Weekly 3: Communicate better

Idea Journal Weekly 3


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Idea Journal Weekly 3

July 18 · Issue #200 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: The first step to becoming a better communicator is to be less selfish. Think about what’s easiest for your listener or reader, instead of what’s easiest for you. 
Once you’ve adopted this unselfish perspective, you can make your message as engaging as possible. This issue offers a few tips on how to do that.
(~3 min read)

#1. Communicating clearly means being unselfish
Computer science professor and linguist Michael Covington argues that good writing is partly a matter of character. 
“Instead of doing what’s easy for you, do what’s easy for your reader.”
On the other hand, a selfish writer demands that you put up with their quirks, such as bad spelling, poor organization, or sloppiness. You’re forced to spend time trying to understand their message. 
This isn’t limited to writing. 
Whatever the medium of communication, your goal is to package the information so that it enters your audience’s heads as easily as possible.
#2. Is your message relevant to your audience?
Author and entrepreneur Rajesh Setty writes on his blog that it’s harder for your message to get through when you’re irrelevant. 
This may seem like an obvious point, but that doesn’t make it any less important. 
Think about the last time you tuned out when someone was talking to you. Your attention probably faded in part because the person continued to talk about things you weren’t interested in.
How many times have you continued to talk with someone about something that was not relevant to them?
Setty tells the story of receiving an unsolicited email from someone named Bob Thomas. It was an announcement about a new magazine called Enterprise Open Source Journal, which at the time was the first-ever publication covering open source in an enterprise setting. 
Because Setty was active in the open source business, he didn’t consider the unsolicited email spam. It was relevant to him and his work. In fact, he thanked Thomas for his message and they’ve since become friends. 
As Setty points out, striving to be relevant in all of your key interactions can make a big difference in your life and the lives of those around you – from family and friends, to clients and co-workers.
And the easiest path to relevance is to genuinely care: “Once you care, you will start to take notice of what is relevant to them rather than focusing on what is relevant to you.”
#3. A good conversation is like playing a game of catch
Musician and radio journalist Celeste Headlee says in an interview that, “A good conversation is interactive for both people — it doesn’t even allow the other person to tune out.”
In conversation, you should be thinking not only about what you’re saying, but also about what the other person is saying. 
Are you asking them questions? 
Are you keeping them engaged?
For Headlee, the best model for a good conversation is a friendly game of catch, for 2 reasons:
1. It’s balanced: In a game of catch, you can’t throw more than you can catch. Similarly, in a conversation there should be an even balance between listening and talking.
2. You care about the other person: When you’re playing a friendly game of catch, you’re trying to throw the ball in a way that allows the other person to catch it, and then throw it back to you. You’re not only thinking about how well you throw, you’re also trying to set the other person up for success in order to keep the game going.
As she puts it: “If people walk away from a conversation and have learned nothing from the other person, then it wasn’t a successful conversation.”
Quote of the week
“Never lose sight of whom you’re talking to – and who is listening. Remember that the meaning of your words is constantly in flux, rather than being fixed. How your words are understood is strongly influenced by the experiences and biases of the listener – and you take things for granted about those experiences and biases at your own peril.”
- Political and communications consultant Frank Luntz in his book Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear
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