Sooner or later, everyone in a leadership position hears someone say, “I didn’t know what you expected” or “I didn’t know how you wanted me to do it” or “I didn’t know when you wanted it done” or “I thought I did it right” or any one of many variations on that “I didn’t know” theme. 

All those excuses can be translated into “So what am I? A mindreader?”

They probably don’t know because either they weren’t actively listening or you weren’t clear in explaining what you wanted, and you didn’t ask them to confirm theiriStock/stokkete understanding of your request. 

Unless the person giving you the “I didn’t know” excuse is incompetent (and that is another issue), at its core this is a leadership communications issue. 
Imagine how much time and energy is wasted (time and energy that could be invested in something more positive) in do-overs because you expected one thing and the person(s) you delegated to thought you wanted something else.
If you want to overcome this challenge, you have to work on clarifying your expectations so the person you are communicating with, understands with no ambiguity, your intention, your expectation and how you will follow-up after the action is completed.
If you find this challenge frustrating consider creating a form to use in giving direction to others.  It may not be necessary to give the completed form to others, especially for simple tasks that can be communicated verbally, but writing your expectations can help clarify instructions and eliminate misunderstandings.  At its simplest, this form should have five sections:

  1. Describe the task you need to have performed
  2. Describe when the task is to be accomplished
  3. Describe what a successfully completed task looks like
  4. Describe how follow-up notification should be accomplished
  5. Ask for confirmation that your expectations and instructions are understood.

If you work on communicating your expectations and instructions with greater clarity you will get more done in less time with fewer misunderstandings and build a higher performing organization. 
Did I make myself clear?

Larry Galler specializes in coaching owners of small businesses to grow their business through effective marketing, customer retention programs and systemizing their business practices. Explore how he can help you during a free coaching session by calling (219) 464-9463. You can also receive his free assessment to measuring your company’s “culture of excellence” by sending an e-mail to Put “excellence” in the subject line. Visit his website at