Let’s Be Clear


The first time I spoke to my boss about scheduling he gave me three distinct days to work and I agreed. Done. Well that was too easy. Then a week into my internship my boss spoke to me again about scheduling, he had changed his mind deciding instead to schedule me for the weekends. I cringed and tried to fake a smile, “Okay!” I said. After realizing the horror I had agreed to I approached my boss to propose a compromise that would still give him what he wanted but might also make my schedule more bearable. We reached an agreement after tossing several options back and worth. Settled, done. Right?

After five weeks of work my boss reached out to me again with yet another scheduling proposition. He wanted to rearrange my schedule for the fourth time. So why was he doing this? I didn’t quite understand. He was saying one thing while I was saying another. This is when I realized we were having one of those death spirals of miscommunication.

The following clip is a perfect demonstration of what was happening to me. I am in no way endorsing Discover Card.

In the book They Don’t Teach Corporate in College author, Alexandra Levit, discusses nearly everything you need to know to navigate the business world. Levit breaks verbal communication into four aspects. The first component, nonverbal cues, translates to positive body language to convey interest and sincerity. The second is vocal style, how you speak using different tones, volume, and enunciation. The third and probably most important, articulateness, are you saying what you mean. The fourth and equally important component is sincerity which determines the success of your communication, is your professional persona still reflecting you or are you being fake?

Out of these four components it’s easy to see where I went wrong, articulation. In effort to maintain my eagerness and professional persona of a “can do employee” my messages were unclear. You can’t say yes to everything and then shift your position. My advice to myself five weeks ago, prepare in advance for a scheduling conversation and know what you want to accomplish in it. Just like you prepare for an exam you need to prepare mentally for important conversations. Remember all those times you said to yourself, “Forget it I’m just going to do it, I don’t need to study.” Now think about the outcomes of those situations. If you wouldn’t do that for an important exam, why would you do that with your career?

In your next important conversation actively listen to what the other person is saying and paraphrase their thoughts back to him or her to make sure you understand. Then concisely state your thoughts. This is not the time for indecisiveness or ambiguity. Let’s be clear now.

–Madeline Stone 

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6 Responses to Let’s Be Clear

  1. I can relate to being caught up in the “can do employee” persona! When your starting out with a new job, you want to make a good first impression and show your willing to work, but it can also backfire on you. If you aren’t clear and allow too much work to pile up, it can hurt your work performance, which contradicts why you took it all on in the first place. It’s important to be willing to be flexible and help out in your job, but don’t let it go too far!

  2. It can be easy, especially when at a new place of employment to keep agreeing to what your new boss is saying to demonstrate your flexibility. This is great, until it backfires, and it usually does. Even though it is difficult, it is always best to be clear and upfront when settling issues. Using facts to support your argument shows that you have prepared yourself and know what you want to say and how you want to say it; your boss will respect you and understand what you want out of the situation and hopefully compromise. Scheduling is a very common area of miscommunication, you may think you have a concrete schedule until your boss decides it doesn’t work for him anymore.

  3. Some really great points here. I haven’t personally dealt with a situation where I didn’t want to do something that was asking of me but that is a really valuable thing to think about. Thank you for sharing that experience with us. Im impressed at how you handled it. I think it is really important to think about things like that ahead of time and how you might want to go about it.

  4. You aren’t alone on this one! This is an issue I have also had to deal with in my internship and other professional situations. Developing the right approach to communication problems now will eliminate a lot of stress in the future. Neglect to do this, and the quality of your work (and life) may suffer. These days, I like to summarize what has been discussed at the end of a conversation, whether it is orally or by e-mail. It makes everything easier to keep track of and ensures everyone is on the same page.

  5. Kathy Kwong says:

    It so hard to say no sometimes, especially as interns. It is especially hard when your boss is asking you to accommodate your life to their needs. I know that I also have feel a sense of guilt as an intern to say no when I’m given the opportunity to learn more, but the truth is that not learning to say no in a positive way can compromise our own work. As interns, this will eventually hurt the organization we’re representing. Actively listening, processing and engaging in the conversation can and will be a “clear” solution to these kinds of work related situations.

  6. keegansch says:

    I’ve had somewhat similar communications issues with my the boss of my boss, and although he doesn’t control my schedule, it has lead to a small mountain of work getting dropped on me (work that requires me to do stuff outside of scheduled office hours, which is very difficult for me). I haven’t quite gotten the feel for his communication style yet, though after meeting with him today and trying some of the techniques listed in the book, I feel like I’m getting closer. Good luck to you in your efforts at clarity of communication!

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