Giving instructions (because no, it’s not obvious…!)

Giving instructions (because no, it’s not obvious…!)

Giving instructions to other people can be a bit of a minefield.

Take ‘Boil the water’, for example. Simple enough, you’d think, even for a child. Except a child won’t know what ‘boiling water’ actually looks like.

So the (irritating) result is likely to be a series of interruptions by a small person saying ‘Is it boiling yet?’

The answer, of course, is to explain what ‘boiling water’ actually looks like. And give the necessary safety lecture at the same time. But you might not do the same if you’re giving instructions to an adult. And when they’re struggling, it’s all too easy to respond with disparaging comments on their commitment and their capabilities.

The truth is that if it’s a task you’re very familiar with, it’s blindingly obvious how to do it. To you. Others may see it differently…

When men didn’t cook…

I’m reminded of one of my earliest memories…

I was sitting with my Mum and my newborn baby sister. My Dad came in with a saucepan of peeled potatoes – and asked what to do next.

Mum told him to put the pan on the gas.

‘But – won’t that burn the pan?’ he asked, with a worried expression.

‘Not,’ said Mum, acidly, ‘if you put water in first.’

He looked, if anything, even more worried. ‘But… how much water?’

‘Enough!’ said Mum.

‘Enough to…?’

‘To cover the potatoes!’ she snapped.

She was annoyed, understandably. But the truth was that he’d never, in his life, cooked a meal before. So it was important, for him, to have someone giving instructions he could understand.

Sound familiar?

It’s all too easy to get annoyed when someone fails to understand apparently simple instructions. And the results, sadly, are predictable.

Option one: the experienced person will give up, and do the job themselves. In which case they are doomed to continue doing it for ever after.

Or option two: the inexperienced person will be left to struggle on as best they can. In which case the results may well be less than wonderful.

Either way, there are two additional and very predictable results. The experienced person will be left believing their colleague is ‘playing dumb’, perhaps to avoid doing the work. And the inexperienced person will feel inadequate, frustrated, and resentful. Because they haven’t received the support they need.

So – is there an alternative?

Of course there is!

The art of giving instructions…

  1. The two people (or the two teams, or the two businesses) need to get together.
  2. They then need to work through the list of tasks that have to be done.
  3. At each stage they should check that both understand a) what needs doing and b) how to do it.

That should, at very least, minimise the problems.

Does this take time?  Yes.

Can you afford not to?  Only you can decide.

One thing is certain – if you keep thinking that anything about a task, or a process, is ‘obvious’ then you won’t even see there’s a question to answer…

So if you’d like a simple set of instructions for – well – creating a simple set of instructions, then why not buy me a cup of coffee? And we’ll discuss what I can do and how I can help. Just call 01359 240717 or email kate@businessplumber.co.uk