Parents just don’t understand. Hasn’t every child thought this at one time or another? And children aren’t the only ones who feel misunderstood. Office workers face their own set of challenges. Can you relate to these problems?
Conversations that begin in someone else’s head
“So, like I was saying, if you can do that thing we can go from there.” Apparently, your coworker has already explained all the details—in an imaginary conversation. Though you may be tempted, you should probably not say “Have you been tested for mental fitness? You’re not making sense. If you understand what you’re talking about, you’re the only one!” Instead, tactfully ask for clarification. “I’m sorry. I’m not quite sure what we’re talking about. . . Can you bring me up to speed?”
Responses that don’t answer the question
In a real-life interaction, one administrative assistant was in charge of purchasing office supplies. On one store’s website, the listing for the item read: ONE 13.5-oz. bottle of hand-washing soap (Pack of SIX). The accompanying photograph showed only one bottle of the product. To be on the safe side, she sent an email asking if the price was for one 13.5-oz bottle or a pack of six 13.5-oz. bottles. The seller responded promptly, “Yes, what you said is correct.” Rather than take a chance, especially when she received such a cryptic reply, she decided to buy her soap elsewhere.
The expression “feast or famine” usually applies to finances, but it can be true of instructions as well. Administrative assistants often receive too few or too many instructions. Either case can turn a simple task into a complicated one. If it happens to you, you will have to restrain yourself from telling the person just how confusing her instructions are. Instead, ask a series of pointed questions. If you are communicating in writing, you might want to number the questions so that your correspondent can quickly determine whether she answered them all or not.
Meetings that are moving targets
Sometimes, managers don’t realize that you have a life outside of the office. Just when you think you have your week planned, they change the date of the next meeting. There’s not much you can do about this one. Try to be vocal about your significant life events. Send written requests for time off.
The most uncomfortable typos are the ones you have to reply to publicly. Even after your boss has misspelled some important word a dozen times in a group chat, you really shouldn’t repeat his error. Perhaps you can pretend ignorance and ask, “I’m sorry. Did you mean [insert word]?” It’s best to ask the question in a private email or in person. That way the person in charge is more likely to be grateful than embarrassed.
Parents, bosses, coworkers, clients—they will all misunderstand you as you will them. Do what you can to discreetly manage the issues. And don’t forget to see the humor in the situation. Handling the challenges with grace will not only improve interoffice communication but also show why you are such a great employee.