Communication: There's No Such Thing as Too Much Clarity

Anna Johansson

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The purpose of communication is to get a message across to another person or group, whether that's an individual, a company, an organization, or society in general. For business owners, communicating with clients, colleagues, employees, and contractors can be a daily task.

Although we try hard to be clear, sometimes a piece of communication fails to be received as intended. There are three main reasons this happens: the presence of ambiguity, a lack of clarity, and an unwillingness to refine the message.

Some adults experience difficulty with direct communication. For many children, it's natural. Direct communication is certainly useful, but it can still be prone to misinterpretation.

Ambiguity Is the Foundation for Misunderstandings

Ambiguous communication is the soil from which misunderstandings grow. Whether the ambiguity is real or perceived doesn't matter.

For example, some sentences are inherently ambiguous, such as: "You'll be lucky to get this person to work for you." The subject of this sentence could be interpreted to be an excellent worker or a lazy person.

On the other hand, sentences that don't seem ambiguous may become so when a person misreads them, which can happen frequently.

Language lover Dennis Baron writes, "Mistakes are a natural part of reading. We misread because we're rushed, tired, distracted, bored, pressured, or because we believe before we start that we know what the text will say."

Written communication can particularly result in damage from ambiguity because there's no possibility of immediate clarification. It doesn't help matters when most people fail to request clarification even when they could because they believe they've understood the content.

The best thing you can do in any communication exchange is repeat back what you've heard (or rather, believe you heard) until the other person agrees that you've got it right.

Lack of Clarity Causes Employees to Misunderstand Employment Duties

In business, clarity with regard to roles and responsibilities is critical. When employees aren't clear about everyone's responsibilities, they can't create appropriate goals or key performance indicators (KPIs).

Projects become incomplete because certain team members thought others were working on tasks that ended up not getting done. If multiple staff members work on the same tasks, time and effort go to waste.

For instance, if you have multiple employees working on your email marketing campaign, and they don't have clear responsibilities divided between them, they're likely to overlap their efforts and possibly overwrite one another's work.

Business owners can't just communicate once and walk away. If an executive wants employees to understand what's fully expected, he or she has to take ownership of the communication and steadily refine it as long as it takes to be properly understood.

Most businesses craft a business intelligence strategy; it's the direct route to getting clear on goals and KPIs. Besides, when you write everything down, it's easy to reference, and nobody has to rely on memory.

You're Responsible for What You Say and What Others Hear

You've probably heard people say, "I'm responsible for what I say, not for what you hear." From the standpoint that you don't possess control over the way others interpret ideas, the sentiment is logical.

It is not of any practical value, however, when your message is vital, and you want it to be comprehended and accepted. People will interpret your communication in ways you'd never imagine, but if your message is crucial, you'll own it until they get it.

For example, a marketer working with a client who doesn't understand marketing, will reject your expert advice. The client wants a large version of the company logo at the top of every sales page, but you know that will hurt conversions.

You've explained this, but the client has yet to grasp it. If you genuinely want to help your client, you'll take responsibility for the entire communication and focus on the issue until you pinpoint the disconnect.

If you stick with it long enough, you'll likely discover the client doesn't understand what tanking conversions can amount to in terms of lost sales. By refining your communication, you can get your client to follow your analysis.

Don't Obsess Over Perfecting Your Words

It's natural to blame the receiver when your communication gets misinterpreted, especially when you've gone to great lengths to refine the message so it's precise and grammatically correct.

Unfortunately, grammatically correct communication doesn't guarantee clarity. For example, according to Grammarly.com, the sentence "Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo" is grammatically correct.

It's completely absurd and useless, but correct. The problem lies with interpretation, and in communication, interpretation is all we have.

Communication is about presenting your message in a way that others understand. Sometimes you have to toss perfection out the window, and speak the language of those you're trying to communicate with.

People will hear what they want to hear, but you can steer their interpretation when you're committed to their getting the message.

Anna is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant. She is also a columnist for Entrepreneur.com, Forbes.com, and more. Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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