One thing has been made clear to me over the years. Communication is not as simple as telling someone something. It isn’t about what you say, it’s about what they hear or how they interpret what you say. Jessica Stillman wrote an article about this phenomenon for Inc.com and her take was that when you are delegating work, “No matter how clear you think you are in the delegation, you’re not clear.” I don’t agree with her statement because sometimes the problem isn’t what you say, it’s what they think you mean when they stop listening. Some people, believe it or not, actually stop listening partway through whatever you are saying in order to craft what they are going to say or to plan what they need to do.
Stillman’s solution though works no matter which one of us is right. Her solution is prototyping. She proposes that you have your employee start the work and show you the deliverable early in the process. That allows you to give feedback before they get too far along. If they’re off track, you can point them in the right direction before they invest too much time. That’s a great idea if the job lends itself to that approach. For work that doesn’t though, I recommend having the person paraphrase what they understood you to have said, so that you can add any corrections or additions. The important thing to remember is that it isn’t enough just to ask someone to do something. The communication isn’t over at that point. You have to ensure that they understand what you say in the way you want them to understand it.