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Recently, a client of mine — a boss at a local company — complained about an employee. “The worker is responsible for the first three steps in our workflow, but she keeps leaving out big chunks of the job,” my client said.

Closer to home, my husband, Steve, used to forget that when the dishwasher is clean, his job is to empty it out.

Unfortunately, the problem here wasn’t the employee — or my husband. Neither my client nor I had communicated our expectations clearly.

In her book Dare to Lead, the brilliant researcher and writer Brené Brown conducted hundreds of interviews with C-level leaders around the world. The takeaway? Leaders need to be more courageous if they want to be successful. And the single biggest mistake bad leaders make is avoiding difficult conversations.

“Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind,” writes Brown.

When you are clear about your expectations, there’s less room for error. Being clear with others requires you to get clear on your own boundaries, limitations, and values. Being clear is a gift to those around you. When you’re clear in all areas of your life, the drama recedes, the chaos constricts, and the noise becomes less invasive.

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Okay, you might say, that’s all well and good. But sometimes I don’t know exactly what I want done. What if I don’t have clarity? Here are three tools to get you started:

1. White space.  Create time in your calendar to be able to think, to daydream, to get in touch with yourself. Note that I’m not saying meditation time — meditation is hugely valuable to settle the mind’s chatter, but both the word and the practice seems to set some of my clients off. What I’m suggesting instead is time to just be.

2. Journal.  Get it down on paper. Create a blueprint.

3. Find a safe way to get feedback.  Find an accountability partner, or create a personal board of directors (i.e., friends and colleagues whose advice you often turn to). Or join a mastermind group. Let the power of precise feedback help you to hone your best thinking.

Now that you know what your expectations are, how do you go about communicating these at work? Here are three tools I like to suggest to managers: 

1. Deadlines.  One of the main reasons that confusion reigns in a workplace is that managers simply don’t communicate expectations. As they say in the 12-step world, an unspoken expectation is a resentment waiting to happen. Creating a timeframe that everyone agrees on makes everyone accountable.

2. Project plans.  Make sure you’ve scheduled consistent one-on-one meetings with your employees to create a joint plan. Getting things out of your head and onto paper creates clarity.

3. Model effective listening.  Once you’ve assigned a task or project, ask the person: “tell me what you heard.” This can be done in a kind, rather than brusque, way. Make sure you and your team are on the same page.

Finally, what about clarity in our personal lives? With the seemingly never-ending pandemic still raging, here are three tools to help you stay grounded during this difficult time.

1. Charts.  This one is great for families with kids. Creating a chart with tasks or promises or schedules is a great way to create some scaffolding around things that need to get done around the house. Research shows that kids thrive in stable environments with boundaries — and creating a chart is a loving way of setting out expectations clearly.

2. Weekly “business” meetings.  Set a consistent time with your partner each week to sit down and take stock of the schedules, tasks, finances, and other aspects of your relationship. This shouldn’t be your “date night,” but rather a practical chunk of time devoted to the ongoing business of your household. For Steve and me, it’s every Sunday.

3. Family meetings.  Sunday family dinner is a great way to integrate the whole family in a discussion of what’s coming up.

This holiday season, give yourself and everyone in your life the gift of clarity.

Sara Caputo transforms how individuals, teams, and small businesses navigate workflow and increase productivity. Her work has been featured in Working Women, Success, and Forbes, as well as other national and regional publications. She can be reached at

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