Be explicit about deadlines when requesting work

Posted by Dermot Crowley on 17th January 2022

Myself and my partner Vera went to the movies recently, and as always, had a little laugh at the start of the movie. In the local cinema we go to, a big sign comes up on screen just before the movie starts that says:

Please bring your glasses back to the bar

This always makes us laugh as Vera misinterpreted this instruction when she first arrived in Australia. Vera is from Milan in Italy, where they tend to do movies a bit differently. Unlike modern Australian cinemas, the ones in Italy don’t have bars serving wine or food that you can bring into the movie with you. So, when she arrived here ten years ago, this idea was completely new for her.

When she sat down for her first Australian movie experience, glass of wine in hand, and this sign came up, she felt she needed to do exactly what it said, bring her glass back to the bar. And so, she did this immediately, bringing her half-full wine back to the bar, not wanting to get into trouble with these strange Australian cinema staff. A reasonable interpretation, I would think.

Of course, now she understands that they meant her to bring the glass back at the end of the movie, but they did not specify the expected deadline, so assumptions were made.

Do people in your workplace do the same thing when delegating or requesting work?

If we do not consistently and explicitly communicate the expected deadline, we leave this open to interpretation and assumptions. People may assume the task is more urgent than it really is, and end up reacting immediately to the request, or assume that it is not urgent and end up causing unnecessary delays.

Before you press send on an email requesting an action, review it quickly and make sure that any deadlines have been clearly stated.

Now be quiet, I’m watching the movie!

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