Clarity is a double-edged sword. Consider Pictionary where people struggle to communicate concepts without words. I excel at Pictionary. Either the drawing or the guessing. I have some odd ability to break down a picture in simple terms and create an image that a teammate can piece together easily. And I keep guessing until I get it, which often doesn’t take long.

I once did a team-building exercise where I sat back-to-back with another person. I had a map of shapes that when fit together formed a larger rectangle. I had to explain to my partner how to arrange these shapes in just the right way to make the bigger rectangle. The point of the exercise was to show how hard it is to communicate technical information to another person with only spoken words.

I knew how to explain precisely each piece that was needed and where it had to go in very clear terms. Our duo finished first and had so much time on our hands we got bored sitting back to back. The HR people running the exercise tried to act impressed but were kind of annoyed. I was proud of myself until time ran out, most of the class failed to assemble the rectangle, and I realized that I was the exception that proved the rule.

Don’t mistake this post to be bragging on my part. Being clear is also a disability. Clarity can make it difficult for people to understand me. Why? Let me make it clear.

People equate clarity and direct communication with anger. They assume that the more wordy and meaningless your speech, the more diplomatic you are. Voice inflection, facial expression and body language usually don’t overcome this.

People automatically interpret what you say. Usually this is to remove the flotsam from the inexact communication that we all say. Their ears take an approximation of what they hear, and even what they read.

People can’t understand simple, direct messages – they need to have extraneous words added, or even a measure of incorrectness that they can subtract.

Others only hear or read what they want to hear or read. If they don’t agree, they think they must have misheard it and convince themselves that you said something more agreeable.

And some people are simply confused by an unexpected message (“This horse writes quadratic pasta”). Their confusion garbles your message.

Sometimes when you communicate clearly, through no fault of your own, confusion can ensue. And sometimes, you think you’re being clear when you are not. But often times it’s your words colliding with the cotton people have crammed into their ears.

Some people preface what is supposed to be a clear statement by saying ‘let me be clear’ and then proceed to be anything but clear. The stating that one is suddenly about to speak clearly begs the question of why that person intentionally garbled everything else one has said. This is becoming the new empty phrase, joining ‘frankly’ and ‘honestly’, ‘going forward’ and ‘I take full responsibility’ among the clarity-inducing magic words that actually accomplish the reverse.

To be clearer, I have deliberately become less clear. A well-placed ‘you know,’ a vague description or a few ‘ums’ can sometimes be more effective than a lengthy, exact description or a pithy but annoyingly honest portrayal.

Frankly, if you can’t clarify to them on a going forward basis, then unite with whose that you have been vanquished by.

Do I make myself clear?

Let me be unclear
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3 thoughts on “Let me be unclear

  • January 31, 2013 at 2:37 pm
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    I’m not aware of ever having had this problem. Certainly not in writing. Writing a story clearly enough so that the reader understands every important detail and can divine the intent of the story is always difficult. My first “final draft” /always/ confuses some people, and going back and making it more clear always reduces reader confusion.

  • January 31, 2013 at 9:09 pm
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    Phil, the funny thing is, I wasn’t thinking of writing when I wrote this, but spoken clarity. I guess that I failed to be clear here as well.

  • April 6, 2013 at 12:01 pm
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    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so
    much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.
    I think that you can do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit, but other than that, this is wonderful blog.

    A great read. I will certainly be back.

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