Why is it so difficult for people to follow simple instructions?
I’d actually flip this one around a little bit. Giving clear, simple instructions is much harder than following them, I think.
In honor of the New Year, I’ll give you a Holiday Season themed example. Let’s say that after hosting a party, you’re asked to ‘do the dishes’. That’s a pretty clear ask, right? Not really! In my home, this simple directive can be interpreted in at least three different ways:
- Put the clean dishes in the dishwasher away and fill the dishwasher with dirty dishes. (and run it)
- Complete interpretation #1, then hand wash the dishes that didn’t fit in the dishwasher
- Complete interpretation #2, dry and put away the hand-washed dishes, then wipe down all of the countertops. (even though the countertop isn’t really a dish)
Now, none of those interpretations of ‘do the dishes’ are wrong. I think everyone probably has an opinion of which is the ‘right’ one – and I’m pretty sure there isn’t a consensus on which one that is.
This may not seem like the most professional of examples, but it drives home my point. That point being, as a leader, when you’re giving directions, it’s important to make sure that the person you’re asking to do the work understands what success looks like.
Let’s say that interpretation #3 is the one you’re aiming for. “I want to be able to cook breakfast in the morning. Please do the dishes.” will likely get interpretation #3 more consistently than just ‘do the dishes’.
Because ‘do the dishes’ doesn’t say anything. There’s no timeline, there’s no next step that provides context for the work. “Do the dishes” feels like busywork if there’s no context.
As we start the New Year, let’s all resolve to make the effort to better understand the context of what we’re asking for, and of what we’re asked to do. Everyone will be a lot happier when things are set up for success the first time around.
Why is it hard for people to follow instructions?
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