Plain Speaking Clear Hearing
We talk about the problems of communication. They pervade everything from climate to harvest, from sanctions to war, from pandemic to cyberspace. Misunderstanding, whether genuine or faked, is the biggest single cause of marital breakdown. Waffle is the con artist’s greatest asset. Obfuscation is the politician’s bluntest weapon. Vagueness is the soul of bad promises. ‘Always’ is mostly a tortuous lie. Time can be a great healer but it is also an outrageous thief. Google definitions may be accurate but they lack empathy. Silence is perhaps the most powerful communication tool – sadly, it has been taught as ignorance. How pathetic.
Our lives are a jumble of the essential and the optional, of the useful and the irrelevant, of the best that humankind can be – and of its disastrous worst. That is why life is so fascinating and exciting. We fail to separate what matters from the inconsequential. We describe events as ‘not a matter of life and death’ when everything is a matter of life and most things have something to do with death, even if not immediately. Our confusions may be wicked, intending to deceive, or they may be accidental, caused by carelessness.
We now have more and faster means of communication than ever before. We have knowledge on tap. As so often in life, having got what we want we don’t know how to use it. Our failure to develop our reasoning as quickly as we have developed the technology to speed it up has led us to create profligate and misleading verbiage. The world’s oceans are cluttered with indestructible plastic. Our human minds are cluttered with meaningless jargon.
It is time for a reset of communication priorities.
As with all resets, we start with purpose. A pilot landing an aircraft has a straightforward purpose – s/he wants to come to a standstill on the tarmac in complete safety. The purpose of introducing a new CEO to his or her job is to give them the information and tools, which include colleagues qualified by their abilities, to achieve the organisation’s multiple goals. The former can be taught largely – but not entirely – as a routine; the latter must encompass the ability to flex according to the problems encountered and the opportunities that can be seized.
A moral judgement of whatever our purpose is not the subject of this Daily Paradox but it is clearly of great importance in our communication process.
Once our purpose is clear and moral, we must judge our audience’s ability to receive, process and use what we have to tell them. Intellect, education and language of the recipients of our message are the three main considerations for deciding what is the best means of sending it. We also need to assess the functionality of the senses of those we want to reach. The environment in which messages are sent is another important consideration. Many factory strikes in the late last century were precipitated by the need to shout to overcome mechanical noise. And shouting created hostility.
Our ability to ‘read the other person’ will determine how well crafted our message will be. If we understand how the thoughts, feelings and moods of the audience are changing we can modify our message to it. Of all the gifts a communicator needs, ‘reading people’ is top of the list.
When we are clear about the recipients’ ability to receive our message we must create the substance and tone of it. And this is where so many communications fail – because the assessments we have already made, in the last four paragraphs, are totally ignored. We know what we want to say but we disregard the guidelines we have set up to do so effectively. “Shut that door!” is different from “Please will you shut the door” and “May I ask you to kindly shut the door for me?”. Each may be appropriate in the right setting but equally each can be ineffective in the wrong one. Most messages are more complex than this but all can be better if they learn from these examples.
Simple, unambiguous messages are the honest way to communicate. A nudge for the audience to improve their vocabulary is acceptable. I was amused when two parents wrote to me after buying my children’s books. They said “We love reading your books to our kids – and we keep a Thesaurus handy!”
Jargon and waffling are not acceptable. Plain speaking leads to clear hearing.
You can’t communicate better than that.
If you have examples of communications that could be improved by this simple concept we would love to hear them. Please send them to me at email@example.com.
16 September 2022