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Karin And David’s Leadership Articles

Frustrated that they “just don’t get it?” You have a chance to lead and overcome a failure to communicate.

Nearly every leader we’ve ever worked with feels it. Those moments where the thread of understanding seems to unravel, leaving you feeling exasperated and silently screaming “Don’t they understand?” (or sometimes not so silently). At their core, these moments of frustration are an opportunity to lead and solve an all-too-common problem: failure to communicate.

Turning Frustration into Opportunity

When you find yourself frustrated, asking, “Don’t they understand? Doesn’t my boss get it? Doesn’t that senior leader know what impact they’re having here?” or, “Doesn’t the team understand why we’re doing what we’re doing?” – the answer is almost always “No, they don’t get it. They don’t fully understand.”

The alternative is that they understand–they’re fully aware of the situation and the consequences of their decisions—and they made their choice, anyway. Sometimes this happens. But you don’t want to assume that you’ve got the full picture—or that they do. Those assumptions are often at the core of our failure to communicate well with one another.

In those moments, it’s worth your effort to understand your leaders’ or your team’s decision-making if you can. You may gain a strategic insight, a longer-term focus than you had. Or you may find a problem you didn’t know about. You might discover your leaders or your team have a very different set of values and you should start planning a change.

But most often, when you feel frustrated and ask, “Don’t they get it?” The answer is “no, they don’t.”

As a leader, manager, and team member, you stand at a crossroads every time this question arises. The path you take will either lead to more frustration or to better collaboration.

When You Experience a Failure to Communicate

Imagine a senior leader shifts a process without input from you or your team. It’s easy to feel overlooked and to wonder, “How could they not see the full picture?” And if you want to be a “team player” you might feel like you must just say “yes” and add it to the long list of impossible tasks you already face.

But that’s not quite true. You still have an opportunity (and responsibility) to say something. To ask questions, understand the goals, and help your leaders understand the realities confronting your team.

When change cascades and frustration mounts, remember that silence solves nothing. Start the conversation. You have information they need. Share the trade-offs and consequences of decisions. If additional hours, resources, or shifts in priority are necessary, voice it.

You might phrase it in terms of a current choice. For example, “As we incorporate this change, here are the opportunities we have. We can adjust our KPIs for the next several weeks to accommodate the new process and time it will take to adapt it. Or we can resource differently—perhaps add people. Or we can do extra hours or overtime.”

When you have the option of more hours or intense effort, you want to voice that. It’s not a choice you can make too often before people burn out, leave, or quality suffers. So don’t assume it’s the only answer. It is a choice among others.

Your insights are the missing puzzle pieces that can complete the bigger picture for those who may not see it fully.

Own Your Leadership

Leadership isn’t about quiet compliance; it’s about courageous conversations. By communicating effectively, you’re not just passing along information; you’re advocating for your team, your customer, and for the success of the project.

Being a team player doesn’t mean saying “yes” at the cost of your team’s well-being. It means taking a stance, proposing solutions, and being the buffer that absorbs shockwaves from above, not merely a conduit for them. When you lay out the implications of decisions and suggest alternatives, you do more than share information—you guide it.

What if the response is an unreasonable expectation of overworking your team indefinitely? Then you, as a leader, are at a juncture to advocate for sustainability, to signal that while the crisis may call for short-term sacrifices, the ‘normal’ must always respect human limits.

What About Your Team or Skip-Level Frustrations?

If you have to ask, “Doesn’t my team get it?” they probably don’t.

They may not realize the importance of the issue. Often, the “why” behind actions and decisions got lost in translation. Or they don’t trust that it will last and so don’t want to waste their time. Or they’re struggling to do the thing.

Whatever the reason, there’s a failure to communicate and you can fix it. Begin by clarifying the why – what’s the reason for the request. Then check in on their understanding and ability to do it. They may need training. Or encouragement. Or a little accountability. (For more about how to have the conversation your team member needs now, check out the Confidence-Competence Model.)

If you’re a senior leader talking with people two or three levels removed, you’ll have the same frustrations.

Once again, if you have to ask, “Don’t they get it?” the answer is “no.”

Often, the first part of your communication to go missing is the “why.” You were busy and told your managers on the “what,” assuming that they would fill in the blanks for their teams. But they didn’t fully get the “why” either and in their hurry to get things done, they simplify it and just pass through the “what.”

Now you have people working without purpose, just doing what they’re told. Or you have frustrated people who grudgingly follow instructions but wonder why in the world they must do this?

If there’s misunderstanding, gently share the missing information with the employee, then reach out to their manager. Do a “check for understanding” to see how well they’ve got it. Fill in their gaps as needed, then reinforce the need for them to communicate fully with their team. Encourage your leaders to engage their teams not only in the “what” but also in the rich texture of the “why.”

Your Turn: Addressing a Failure to Communicate

In the end, each “Don’t they understand?” is a call to leadership. To take responsibility and figure out where there was a failure to communicate. Either on your part or theirs. And either way, what you can do to improve the communication and ensure everyone has the information you do.

Your senior leaders won’t always make the choice you would. And you won’t always make the choice your team would make. And that’s okay. Ensure that you understand the “why.” Clearly take ownership for and communicate the tradeoffs. You’ll build more effective collaboration and gain a reputation as a leader who people can trust.

We’d love to hear from you: when “they” just don’t get it, how do you constructively address the failure to communicate?

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If you’d like more specific, practical phrases and approaches for common sources of workplace conflict, check out our newest book (May 2024—available for pre-order now): Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict—What to say next to destress the workplace, build collaboration, and calm difficult customers.

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

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Karin Hurt and David Dye

Karin Hurt and David Dye help human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results. As CEO and President of Let’s Grow Leaders, they are known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. Karin and David are the award-winning authors of five books including, Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive and elected official. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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7 Practical Ways to be a Bit More Daring

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