Misunderstandings in the Workplace – How to Clarify Expectations and Meet Goals

A common complaint from managers revolves around unmet expectations from direct reports and their teams. Similarly, workers complain that expectations are not clear and leave too much room for misunderstandings and assumptions.

Here is a look at some root problems and solutions:

Problem: Failure to clarify the desired results assuming the outcome is understood.

Management is often working within a larger framework with information that has not been made available to their direct reports. Think of this information as the missing pieces that complete the puzzle picture. The manager’s expected result is to reproduce the picture with all the parts as he sees it. Misunderstandings arise when the picture in the manager’s head does not match the picture they have painted for their direct reports.


1. Clarify the expectations. Paint a picture in as many ways as possible-visually, verbally and vocally. Give a comparison to a known entity, if possible. “It should look like X with this adjustment.”

2. Clearly state the required details-the non-negotiable conditions.

3. Confirm interpretation and actions. Ask what was heard. Ask what that means. Ask what actions will be taken. Allow creativity and leeway to do the job as long as the end result is the same.

Problem: Systems and tools don’t function as needed and departments don’t work together.


1. Provide the needed tools to do the job-including software, hardware, personnel, filing systems, proper forms, paper etc. It’s difficult to hammer nails without nails.

2. Smooth the path between departments to eliminate the “I can’t start my part until I receive this information from…” syndrome. Catch issues before they start. Ensure all departments are coordinated and the expected outcome is the same.

3. Grant the authority to do the job. Often an issue between departments is when one department is expected to perform but has no authority to make decisions that directly affect their ability to do so. Design is often driven by manufacturing that’s driven by operating goals. If operating goals are best met by producing out-of-date products then design can not create what the market is asking for and sales people can’t meet their goals. Don’t expect a quick fix. All departments need to understand their role in profitability and growth.

Problem: Deadlines not clear and time lines with check-in points not established.


1. Create a project time line all departments agree on.

2. Create checkpoints to ensure project is on track for completion. Waiting and hoping it all works out in the end is a perfect strategy for failure.

Problem: Information not readily available, up-to-date or accessible to complete expected outcome.


1. Ensure information and access to needed information is in place. Sign waivers, authorizations or requisitions beforehand. Be available or assign an alternate to override electronic authorizations. Remove barriers that impede progress.

2. Be readily available to answer questions during execution

As a teenager my father would tell me not to come home late. It seemed my idea of late and his idea of late were different because no matter what time I came home-I was late! When I finally asked him what time he expected me home he refused to name an hour. I never met his expectation because he assumed I would know what late meant. Unfortunately, this was typical of his communication style. I solved it by leaving home at an early age.

Don’t make leaving the option of choice for your team. Be clear, confirm understanding and make the outcome possible.

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