Maybe They DO Understand

“These people don’t get it. If they understood what we’re about here, they would do their job better.” Jerrie was tired of giving the extra time and attention that two of her people needed in order to be productive team members. We were talking about Understanding Conversations, oddly the most misunderstood of the Four Conversations. I asked Jerrie what her two people would do if they really DID understand what she wanted. She had a list:

  • They would be on time to meetings
  • They would have their client materials ready for presentations
  • They would consult with certain other team members before staff meetings
  • Etc. etc. etc.

We call it the “Trap of Understanding”, when you believe that if someone understands what is wanted and needed, they will – of course – take the necessary actions to provide it. We call it a trap because, as Jerrie was now demonstrating, you can get stuck in it: she thinks people’s understanding will lead to action. Nope. If you want action, you have to ask for it. And that’s a separate conversation. Make a request!

I know, you shouldn’t have to ask, especially after you have spent all that time explaining why something is important, and how it’s best for everyone if you do it this way, and so on. But you do. You have to ask.

Jerrie said, “You’re right, I shouldn’t have to ask. These are smart people, and they should be able to figure out what to do after I’ve told them five times.” She sent me an email yesterday saying that both people were now, at last, “doing what they’re supposed to do and acting like team members.”

“This is the weirdest thing,” she said. “One of them told me that when I made a clear request for what I wanted him to do, it seemed like it landed in a different part of his brain. All my explanations might have been useful background, but they didn’t take him into action. Maybe I’ll try this at home too, since I have a 14-year old who doesn’t seem to get it either.”

Understanding Conversations are great for sorting out things like finalizing what the goals and measures should be, seeing who else is involved, and deciding the best sequence for action steps or communications. They’re great for sharing ideas and getting people involved in the planning and setup. But they don’t actually get people in motion. You’ve gotta make the request.

I’ll let you know what happens when Jerrie follows up her Understanding Conversations with her teenage daughter. Making clear requests and promises just might establish some new agreements with her teenage daughter.

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