The burden of clarity in communication is on the “communicator.” Why? Because we can’t expect those who don’t study this topic to be as aware of the rules as you and I are. 🙂
Whenever I say this, invariably, someone says, “But Bob, the other person should also be responsible for that burden, as well.”
Invariably, my response will be, “You’re right, they should. However, since there’s a good chance they won’t be, you and I have a choice: we can either settle for a lack of clear, effective and persuasive communication with the other person knowing that it’s not totally our fault, or we can take on the responsibility and ensure that what we mean is what is heard.”
One way to ensure clarity in our communication is to be specific. Don’t make it any more difficult for the other person to understand what you are saying than is absolutely necessary. For example, had I taken my own advice, I would have used words other than “invariably” in the above two paragraphs. 🙂
The more specific we are in what we say, the less chance there is of a misunderstanding occurring. As Rosally Saltsman, author of Finding The Right Words asks, “How many arguments include the words, ‘But I thought you meant…’?”
Of course, as the receiver of the communication, it is also our responsibility to ensure that what we heard is what the speaker meant. Phrases that begin with words such as, “Just for my own clarification…” or “Just to make sure I understand you correctly…” seem to work like magic when it comes to making sure we are clear as to the speaker’s message.
The Sage, Hillel, said, “Do not make a statement that cannot be easily understood on the grounds that it will be understood eventually.” Though Hillel’s advice typically refers to a style of teaching, it holds just as true when communicating any message. Take no unreasonable chances that the person will not figure out what you meant by himself or herself.
As we’ve also discussed numerous times in this column, we each see and hear things through our own personal Belief System; our model of the world. That’s why, if clarity and understanding in communication is your goal, it’s so important to be specific when speaking and make sure of the same when listening.
So, remember; generally speaking . . . be specific.