How To Give Directions

Stop Arguing

(Photo by k.steudel)

Whether you’re being a good Samaritan on the road or writing a marketing brochure, there’s an art to knowing how to give good clear directions. And it begins by knowing more than just where someone wants to go.

Since directions need to be based on the goal of the listener (and their skills), you must deeply understand their needs: where exactly do they want to go (their problem), when do they need to get there (their timeline), what restrictions they may have (time or money resources), and their familiarity with the territory (their skill level).

If you give detailed information to beginners (or those truly lost), you will only make them more confused and frustrated. For beginners, you need to make the steps direct, easily verified, and with clear landmarks. You want a “beginner” to feel confident that your directions will take them where they want to go. In fact, have them repeat back your directions to you in their own words to have them internalize/visualize your suggested route. Once underway, you’ll want them to remember how good your directions were, so if they get lost again, they’ll look for you.

But if you give simplified directions to experts (or those who know the area), you will only insult them. For experts, find out what’s missing from their (mental) map of the area, and help them to complete it. Explain how this piece fits into their worldview, and let them ask further questions. Respect their expertise and you’ll earn their respect.

Giving great directions is like great marketing strategy. You begin by asking, then listening, and offering your passionate expertise to help others. You don’t tell someone that where they want to go is a bad choice and instead tell them about a better destination (unless they ask). You want them to achieve their goals with the least effort and with deep thanks to you.

One thought on “How To Give Directions

  1. Great tip on tailoring the directions based on what the listener already knows…another case of knowing your customer.

    I also like the idea of the “Curse of Knowledge.” Once you know the answer, it’s difficult to communicate it to someone who has no knowledge of the area/topic.

    Here’s a link to the Harvard Bus Review about the “Curse of Knowledge” and giving directions:

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