Directions That Work

by Stephen Boyd | March 31, 2005

Some of our most important communication involves giving and receiving directions. These vital pieces of information can be related to a new job, a proposal for a client, or getting to the location of a client or to a restaurant where a staff meeting is held. Nothing is more frustrating than going to the wrong location or missing an important part of a proposal because directions were not clear or you were not listening. Here are some suggestions to make sure you don’t end up in the south end of the city while the client is waiting for you in the north end.

Be specific in giving directions. Mention street and exit numbers or give details of compliance issues with a proposal or job rules. Don’t assume the person knows what you mean when you say, “You’ll turn right soon after you get on the road at the service station.”

In either giving or receiving directions, use landmarks to help you be clear. If you are giving directions to a new location and the person you are talking to knows the general area, say, “Once you drive past the water tower, you will start looking for exit signs,” or “When you pass the Jones Elementary school on the right.…” This saves you time and helps give both the giver and receiver of directions confidence about being on the right track in getting to the destination. If there are certain parts of the proposal which are the same as the last proposal, you might start with those since that gives the persons involved an intellectual landmark that clarifies information.

Repeat directions! Never be on the receiving end of directions without ending by repeating the essentials. Begin by saying, “Now let me make sure I understand. What you are saying is that I need to …” If you are the directions giver say, “I want to make sure I have been clear. Tell me how you are going to get to the ABC Client.” Writing down the key elements of the instructions always aids clarity.

Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for definitions and explanations of unfamiliar terms. Ask about landmarks which might be helpful. “Is that near…,” or “Is the format of the report the same as the last one we did for this company?”

You must be at your best seeking to be understood and to understand when directions are involved. If you follow these suggestions, frustrations will be less and human relations will be enhanced.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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