Matt Blumberg posted some great managerial advice today on the problem of “what gets said isn’t necessarily what gets heard.” I totally agree with his recommendations of “playback” and email follow-up.
This advice also applies to upward or sideways management. This is for the “what gets said isn’t necessarily what gets remembered” problem.
It can be a boss, a peer, a client, a board member, or a sales person asking for support on an prospect: you can run into hot water when someone asks for something, but as time passes, their brain changes what they asked for. It is unfair, but usually not malicious — simply that their needs and context have changed.
If you are given an important task, don’t just say “yes, I’m on it!” Matt’s managerial advice applies in this situation too: play back what you heard at the time of the request, and get a verbal confirmation. Then summarize the request in an email and get confirmation on the request and the understood deadline. If something takes a *very* long time, you should go back periodically and doublecheck that the original request still stands intact.
This isn’t just CYA stuff to prevent conflict and misunderstandings — this kind of clarity can help improve the overall performance of the business. If you are in a services business and you do this with clients, it can save you a lot of money as well.