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Tell me what you want

26th Sep 2012
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I’ve said already that when I write to people, or even engage with them in conversation, what I want is that they answer my question. I can, of course, usually direct conversation that way when in discussion, so that’s why I get most irritated by this issue when writing or emailing to people.

There is a corollary. When people write to me I wish they’d tell me what they wanted of me. Preferably right at the start of what they write, and yet far too often I get mails and letters that leave me bemused as to what is expected of me.

If this is junk mail, or if it comes from someone I don’t have to bother with very much candidly this ensures a very quick binning of the correspondence, physically or electronically. We all get loads of that stuff. But all too often this is because someone who should know better and who can demand my attention is seeking to dump stuff on me, whether they know it or not.

Why do I think of this? Well, someone who I have to pay attention to just called me. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and then he cam straight out with his request: was I available at 9.30 tomorrow for a meeting? He immediately followed up with the briefest explanation (not curt, but highly relevant) of what the meeting would be about. Time expended? 15 seconds. And I’m committed so I can’t make it. Time to impart that – another 5 seconds. But I happened to know East was available – he’d help. Having said which I needed to say no more, sure the matter would be dealt with.

It was an incredibly effective piece of communication.

But all too often, especially if the request had been in email, I’d have a pile of information laid out for me, and then somewhere near the end some hint at a request. In the case noted above, all the time reading that would have been wasted: I could not attend anyway.  More often though the request is nothing like that clear. The worst is “What do you make of this?”

This makes me very annoyed. What such messages actually says is “I want to dump this on your desk and then walk away from it”.

Well, I don’t respond well to that. I pay people to think, and candidly anyone can, and those who won’t don’t deserve to be paid for doing so.

So, if you want an answer to a question I suggest that when mailing make clear upfront what you want from the reader. State it in the opening paragraph e.g. “I want your permission to buy this piece of kit”.

Then state a) the facts b) the options that have been considered c) the proposed course of action d)  what action is required of me e) where I can get further information, if needed.

I am then able to engage in informed debate. Otherwise I’m doing someone else’s job as well as my own, and that I’m not willing to do.

The point is this: if you want to ask me a question specify exactly what it is. Otherwise expect me to come back to you to say “Can you tell me what you want please and then I will endeavour to help you?” My staff long ago learned that message. They don’t make the mistake of getting them often these days – but we all work much better as a result, and that’s precisely why I make the point. 


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By MalcomJordan
28th Sep 2012 10:08

I understand, such messages can be annoying. But you just cannot change the way the people think and make them understand about your inconvenience.



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Replying to Harrison88:
By alistair_king
03rd Oct 2012 02:31

I understand such messages

Isn't part of being a people manager, developing people by setting an expectation that they should think and if necessary helping them to acheive this?

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