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When You’re Not Sure, Ask For Clarification

January 6, 2023

Guy in coat and tie and wearing basketball shorts standing in basketball court. Giant question mark is floating in, dropping the ball (punctuation mark) which is bouncing off floor. Guy raising his hands to catch it. Sign says "Client's Court." Ball is now in his court.


blank vertical space, 16 pixels highDorie Clark is a communications coach, business strategist, and speaker. She wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal called The Real Reason We Dread Our Inboxes.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Now hang on— I hear you muttering, “Oh, no — not another post about The Curse of Email — !!”blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Yes, it’s about dealing with email, but before you click away, let me add that it’s also a post about procrastination and how it can sabotage our reputations and careers.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Still with me? — good!! 😊blank vertical space, 16 pixels high


blank vertical space, 16 pixels highClark lays out several scenarios that cause us to put off responding to an email. One that resonated for me personally is the email where you can’t figure out what the person wants.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

So you tell yourself: I’ll have to come back and read this one again. When you finally do, it’s just as muddled as before, and you procrastinate again.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Dorie Clark’s advice: Don’t be afraid to clarify an opaque note.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Write back and say: I appreciate the background info you sent me — is there a particular question you were hoping I could answer? — some way that I can assist you?blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

You’re putting the ball back in the sender’s court. Hopefully that will prompt them to get more specific about what they want, so you can decide whether you want to get involved.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high


Other tips:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Decide what the next action step isblank vertical space, 16 pixels high

We often procrastinate on responding to someone because it requires a series of steps: we need to do research, check the company website, review the person’s LinkedIn profile, etc, etc.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

It’s too much, so we put it off.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Clark suggests figuring out the first step and doing it now. Taking that first step always makes things more manageable.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high


blank vertical space, 16 pixels highBeware of self-sabotageblank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Recognize we may be sabotaging ourselves by not responding.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Perhaps someone’s inquiring about pricing without giving us enough information. Or asking if we’ll take on something we don’t have a lot of experience with. So we put off responding and tell ourselves we’re too busy.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

We’re also telling the sender we’re rude and unprofessional.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high


blank vertical space, 16 pixels highDelay compounds problemsblank vertical space, 16 pixels high

We compound problems when we don’t respond.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Someone wants to have lunch. We’d rather not, but we put off saying no. Or we have a bad feeling about a job but we’re afraid to make a mistake by turning it down.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

What happens? A lot of time guilt sets in. We wind up saying yes to something and then regretting it. Putting things off makes it harder to make difficult decisions.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high


blank vertical space, 16 pixels highNot all emails are equalblank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Set aside time for emotional or high-stakes responses.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Some emails are more important than others. Giving final approval to something. Responding to a complaint. Breaking down an estimate, detailing tasks that might not be obvious to a client.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Flag those emails that are going to require more time and focus. Resist the temptation to dash off quick replies just so you can clean out your inbox.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high


blank vertical space, 16 pixels highConclusionblank vertical space, 16 pixels high

We let email pile up because ignoring it is a lot easier than doing research, saying no, and thinking things through.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Most of the roadblocks we throw up are emotional. They pose a danger to our reputations and future success.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Start dismantling those roadblocks by applying the above tips.

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About Mark: I’m an illustrator specializing in humor, branding, social media, and content marketing. My images
are different, like your brand needs to be.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

You can view my portfolio, and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Questions? Send me an email.blank vertical space, 40 pixels highRecommendation testimonial for Mark Armstrong Illustration from Luke Burgis author of Wanting: Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life entrepreneur in residence Catholic University America

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