• Communication – Giving & Receiving Directions

    How well do you follow directions?

    If someone asked you how well you follow directions, what would your answer be? Now, if someone asked you how well you give directions – would your answer be the same? Very often what you mean to say and what is interpreted are two different things. Here are two activities that reinforce the importance of giving clear directions.


    Drawing Activity

    I used the following exercise with a group to focus on communication styles and following directions. I divided the group into small teams and each team member had a turn being the leader. The leader was given a simple picture to instruct others to draw. Leaders could not tell them what they were drawing, show them what the finished product should look like or use gestures. It was interesting to see the results.

    Some leaders were very precise with their directions, “fold the paper in half lengthwise, open it up and then draw a horizontal line 1 inch long below the halfway crease.” Others were more descriptive – “draw two circles about the size of a quarter near the top of the page.” Some groups asked questions of the leader, while others kept silent. At the end, we compared the drawings to the originals and discussed what was learned about both giving and receiving directions.

    Here are some of their insights:

    • The more visual learners were frustrated – they wanted to see what they were drawing or at least know what it was so they could have a picture in their head/know what to expect.
    • Auditory learners liked hearing the directions (as opposed to reading them) – and liked it even better when they could ask clarifying questions.
    • Those who asked questions before and during the exercise had better results than those who didn’t.
    • A few were worried about “failing” as a leader – not being able to adequately break down the drawing into manageable steps. They wished there was more guidance for them to direct others or more time to prepare/practice.

    Paint Class

    Although not a traditional “following directions activity” – have you ever been to a ‘paint night’ where you go to a studio (with or without your favorite beverage!) and pretend to be Monet for the evening? For those non-artists like myself, it can be intimidating to transform a blank canvas and paint into the sample painting, yet it works surprisingly well. Why is this different from the activity above?

    • You are shown what the end product looks like – no guessing what you are painting/drawing
    • The instructor is someone who has a background in art, has detailed step-by-step instructions to walk you through, and they demonstrate as they go along
    • The instructor gives you the go-ahead to be creative (using different colors, adding elements), and reminds us to have fun and not be critical of our own work. As an inartistic person, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with my “masterpieces.” Had I tried to produce the same result without any directions, demonstration or permission to not be perfect, the painting would have looked nothing like the original.


    How Can You Improve Your Skills?

    Think about these activities the next time you are asked to explain something or give directions. Allow yourself to pause and think through the process before beginning. Be as clear as possible, demonstrate if you can, and allow for clarifying questions. Be patient and ask for feedback – improving this skill can only lead to better communication in other areas.


    Carolyn works hard to give good directions & communicate effectively –  traits that serve her well as a mom, a spouse, a meeting planner, and facilitator. How can she help your group?

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