I teach and supervise graduate students and have done so for many years. I also have a degree in counseling, a partner, two kids and numerous friends. I was generally not surprised when my kids (who are now adults) didn’t follow directions. When they were small my birthday request(s) always had the same refrain – 24 hours of total obedience and following directions. (They always laughed at this request by the way)

What does surprise me, even after twenty years of teaching, is how frequently my students don’t (can’t? won’t?) follow directions. I’m also surprised by that in other situations as well. I was working with a community partner recently and had need for some very specific information from the program staff. I crafted what I thought was a clear email, identified the work I was willing to do and what I needed, and got back something totally different.

Now since this doesn’t happen 100% of the time, I’m assuming I’m being clear at some points. So that’s why I’m puzzled.

I can only guess that I’m not always clear enough for everyone, or the human trait of interpretation (or fitting assumptions to existing perspectives) is stronger than any sense of uncertainty. In both these cases, with students and community partners, nobody asked questions to clarify what I was asking for or why. In the case of the community partner, I got something back that not only didn’t fit my needs but also wasn’t explained clearly.

The result of this “miscommunication,” for lack of a better term, ends up with me being more than a bit irritated (I confess) and trying to figure out ways to eliminate interpretation and confusion. I’m not sure it’s possible. People have different learning and processing modalities and I tend to rely on the written, although in the classroom there’s also the opportunity to give directions orally.

Or perhaps because we are pressed and stressed for time, we move forward muddling through and doing our best. Unfortunately, that perspective may lead to more stress and work rather than less.

I want my students to all get A’s (really). I want my communications and requests to be clear. But how much of it is up to me, and how much up to the listener.

I’m curious about your perspective. Do you “follow directions” or is it akin to coloring in the lines? Do you seek out clarification or proceed even when confused? Do you ever deliberately misunderstand? Or?