How to Get a Message Across Clearly

We spend a significant part of our lives talking to people, whether it is in our profession or in our personal relationships, or our own selves (voice in the head). Many a times, we say what we want to say and the results are not catastrophic if the other person doesn’t understand it to the core. However, there are some matters which are extremely important to us (obviously what is important for each person varies). At those occasions, we want the other to precisely understand what we mean, what the action items are and what must be avoided.

This scenario is true for everyone, be it a leader/follower, a boss/employee, a parent/child or a friend or colleague. The question is: is there any way to ensure the comprehensive delivery of the message in its core essential form? The answer is yes and there is work to do to achieve this goal.

Recently I read the book How to Stick by Heath brothers that involves detailed research on which particular ideas or stories stick in our minds. Based on the results, they propose some strategies and principles we can adopt to communicate our ideas across effectively. Although their main focus is on macro level such as advertisement and teaching industries, my takeaway from it was that those techniques can be applied at a micro level – for the purpose I mentioned above.

So if drilling an idea into someone’s head is really critical to you, spend some time in shaping the message according to the following criteria that can go a long way in making it stick.

  1. Simple: Find the core of the idea. Strip it down to its most critical essence. I usually ask people the following question: tell me in just one sentence what you want me to know. Remember that when you say three things, you say nothing. Naturally the other person thinks deeper and brings out the most fundamental element of the message.

    Those familiar with armed forces culture have heard about the commander’s intent. Basically, no plan survives contact with the enemy. Things change. Estimates expire. So everyone must know the single most important thing to do the next day.

    Simple = core + compact
    Simple ideas: short sentences (compact) drawn from long experience (core)

  2. Unexpected: Find out what is counter-intuitive about your message. Introduce that mystery at the start, remembering that a mystery is created not from an unexpected moment but from an unexpected journey. According to the authors, communicate your message in a way that breaks your audience’s guessing machines along the critical counter-intuitive dimension. Then, once their guessing machines have failed, help them refine their machines.

    This works because curiosity is the intellectual need to answer questions and close open patterns. Curiosity happens when we feel a gap in our knowledge. Open these gaps before closing them and people will remember your point for a long long time.

  3. Concrete: If you can examine something with your senses, it’s concrete. For example, a left-arm fast bowler is concrete, a great sportsman is not. Concreteness implies connecting your point to something that people can imagine, or even better, touch. That is why a job candidate with many actually completed projects under their belt is more likely to get selected as compared to another with only a great resume consisting of degrees and awards.
  4. Stories: A story also plays to the desire of curiosity (just like mystery) by opening situations and then closing them through an adventurous route. It has been one of the longest pastime of the mankind, a proof of which is several stories passed across generations in different cultures as opposed to just their general wisdom. If you add a short story to your point, people will automatically pay more attention to what you are saying and a vital point can be wrapped within with subtle skills.

The book also includes two more components of an effective communication, namely credibility and emotional which can be utilized to further enhance the impact of our message.

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