about what they did or did not decide. It is easy for four people to leave a dialogue with four different ideas about what was important or what resulted. Try to not let that happen.
We can make our day to day more enjoyable and more productive if we can find the straighter, clearer paths to solutions.