There are those that tell and those that ask, apparently. No human system is so binary yet most of us fall towards one end of the ask or tell continuum. We may prefer to ask but from time to time find the need to tell. We may feel that we ask when indeed we are just telling nicely, couching our dictatorial demands in softer language. There are those who swing either way, happy both to tell and to ask.
There are those that like to be told and there are those that liked to be asked and here in lies the rub. When those that tell tell those that like to be asked or when those that ask ask those that like to be told madness ensues. Style can get in the way of substance and substance can get in the way of style.
As Harry s Truman once said about the role of the American President ‘He’ll sit here and he’ll say, “Do this! Do that!” and nothing will happen.’ Perhaps things would be different if he (or she) was to get out and about and ask. Who knows?
That’s what you get when dealing with humans. When you ask a machine to do something it gives you what you have asked for. When you ask a person to do something they give you either what they think you want or what they would like you to have. This can be positive.
If you ask for something that won’t work it is far better for the recipient of your task to have worked this out and solved your problem by delivering what will work. How many times have you heard ‘I told them it wouldn’t work but that’s what they asked for’? Usually followed by he (or she) is the boss.
On the other hand this can be negative. In whatever way you pose the request there is always enough wriggle room for the deliverer to interpret your need or to add a little slant of their own.
So the key to unlocking this problem is a better understanding of where you and your interlocutor stand on the continuum. If you are telling an asker or vice versa them you need to consider toning down your demands or phrasing them in a way that is more palatable. I heard the phrase ‘working on how this is framed’ in a recent meeting which spells it out nicely. Determining how a request is framed can be the nudge that achieves the desired outcome.
And how do you go about achieving such a thing? Through better communication, better integration, more working together and taking time to get to know each other’s position better, in other words through closer working and cooperation between individuals and teams. Management style should not be confused with management content. Values should not be confused with the vigour in which they are put across.
If you are a teller then you should consider telling yourself that not everyone expects to be spoken to in such a way and if you are an asker you should ask yourself what is really behind the request.