Learn How to Give Directions to Your Employees

Supervisor providing direction to employee while looking at a computer screen
••• GettyImages/Musketeer

Providing directions for new assignments and tasks is a normal part of the role of a supervisor or manager. How you provide directions via your tone of voice, word choice and body language go a long way towards gaining support and promoting a healthy workplace.

Effective supervisors and managers work hard to cultivate their skills at providing directions to their team members. This post offers guidance for effective direction and delegation in a supervisory setting.

7 Positive Communication Practices for Offering Task Directions

  1. Always provide context for the task to be completed. People do their best work when they understand the importance of the task to the larger operation. When you take the time to explain the business importance of the task you are requesting to be completed, you are teaching and you are showing respect for the individual you asked to complete the work. 
  2. Be specific, outlining when the task must be completed and sharing any quality standards.
  3. Ask respectfully versus issuing a stern command. Choose a respectful tone of voice, polite words and deliver the message with the appropriate volume. Contrast: "Hey, you need to go unload that truck," said in a stern tone to, "John, the shipment on that truck is needed on the production line. Would you please help out and unload the truck before noon." There is little doubt the latter approach would be perceived as positive and the former as negative.
  1. Offer the individual being asked to complete the task the opportunity to ask clarifying questions. This step helps strengthen communication between the employee and supervisor and improves the probability of a successful outcome. The employee has the opportunity to confirm that he or she truly understands what is being asked of them.
  2. Resist the urge to oversee or micro manage the employee's completion of the requested task. Part of learning to give directions effectively is learning to trust the individuals you are asking for help. 
  1. Offer appropriate thanks and positive feedback for jobs completed properly. 
  2. Offer clear, behavioral, focused feedback for any tasks that are completed improperly. 

Emphasize Teaching Along with Giving Directions

One summer, I worked as an assistant for an experienced tradesman. I learned a great deal by watching him, however, when he gave me a task to complete that I was unfamiliar with, he would watch me struggle for a few seconds and then complete the task himself. This became frustrating to me. While it was interesting to watch him, once I had been given the opportunity to complete the task, I truly wanted to learn how to do it.

If he would have taken the time to provide some basic training and a bit of guidance my first few times completing the task, I would have been able to easily complete this work for him the rest of the summer. His micromanaging approach failed to teach and encourage me. It created more work for him and reduced his overall efficiency. 

  • Assess whether the task is new or complicated and merits training.
  • Provide instruction and then offer the opportunity for the individual to practice the task with your helpful supervision.
  • Once the individual has developed confidence for the task, allow them to complete the work without your supervision. Check back at a later time to validate completion, timeliness, and quality. 
  • Offer positive feedback for jobs properly completed. 
  • Offer remedial training when the individual struggles to complete the task on time or at the right quality level. 

    Beware These Pitfalls When Giving Directions

    • Issuing orders in an aggressive tone. While certain circumstances, including emergencies or life and death circumstances, may merit orders, unless you are in the military, resist this urge.
    • Responding to, "Why?" with "Because I said so." This is a poor approach for parenting and a worse approach in the workplace.
    • Asking in a vague manner. 
    • Asking multiple people to complete the same task.
    • Failing to recognize when an instruction is required prior to the individual completing the task.
    • Failing to recognize that individuals may have conflicting priorities and deadlines. 
    • Failing to offer thanks and positive feedback for a job well done. 

    Updated by Art Petty