Never underestimate the possibility that someone will misunderstand what you’re saying.
That’s always been one of my guiding principles whenever I speak or write. And it’s becoming more important every day for anyone who wants to communicate accurately, clearly and effectively.
This is nothing new, of course. Misunderstandings and misdirection are as old as language.
But it is getting worse.
The Untruth Is Out There
The overwhelming amount of information we receive is setting us up for a glut of misinformation.
If, let’s say, one percent of what we pass along is an unintentional untruth, that wouldn’t have been a big deal when we were sharing a couple pieces of new information in an average day. A one out of 100 error rate meant telling an unintentional falsehood every two or three months, maybe.
But now, when we’re reading or passing along dozens, even hundreds of items a day, a one percent error rate can mean an incorrect item every day or two.
Because of this, we need to be ever more vigilant about our fact-checking. And, for professional communicators, this means we need to be extra certain that we’re cutting through the clutter in simple, clear, precise and accurate ways.
Five Tips To More Precise Communication
Here are five rules I use when communicating something I know to be true if it has even the slightest possibility of being misheard or misunderstood by those receiving it. (Note that all these tips only happen after having researched and confirmed the truth of what I’m passing along.)
1. Read and re-read your own writing
Hitting “send” or “publish” too soon is the enemy of clarity and leads to a lot of misunderstanding.
Even if what you’re writing is 100 percent reliable, sending it quickly can cause me to miss something about grammar, word order or language that might create confusion. Most of this can be cleared up if I give it one last go-over.
2. Imagine yourself as a reader, not just the writer
Before I publish anything, one of my read-throughs is always done with the reader in mind. What might a reader possibly misunderstand about this, and how can I make it clearer? I’ve never regretted doing that.
3. Use a proofreader
No matter how many times I read and re-read what I wrote, I can miss obvious mistakes.
Before I post anything, my wife, Shelley, reads what I write. Not just for errors, but for possible lapses in clarity. If it confuses her, it will confuse others. It’s up to me to fix that.