How To Communicate For Effect

Almost all job descriptions I read for non technical / geeky jobs have a requirement called “Communication Skills”:  A much bandied word that is thrown around without much thought.  To me that is clearly indicative of poor communication skills on part of the writer of the job description.  What the heck are communication skills?  Are they the ability to get your tongue and mouth to synchronize and form complex sounds, or get your fingers and hand to dance the tango to create carefully crafted systematic patterns on the paper floor.  At least that is where most communication skills requirements on job descriptions tend to stop at: some thoughts on written and oral communication skills.  Now don’t get me wrong, indeed these are highly complex skills that the chip has not been able to master over thousands of years, but then the chips are probably not looking at

So what am I talking about?  Well…just because something is easy to measure it gets the front row seats in the theater of hiring and firing, while the really important things end up staying in the closet.  Granted it is hard to measure the ability to craft and transfer complex ideas, but they are or should be the driving force behind the words we create on paper or in air.  That is a skill that is sorely needed. 

Let me give you an example.  I have been scuba diving for some time now.  I have attended theory classes that lasted multiple days.  I have been doing some reading as well and I have come across so many acronyms and so much jargon that my head is spinning after my weekend foray with the dive computer.  I had to take an online class on how to use it and nevertheless  failed the final quiz. And I am a fairly smart guy with over 20 year of education, after discounting the kindergarten years. Why on earth do some of us have to make things so complex!!!  Why can we not explain scuba diving simply and easily? Or for that matter many things that are taught in classrooms, training rooms, meetings, seminars and so on!

Coming back to scuba diving, now that I have a decent grasp over the subject matter, all that I have learnt I can explain to another person in 30 minutes or less.  I need to keep only a few things in mind and not be required to read 100's of pages of complex technical stuff like No Decompression Time, Oxygen Tolerance Unit, ASC Rate, Ceiling Zone, Oxygen Toxicity, Decompression Range, Surface Time… and on and on and on.  I know many scuba divers will disagree with me and at least some of the disagreement will emanate from my undermining of the skill and the grave importance of the subject matter.

You know what let me try to explain this to you…. in simple terms so that you can have the same essential understanding that I have in theoretical terms.  You can become a scuba diving pundit later on at your own peril.  With this short explanation your start with an understanding that you can later develop into deeper understanding rather than starting with complexity and developing anxiety, like I did.  Of course, you do not need to know about scuba diving but the example is illustrative of the point that I am making.
In scuba diving you are consuming air while under greater pressure depending upon the how deep you go in water.  Effectively, you become like a soda bottle because nitrogen gets dissolved in your tissue and your blood, like CO2 in the soda bottle – under pressure.  You do not want to be bubbling with nitrogen as you surface and kill yourself.  So go down systematically and come up systematically, carefully managing the nitrogen content in your body. It is all driven by depth and time spent under water.  Just like you open the soda bottle slowly, you should ascend slowly spending the right amount of time at different depths under water.  All of this is driven by a complex set of table and charts and computations.  But for practical purposes all you need to monitor are:

1) How many more minutes can I enjoy the dive as per the computer?
2) Am I ascending too fast before nitrogen and dissipate?
3) Am I deeper that I should be?
4) Keep breathing at all times because if you came up too quickly your lungs can explode with expanding air as you ascend.

Done.  There it is… and it is not hundreds of pages.

Of course, more knowledge will keep you safe, but this is what you really need to know to get started.  At least to start with, this is what should be told.  Then the complex material can be introduced.  Don’t start with the complex parts because then I have to figure out the complete message.  I am not in the business of deciphering secured spy language by putting pieces together.  I just want to get the job done as efficiently as possible. 

But then that’s just scuba diving, it wouldn’t make much of a difference in your life unless you take it up as an occupation. However, the presence, or lack of good communication abilities can spell the difference between success or failure, your child could miss out on growing up into a top notch scientist because she has a science teacher at school who does not make the effort to present lessons in a way that would help him readily understand, absorb and connect the lessons to everyday life.   Your business venture can  fail if you do not communicate its value to stakeholder and potential partners or consumers.  It does not matter how much you know.  What matters is can you bridge the gap between your perception of value and that of the prospect’s perception?

And that is essentially what good communication is all about - simplify the ideas you need to convey such that your listeners are able to readily grasp its importance and apply it practically. If you are one of those people who feel that dispensing with jargon dilutes the significance of the knowledge you are sharing, then you need to clarify your perspective – what’s a greater victory for your command of your subject - that you are able to impress people into thinking that you are talking about important stuff which they simply can’t grasp, or that you are able to enlighten them about a new subject matter; fascinate them with new information which they can fully comprehend and appreciate, and not keep at a distance because of its complexity?

Good communication gets the job done efficiently, and you cannot become a good communicator simply by taking a few communication classes just the way you cannot become a professional footballer simply by reading how-to books on football or watching ace footballers play. You need to really care for and understand that which you need to communicate; if you are a teacher of statistics you need to be able to teach your students how various basic concepts of statistics work in daily life. Then only will they be able to build their knowledge on a strong foundation which will survive the ravages of time. So go ahead, communicate to share that which you need to convey, and revel in the success of great communication.  

So do I have suggestions on how to achieve communication for effect!!!  YES

1) Don’t say anything unless you have thought thru and are ready to say it
2) Make it shorter… you can always make it bigger
3) Use analogies when possible
4) Think of the receiver as elementary student and then progress to greater levels gradually.

These apply just as well to business communication as they would to education.