Recently, I had the privilege of working with 50 tugboat captains who are responsible for pushing barges up and down the Mississippi River. We were talking about giving work instructions and they all shared their frustrations. You see, they felt they were really clear on what they wanted their first mates to do, yet they didn’t always get what they expected. Then, when they followed up, they got an entirely different story about what they had asked for.

I explained that we ALL have filters that we use to process information. Our filters are formed by our experiences, our first language, our culture, and so much more.

So what could they do? Well, the answer was simple and effective. I suggested that after giving work instructions, they add one simple question: “Now what are you going to do?” It worked like magic.

By asking that one simple question, they knew immediately if their first mate understood their instructions. If not, they were able to provide further clarity BEFORE any action was taken.