Tips on giving clear instructions at the workplace or in the classroomChen Wan Lim
The ability to give clear instructions is one that is often taken for granted. Be it in the office or in the classroom, instructions are often misconstrued, misunderstand or can be taken out of context. The consequences could be disastrous. Businesses can lose money from simply assuming what the person giving the instructions meant and students can lose exam marks from misunderstanding what their lecturer meant. If you are a person in a position of giving instruction, try some of these tips on how to give clear instructions at the workplace or in the classroom:
The first thing you need to be aware of before giving an instruction is to construct the instruction by emphasising on the clarity of language. Use simple words and avoid words that could carry multiple meanings. For example, instead of saying “You will want to consider doing something this way”, you can rephrase that instruction to “Use this method as it is proven to yield results”. Being clear in your instructions leaves little room for errors and misinterpretation.
- Setting parameters
Giving an instruction without setting parameters leaves room for assumptions, misinterpretations and miscommunication. When giving an instruction, always specify a timeframe such as a dateline or duration. For example, avoid saying ‘as soon as possible’ as some might interpret it as within the next hour or some might understand it as the next possible time available. Be specific and provide a date, time and setting.
- Reason behind the instruction
When your employees, staff, students or course mates know the reason behind an instruction, they will be more inclined to execute the instructions wholeheartedly. The last thing we want is to have the people on the working level doubting the validity of the instructions.
- Being respectful
Watch the tone of your voice when giving out instructions. Be sure not to sound bossy, forceful or intimidating. Nobody likes to work under duress. The choice of words is also important. Avoid using stern words but use polite words such as ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’.
- Put in writing where possible
If an instruction is given out verbally, try to put those instructions in writing. Not only will everyone have a written record of what was said and agreed upon, everyone can always refer to the written proof anytime in the future. These days, written records can be in a form of emails or text messages.
- Allowing for clarifying questions
After an instruction is given, always allow for clarifying questions to be asked. It is better to spend a little bit more time clarifying an instruction and clearing any doubts than to waste time rectifying wrongly executed instructions later.
- Provide update reports
Where possible, it would be great if the person giving the instructions could provide everyone with an update or progress report during the course of an assignment. The reason behind providing updates to team members or colleagues is to have them stay engaged in the assignment and to also allow them to work more intelligently knowing the current status of the task they have been assigned to do.