A popular myth maintains that those who know how to do something can teach others. Not True.
The ability to communicate a concept to another person and teach them is more than just knowing how to do something. Giving instructions has a lot in common with teaching. Giving assignments to creatives about something which can be very abstract requires more than an understanding of what you want. I know it when I see it isn’t a good teaching technique.
I have written this blog for two different audiences: 1) those giving assignments and 2) those doing those assignments.
Just because you know what you want from a photographer does not necessarily mean you know how to communicate it to a photographer for an assignment. One of the biggest mistakes made in communication is making some assumptions.
Everything is “Clear Only If Known.” We can make assumptions as simple as telling someone directions and assuming they know where certain landmarks are along the way. Another example is telling someone to turn on something. Sometimes there are many steps to turning on something. They need to know where the place is to turn something on and sometimes there are multiple steps before it will turn on.
There are two standard ways many people making assignments like to communicate: 1) written and 2) spoken.
Most likely the person you are giving instructions to doesn’t do well reading or listening. To be sure you have covered your bases you are best served speaking to the person and sending them written instructions.
The problem with using only these two methods is there are some people who don’t listen and read instructions very well. Understanding instructions can easily be linked to someone’s learning style. This is how they best learn to do something new.
You see there are seven different learning styles:
The Seven Learning Styles
Visual (spatial):You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
Aural (auditory-musical): You prefer using sound and music.
Verbal (linguistic): You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
Physical (kinesthetic): You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.
Logical (mathematical): You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.
Social (interpersonal): You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
Solitary (intrapersonal): You prefer to work alone and use self-study.
One thing I think that can really help in addition to spoken and written assignments is some examples. Many clients have given me and I have given to others have included visual examples.
Sometimes when the clients talks about a style or approach I will look for my own examples and send these to them for confirmation of an approach.
Besides conceptual approaches just the business side of the assignment can cause problems. For example, if a client needs photos sent to them electronically using a ftp site, then it is a good idea to do a dry run. I have done this to find out that the information they gave to me wasn’t correct. It is better to find that out before you are on a deadline.
The dry run is a great way to verify understanding of the instructions or at least most of them.
If you are the person giving the instructions then you want a balanced approach. Here are some tips that will increase the odds of understanding and implementation of your instructions.
- Spoken instructions – Be sure to give your instructions orally and in person if possible. This helps with them asking you to repeat things and getting clarification. Your tone of voice also helps communicate. When in person your body language will also help inform them.
- Written instructions – Be sure you also have all your instructions presented in writing. This will help you also review all your desirable outcomes. You have now a permanent record of your request. Sometimes this helps avoid problems in your voice tone or body language.
- Visual examples – If you have examples of past assignments and what you liked from other photographers please send this to them. If you have examples of how it will run in a printed piece or a link to a website then send this as well.
- Test shots – Try to have a contact on site or be there yourself to look at what is being produced. You can ask the photographer to email you an example of what they have setup. Let’s say it is a portrait of the CEO. You can have a model stand in and take some test shots, then if the style and/or approach is off or just perfect you and the photographer can verify or make changes.
How do you learn best?
If you are on the receiving end of instructions you need to know your learning style to be successful. If you get an email asking you to take on an assignment and you know you are a verbal learner you may ask if they mind you calling them to clarify a few things.
When writing your contract it is always good to spell out the deliverable. I have even put photo examples into a contract and stated that the deliverable will be similar to what is in the contract.
Ask questions and clarify those expectations so you can meet and exceed their expectations. Even if everything is sounding really easy and routine, take the time and restate their expectations in your words to show you understand the assignment. It is very important when this is your first time working with someone to be sure you have complete understanding.
If you do better with written instructions and the person is just calling and not sending instructions ask them to send it in writing. Stress that you want to be sure they get exactly what they want and having the written instructions to refer to will help you. Now if they for some reason cannot send you instructions, make written notes. Be sure to stop and clarify points.
Use an App on your smartphone to record the phone call. Google Voice needs no introduction, its features and uses are well known, but one feature that not many know exists in Google Voice is the ability to record calls. This can be achieved by pressing the number four while in a received call. With the price of free and no hidden fees, Google Voice is a winner. If you really want to get a lot of features for phone calls that happen to include recording then go with Google Voice, you will not regret it.
Your self perception of the assignment is based on what you see and what you think or know and not what is actually there. What I am saying is that just because you are using the same language and words as the person talking to you or writing to you it is still very easy to have different interpretations as to what you are talking about. This is where having some samples of previous assignments to refer to will help you clarify the expectations. You might just follow up on the phone call and summarize your take on the assignment and then maybe attach or embed a photo or two saying this is an example of what they are looking for.
Your individual temperament and motivation are the personality traits that must be taken into consideration. Temperamental variables include impatience, mood swings, and a distorted perception of goals. As we get older we become more aware of how some of these traits of ours can interfere in our communications. If you like taking pictures and cannot see yourself doing anything other than this for a career and you have bills this will help motivate you to suck it up and learn to compensate for the few moments it takes to get an assignment.
You want to practice with some friends to be sure you are being perceived as a good listener and test to see if you are comprehending instructions. Even if you think you are polished it is a good idea to work on your replies that you will use with people. This is very important when you are maybe dealing with your own learning disabilities and need a few things from the person to help insure you are understanding them correctly.
You may find in practicing you need to work on your delivery so the tone of voice communicates your desire to help and not so blunt as it puts off people. Your friends can help you evaluate how you are coming across. It is much better to get experience through practice than with clients. Making the mistakes in practice will help you avoid a failure with a client.
Do a great job with a client and not only do you get repeat business they tell others about you. Do a bad job and the reverse is true.