Yesterday my son flew off to Boston to start his freshman year at Boston University.  I’m still a bit numb… very excited for him  but a little numb that it’s actually time.  His birthday is Friday and I remember that day very clearly – how can he be turning 19 and heading off to college?

However, he has left me with a very good lesson in clarity when it comes to communication.

Me – in July – “You need to really clean out the car before you leave.  I want it sparkling!”

Him: “yessum.  I’ll do a good job.”

Me – 2 weeks ago – “Seriously, don’t forget to clean the car.  Your aunt will be using it when she visits and I’ll be using it, it needs to be up to ‘white-glove’ standards.”

Him: “Got it.  Aunt Christine white-glove test.  I’m on it.”

One day he was outside for about 2 hours cleaning the car.  (It was a mess – probably filled the trash can with stuff he pulled out of there!)  He took it to the car wash.  He got quarters to use the vacuum.

He told me it was amazing how clean it was!  He was proud!  I took his word for it.

Therein lies my first mistake… I said, “Clean the car”.  Apparently I didn’t go into enough detail because I ended up spending over 2 hours finishing the cleaning of the car!

His definition:  Remove all trash, wash exterior, vacuum carpet.

My additional (unmet) expectations: clean windows, wipe dirt off the dashboard, remove the ice cream drips from the door jam, get the crumbs out of the creases in the seats and get the sap off the outside.

I will give him a little slack on the sap – it got on the car during my wedding when he parked at the neighbor’s as instructed to do so by me.  But the rest?  Should have been done.

What did I do wrong in this communication melt-down?

  1. I didn’t give him detailed enough instructions.
  2. I didn’t check his work before he was flying and unable to finish the job to my satisfaction.

This type of things doesn’t always happen with teenagers either.  It happens all the time between adults too.

I was talking with a friend the other day and she was saying how she has an ongoing frustration that her husband “doesn’t have her back”.

I had this issue before and then discovered that my husband had no role model for the behavior – at least not what I was looking for – so when I would say it, he didn’t know what I really wanted.  He figured it was more from a physical threat – when we walk down the street, he is always on the car-side of the sidewalk.  He’s got my back.  He will put himself between me and people that might be making him nervous – got my back again.  But when I say I want you to have my back – I mean stick up for me in conversations, or put our relationship ahead of all others – very different from physical protection.  Once we discussed what it means to each of us to “have my back”, we’ve done much better.

I told this story to my friend and I swear I could see the light bulb go off in her head.  You can’t assume another person has the same idea as you unless you communicate clearly.

This applies to your business too.  Don’t assume you understand what a client wants from you – repeat back to them what you think they are looking for and have them confirm that you are on the right track or give them the chance to clarify before you’ve put in a lot of time and effort.

Be clear, confirm that you are on the right track and then get to work.  This will save you time, frustration and communication meltdowns.  I can assure you the next time that wonderful child of mine is home and ready to leave – there will be a spot-check of the car.  I don’t want to clean up his mess on a regular basis. 🙂

Here’s to your creative success –

– Tara Reed