If you don’t say it, then it’s your fault

From Christianity Today:

The words husband and hint don’t belong in the same sentence. I maintain there’s a perfectly good explanation for why guys are clueless. It’s because wives like to hint around at what they mean; then they wonder why their husbands aren’t responding.

Take last Thanksgiving, for instance. Jeanette and I had a houseful of guests, some of whom were watching football in the family room. Being a good host, I figured I’d watch it with them. Just then, from the kitchen, Jeanette said, and I quote, “Ron.” She used that tone that means I’d messed up—without specifying the infraction.

“Should I feed the fire?” I asked. That wasn’t it. “Do you want me to help you get the dishes out?” Not that, either. “Is it time for me to take drink orders?” Wrong again. Finally, I hit on it. “You don’t want me to watch football while other guests visit in the living room, do you?” Bingo! At last I’d guessed correctly. But it would have been less frustrating if Jeanette had just said, “I don’t think you should watch football while the other guests entertain themselves in another room.” If she’d uttered those words, I would have caught on. Honest.

I absolutely hate this sort of thing, not because it’s a marriage issue but because it can be a massive problem in business. (Although I don’t see the point of that stupid guessing game, it would make as much sense to start in with charades while you’re at it.) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to some clueless executive or manager – usually a man, by the way – express some vague notion about the desirability of an event coming to pass. At no point does he explicitly tell the person he’s secretly thinking will be responsible for making it happen to actually do anything, he merely rambles on about how wonderful things will be once the task is accomplished.

Weeks later, wonder of wonders, he is both furious and mystified that not only is the task incomplete, but the people he’d thought were working on it haven’t even begun to do anything. Of course, it’s always their fault, the incompetent bastards. Why can’t they follow a simple order?

I once showed a good friend he was doing this by asking the guy I knew he thought he had just given orders to what his action items were. My friend was shocked when the guy correctly replied “nothing” and said that he was going to keep doing what he’d been doing before. So, when making a request or issuing an order, three elements should always be there:

1. A specific address, by name, directed at the individual.
2. A precise and comprehensive request or order. If you want three boxes moved from the south office to the east office, you must accurately describe all of the necessary elements involved in the task. “You know, someone should do something with all that stuff back there sometime” does not begin to suffice.
3. Ask them when they expect to begin and request an estimated time of completion. This gives you a means of holding them accountable. If it has to be done by a certain date, let them know, and if possible, keep a day or two in pocket.

No one can properly anticipate another’s desires on a reliable basis and no one can read minds. If you’re frustrated that people don’t seem to listen to you or appear to regularly ignore your requests, the chances are very high that you have a communications problem.