Mind reading is risky

Mind reading is risky

A manager might assume that his team knows what he wants. But if they don’t, he’s wasted time


Anna Ranieri

Managers need to spell out what they want and expect of employees

Managers need to spell out what they want and expect of employees


When you’ve worked with people for a while, it’s easy to assume that they can read your mind and that you can read theirs. You may presume that you know what they’re thinking and that you can save time and effort by not having to spell everything out.

Unfortunately, mind reading is a risky shortcut, and is more likely to backfire than not.

Mind reading can lead to confusion. A manager might assume that his team knows what he wants. But if they don’t, he’s wasted time, which could have serious consequences.

For example, you may need to relaunch a new product because important team members weren’t fully aware of the requirements (even though you assumed they were). Taking these shortcuts can also contribute to poor morale and a lack of teamwork.

It’s always better to take the time to give or get the full story before you take action. That way, you avoid wasting time, effort and your colleagues’ goodwill.

When you’re asking a team member to produce something for you, start with the big picture – the what and the why: “We need to create a new kind of report for our current project, something that everyone in the organisation can understand no matter what his background is. This will help everybody in the company work with us.”

From there, spell out the details: Who will write the report? When is the deadline? Where will it get sent once it’s finished?

Of course, there may be people who have already heard this information, so if you’re speaking in person, don’t waste their time by repeating yourself over and over.

If you’re communicating by email, they’ll be able to scan it quickly. But remember that people may need to go back later for more info. So close your initial conversation, whether it’s face-to-face or online, by saying: “Please ask me if you have any questions.”

Doing so demonstrates your willingness to help people attend to the details.

Explicitly tell your team that you don’t expect anybody to read your mind. No question is a dumb question.

If you’ve already explained a project once and someone asks you to repeat some information or give more details, welcome their request and tell them that you’re glad he asked. While it’s not always easy to ask the question that others seem to know the answer to, sometimes it’s essential to do so.

Be generous about answering your team member’s questions, make their understanding a priority and foster an environment of open communication and information sharing. Lead by example and applaud people when they make efforts to fully inform their colleagues and keep them in the loop.

No one on your team should expect or encourage mind reading. Instead, spell things out – and ask that your team members do the same. – Copyright Harvard Business Review 2015

Anna Ranieri is an executive coach and career counsellor, and the co-author of “How Can I Help? What You Can (and Can’t) Do to Counsel a Friend, Colleague or Family Member With a Problem.”


Previously published in The Irish Times.


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