Join Fred Kofman for an in-depth discussion in this video Clarify requests, part of Fred Kofman on Making Commitments.
- You'll be in a conversation, and the other person sooner or later will say, "So, are we in alignment? Let's put this as part of the action item list." And your temptation will naturally be to say, "Yeah, sure." And then all hell breaks loose, because the other person thinks that by putting it in the action item list, you made a firm promise, and you think that, well, somebody's going to take care of it. You could blame the other person for not being clear in their request. But the fact is that by not clarifying it, you are also co-responsible for letting this not-well-formed request move into the action item list.
So how can you stop that? How can you make sure that when you agree to something, everybody understands who promises to do what by when? And you then can fulfill the promise and the expectations of the people that think that you've made such promise. Well the first thing is to understand all these dynamics that come into play, and they involve people being, feeling awkward, or being reluctant to ask clearly. 'Cause they think it's abusive.
They think it's not very polite. They think it's not nice to say, "I ask that you do X by Y." So they will find ways to finesse this, and to sort of ask, but say, "Hey, you know, if you could, why don't you take a look at this," and you are likely to want to stay in that domain of abstraction, where you say, "Yeah, I'll see what I can do." And that's where the disagreements get seeded. They will blossom later, when they expect you to do something and they get upset, and you get upset because they are upset when you never promised that you were going to do what they think you promised to do.
So you have to nip this in the bud. You can't wait until that later moment. You have to stop that conversation from going off track, and make sure you stay within bounds. How do you do that? Well, when you intuit that the other person is asking for your help with someone, you want to clarify what they're asking. And you can do that by saying, "Look, I understand you'd like to get this done, what I hear you asking me is to do X by Y.
Am I understanding correctly?" See, then you take the initiative, and you take responsibility. Instead of looking for a way to protect yourself from the responsibility, you want to be the owner of the responsibility. Because the more you can present this image of reliability, of integrity, of seriousness, the more valuable you will be to the people around you. You know, your work is not valuable. What's valuable is the way your work helps them accomplish what they want to do.
The work in itself, I mean, you could spend years doing something that nobody cares about, and then say, "Oh, but I worked so hard." Well, your hard work means nothing unless it's in service of someone else that's going to use your work to accomplish what they want to do. It's a fundamental theory in economics. So your value as a professional, your value as a person, is directly related to how you enter into the world of the other person to assist him or her in accomplishing something that is meaningful to them.
So it's not what you do, it's how what you do fulfills their needs and meets their needs. So you want to be very sure you understand their needs, and when you say you're going to do something, you want to promise with absolute integrity. The first step to do that is to make sure that the commitment becomes well-structured, well-grounded and clear to every partner. You do this by asking, "I hear you would like to do this, and your request is that I do X by Y." And X by Y need to be so concrete that both you and the other person are crystal clear about what would it take for you to fulfill that request, or not.