Don’t say yes, when you mean, I don’t know…

We once had an employee who was full of lessons for us. She worked hard, but sometimes she had to work extra hard to overcome her own limitations. This resulted in her inability to focus on a question at hand. And, I don’t know if it was to be dismissive in order to return to “her work,” but, on numerous occasions she answered “yes” when asked if something was done. Such as, “Has the hotel signed the confidentiality agreement?”; “Does the hotel have free parking for the mock jurors?”; “Does the hotel have room service?”; “Is there an airport shuttle?”; “Have the clients received the report?” ; etc. These are basic questions which are part of our work as trial consultants. It became obvious that her answer of “Yes” was not always reliable. Again, I don’t know if it was a way to brush off the question or whether she just assumed that yes was the answer. No matter, the problems she created by this manner of response were extensive, and easily avoidable. “I don’t know, but I’ll check” is a much better response. Or, find the paperwork that verifies the answer and show that to the boss rather than quickly saying yes. Giving misleading information can happen quickly. When others are relying on the answer to ensure nothing is falling through the cracks, a quick, thoughtless yes won’t do. Think, before you answer. If you’re the boss, find ways to trust, but verify, what employees tell you.

It’s a long, long way from “Yes” to “I don’t know” and, for that matter, from “No” to “I don’t know.”  As anyone who knows me well will assert, I speak in a direct manner, as succinctly as possible.  I rarely “beat around the bush.”  Instead, I say what I mean and I mean what I say.  When communicating with employees, I expect them to be clear on what they are telling me.  Sometimes, the answer to my question is unclear, due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control.  For example, when we are waiting on a research facility to confirm its availability for us to conduct a mock trial, not only do I need my employees to tell me if the facility can accommodate us on the date we are planning to work there, I also need to know whether the person in charge has signed, or is willing to sign, our confidentiality contract.  If the facility has the space we need to rent, but its manager is unwilling to sign our confidentiality form, then we cannot work there, period.  End of story.  Thus, when I ask my employees whether they have reserved a place for us to hold our upcoming mock trial, it is imperative that we are communicating in a way we both intend.  The employee to whom David is referring often answered “Yes” to a multi part question, failing to understand that, in the example I gave above, the answer should be “I don’t know,” in that yes, the facility has the space we need, but no, the manager hasn’t signed the confidentiality form because someone at the corporate office has to review it first.  Sometimes, things are not as simple as answering “Yes,” “No,” or “I don’t know.”  In David’s and my opinion, it is preferable for our employees to tell us the whole truth and nothing but the truth instead of hiding small details that, when they are finally revealed, turn out to be essential to the way we operate our business.


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