The Law of Specificity States: “To the degree that you are not specific in your communication that is the level of guessing or mind-reading the receiver of your message needs to do.”

If people in your organization feel like they have to continually guess what is expected of them, or ‘mind-read’ the individual who just left them directions for a delegated project, performance and results are going to suffer.

The sad fact is that most people are often not specific enough and don’t even know it. Additionally, often the individual receiving the communication doesn’t know they weren’t given specific enough information until its too late.

A “lack of specificity” in organizational and leadership communication is a silent, subconscious killer. It operates below the surface like a cancer and people don’t even realize it until trust has eroded in the environment.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure that our communication is not just clear, but specific enough to the situation so that our directions are fulfilled and the meaning and purpose behind our communication is understood so it gains maximum buy-in and commitment.

A leader must understand and accept that he or she is responsible for their communication being understood, not the receiver. Now, granted, there are at least two people responsible in a communicated message being effectively transferred. I believe it is inherent in leadership to take responsibility first and foremost for our communication. Thus, if leaders are not getting the results initially, they need to be extra careful to ensure the communication is specific enough.

In both business and personal situations a “lack of specificity” can kill relationships. It can cause disappointment, unmet expectations and a loss of trust, leading to the loss of the relationship, if not corrected. In organizations, this is going on all the time. It’s occurring between members of leadership teams, between leaders and their team members, and between team members themselves.

There are 3 reasons for this ‘lack of specificity” that must be addressed:

A Blind Spot/Lack of Awareness – the person communicating with a lack of specificity is doing it out of habit and doesn’t realize it, and/or its impact on others.

Enabling – this means that people realize a person or persons communicate this way and accept it, allowing it to perpetuate instead of calling the person’s attention to it and asking for a change in style.

Maliciousness – the communicator has a hidden agenda and motives and is purposely withholding information to sabotage the other individual’s efforts.

Whatever the reason, it must be dealt with in a timely, direct and respectful manner. If not, trust will erode in the workplace between leaders, leaders and their team members or between team members themselves, killing productivity and negatively impacting on performance results.

Skip Weisman is The Leadership & Workplace Communication Expert. Skip works with the leaders and teams in small to medium sized businesses and not-for-profits to improve communication, collaboration and teamwork in a way that delivers champion level results. To get started on improving your organization’s communication download the free report “The 7 Deadliest Sins of Leadership & Workplace Communication,” available at
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