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Insights & Trends 4 min read

What are the most common mistakes people make when giving or following directions?

A pair of women on an escalator in a shopping mall.

Are we actually good at giving and following directions or do we all make the same gaffes?

Imagine this — you've just landed in Berlin, ready to explore Germany's capital city. But you have no idea how to get to your hotel. While you could take the easy route and jump into a taxi, or use your phone's mapping app, you decide to ask a passerby. The only issue is, how can you trust them to point you in the right direction?

We understand the importance of clear directions. After all, HERE has over 40 years of experience in helping people navigate from A to B.

Here are a few of the most common mistakes people make when giving or receiving instructions, and what you can do to improve your oral orienteering skills.


Keep it specific

One of the most frequent mistakes people make when giving directions is the lack of clarity and specificity.

Using vague terms or general descriptions, such as "Go down the road a bit and you'll see it on your left," can leave the listener unsure of the exact location or where to turn.

Knowing a place like the back of your hand might fool you into thinking the way is simpler than it is.

So next time someone asks you for the way, break the journey down into bite-sized and memorable chunks — for example, "Take the second left after the traffic light, the restaurant is in the third building on your right with the big pizza sign on it."

By providing clear landmarks and recognizable features, you'll make navigating unfamiliar territory much easier to understand.

A woman in Thailand attempts to hail a taxi on a crowded street

Keep it simple

Another mistake is giving directions that are too detailed or difficult to understand. Providing too much information or using complex language can overwhelm the recipient, making it difficult for them to follow the directions.

Don't say: "Go that way for about two minutes, then turn toward the donut shop and keep going until you reach the second post office you see. Then head down the street near the subway station and go through the alley."

Try this instead: "Go straight for 200 meters then turn right and keep going until you reach the intersection. Then it's the second street on the right and left through the alley."


Keep it fresh

Your directions won't always come from a human — GPS technology has revolutionized navigation, but placing blind trust in navigation systems can be a mistake. Relying exclusively on GPS instructions without cross-referencing with other sources or using common sense can lead to unexpected detours or take you where no vehicle should go, especially in areas with incomplete or inaccurate mapping data.

This is why it's really important to use maps that are regularly updated with the freshest data to avoid inaccuracies in online navigation.


Keep asking questions

When receiving directions, make sure to ask for further clarification if something is unclear or ambiguous ie, we don't advise assuming you'll figure it out along the way.

This can lead to unnecessary backtracking or wandering in search of the correct path.

Don't be afraid to ask for more details to make sure you have a clear understanding before setting off.

So now you know — keep it simple, keep it specific, keep it fresh, and keep asking questions.

If there's a landmark like a prominent building, a monument or a traffic light that will make it easier to remember where to make a turn, mention it.

If there are more than different actions involved, tell them to ask someone else along the way. And if you didn't get it, be honest and ask again. It really can be that easy.

Maja Stefanovic

Maja Stefanovic

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