Great Leaders Ask For the Check

To lead and influence others, you need to communicate effectively.

We explored this issue by first looking at Why Is Effective Communication So Difficult?

The answer boils down to a lack of alignment between the three critical elements of communication:

The earlier post shared the giant mistake communicators make: assuming that what you mean is what gets heard.  Or, as George Bernard Shaw put it:

The greatest problem with communication is the illusion that it’s been accomplished.

So what’s an aspiring communicator to do?Use this technique:

Ask for a receipt.  The goal of communication is understanding:  getting others to see reality the way you see it.

One-way communication leaves understanding to chance: others might see reality the way you see it, but they might not.

Skilled leaders know that understanding is not the default setting for communication.  Rather than just hope for good luck, the best communicators stack the deck in their favor. Their trick?  They intentionally insert checks into their communication to guarantee that understanding takes place.

They ask for a receipt.

Consider this: why do receipts exist?  They provide proof of a complete transaction.  In fact, the more important the purchase, the more likely you are to ask for a receipt. You might skip the receipt when you get a candy bar, but you wouldn’t dream of buying a house without one.Why should the transacting of important information be any different?

The best communicators know that the understanding loop isn’t complete until it comes back full circle to where it started. The receipt turns one-way communication into two-way communication.  Your monologue becomes dialogue.

There are many ways to ask for a receipt of understanding.  The simplest is to ask for confirmation:Simple, for sure.   But if it’s so simple, why don’t people do it more often?


It’s an extra step to get receipt of understanding.  On a busy day in a busy life, it’s easy to toss out info and move on, because there’s so much else to get done.  But consider what’s at stake: if something’s critical enough that someone else needs accurate understanding, is it worth your time to ensure that understanding actually takes place?


Asking for a receipt of understanding takes a level of tact.  If you bluntly say, “So what’s your understanding of what I meant?” you could come across as an interrogating jerk.Instead, consider something more along the lines of “Just to make sure we’re on the same page, and that I didn’t miss anything, can you please confirm next steps?”


Skillfully asking for a receipt takes a certain level of humility.  It means you own up to the fact that you’re not a perfect communicator, but a human one.  Letting go of “I know I’m perfectly clear!” can be a threat to some egos.   Don’t let it threaten yours. The cold hard truth is that there’s only one person who always gets what you mean: yourself.

For the rest of us, ask for the check.

What other techniques do you use to get a “receipt of understanding”?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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