Whether you’re a leader, follower, partner, or service provider, clarity is always important.
Let’s say you’ve delegated a task to someone else. If a deadline will be missed or a key deliverable won’t be ready as expected, you want an honest and timely report. Honest in that it contains all the pertinent information, and timely in that it provides opportunity to shift gears if necessary.
If you’re a follower, you need the same kind of clarity. Even if the “how” of the assignment is left to your discretion, you need a specific and mutual understanding of the “what.”
In a partnership (and that includes a marriage), it’s always imperative that mutual expectations are honored.
And if you’re a service provider—let’s face it, you provide service if you’re a leader, follower, or partner—you’re headed for trouble if you fail to meet agreed-upon expectations.
Call it transparency, exactitude, explicitness or any other fancy name you wish. But by whatever label you choose, clarity in expectations will serve you well in any relationship.
The key is to communicate early and often.
I’ve found that a simple formula can help keep dialogue on a productive path. It’s called “Stop, Start, Continue.”
If you report to someone else, don’t wait for your periodic performance review. Initiate a conversation with your leader by briefly confirming that you value feedback and you want to ensure that you’re meeting (and even exceeding) expectations. Explain that you’d like to use the “Stop, Start, Continue” framework to ensure that the conversation is helpful to both of you.
Ask your leader if there’s anything you should Stop doing. Make it clear that you’re sincerely open to feedback and you want to catch any missteps early. Listen carefully. Resist the temptation to argue against or rebut any feedback you receive. Demonstrate by your demeanor that you really want to understand and make any necessary course corrections.
Next, ask your leader if there’s anything you’re not currently doing that would be helpful to the project or cause you’re serving. Again, listen carefully. Ask follow-up questions if necessary. Focus on understanding, not any kind of rebuttal.
Finally, ask your leader what you’re currently doing that you should definitely continue. Seek for specificity. For example, don’t be satisfied if your leader says something like “You’re doing a great job, just keep it up.” Express appreciation for the compliment, then ask for specifics. Is it the presentation you gave at last week’s all-hands meeting? What seemed to be most helpful? Is it the way you handled logistics on last month’s big project? What, specifically, should be repeated? Is it the way you’re collaborating with other departments? The work you’re doing to engage your team members? Get as many specifics as you can so you’ll know for sure exactly what your leader appreciates.
If people report to you, teach them to use the “Stop, Start, Continue” framework in their dialogue with you about their work. And remember that it’s a two-way street. If you care about how they view your leadership efforts—and you absolutely should—it’s helpful to have open and honest conversation about what you’re doing that helps or hampers. And remember that the spirit in which you accept feedback provides a model for how you expect others to accept feedback from you.
All kinds of relationships can benefit from the “Stop, Start, Continue” framework. In an organizational setting, peers can use the framework to learn how they can better serve each others’ needs. For example, department heads can use the framework in talking about how to avoid the common silo mentality that can be deadly to performance. You can even add one more element: Change. A process may be working to some extent but could benefit from minor changes. Open dialogue can help identify the needed tweaks.
When it’s done in the right spirit, “Stop, Start, Continue” underscores mutual respect and collaboration. My wife and I periodically use this conversational framework to discuss our marriage relationship. Does it work? I’m happy to report that I have more than 50 years of positive evidence to justify a resounding “yes.”
is the bestselling author of LeaderSHOP: Workplace, Career, and Life Advice From Today’s Top Thought Leaders Follow on Twitter @DoctorDuncan