Communication skills

Are you making this very common, very epic business fail?

- May 23, 2016 2 MIN READ

When I was in High School, I sat for a special exam. The teacher made a big deal about how important it was and also made it very clear that we needed to read through the entire test before we started working out the answers. We had to follow the instructions exactly.

Of course, most of the class, including myself, ripped it open and started to fill answers immediately. Who had time to waste reading instructions?

A few minutes later some students turned their papers over smugly, stood up and left the room. How on earth could they have finished so quickly? This, of course, made the rest of us feel dumb and really under pressure.

Then we got to the last question.

It was a simple note that said: “You don’t need to answer of any of these questions. Please turn your paper over and walk quietly out of the room.” Stunned silence.

I had spent an hour working furiously on this exam, only to realise the actual test was to see whether or not we could follow simple instructions. Clearly I could not. And that experience has stuck with me since to this day.

What’s this got to do with business?

Well, I’m constantly astonished how terrible people are when it comes to reading instructions provided by those they are chasing business opportunities from.

A while back I did a call out for some female speakers for an opportunity that I had. I received 20 emails. Only four responded correctly with the information I’d asked for. Despite stating quite specifically, “Please do not respond unless you are an experienced speaker”, seven of the people opened their email to me by saying, “I haven’t actually spoken in front of an audience before but it is something I would like to try.”


The others who also had an epic business fail didn’t read who the audience was, so they were totally inappropriate. And whilst I’m the first person to encourage people to ‘give it a go’, these people, in ignoring a very specific request, made themselves look like amateurs.

I encounter this all the time, in a range of situations, and it makes me shake my head. How hard is it to actually read the instructions?

However in amongst my angst-ridden moan, there is a great opportunity.

If you’re a person who reads every word, answers every request and shows you understand exactly what is being asked for, you will stand out so much in any situation. You will be way ahead of the pack when it comes to getting the business, and avoid having an epic business fail.

So my advice here is simple

  • Slow down.
  • Read what people are asking of you, and then make sure you give them what they want.
  • If you don’t understand something, ask them to clarify.
  • For the love of everything sensible, don’t give them more than they ask for. (ie Don’t go into an ‘attach every single document you have ever produced’ frenzy because, trust me, they have many things better to do than read a thousand irrelevant documents.)

And remember this: It’s much easier to say ‘no’ than it is to say ‘yes.’ Don’t give people you want business from a reason to say ‘no.’

Take the time, read the instructions, give them exactly what they want, not a word more, not a word less.