JS Tip 454: Problems in Communication IV

From the Communication Workshops: Problems in Communication, Part the Last

For three weeks, we’ve talked about failed—disastrously failed—communications: Derek Bentley in 1952, the Imperial High Command in 1945, and Henry II in 1163.

We promised to end our discussion with some suggestions about how to avoid these kind of failures.



We have three suggestions:

Suggestion One: Make your message clear. In our communication workshops, we explain there are only two kinds of messages: action and information. If you want your audience to do something, tell them. Ask them. Be clear. Instead of saying, “We’re missing your report,” say “Please send us your report by Friday.”

Suggestion Two: Keep your message simple. Don’t—don’t, don’t—get sucked into the crazy idea that big words and long sentences show how smart you are. They don’t. Big words don’t make you sound smart; they make you sound pompous. Use words of one or two syllables. Keep your sentences to no more than fifteen words. 

Suggestion Three: Ask for feedback. Communication should be a two-way street. Make sure your audience understands your ideas the way you intended your ideas. And be sure to ask the right feedback questions: “Do you understand what I said?” doesn’t work. “Yup. I understand”—even when they don’t. Try “Help me out. What did I just ask you to do?”

    If you have questions or comments, let us know. We love this stuff. 

    Mark Brooks