Authors Chip and Dan Heath of the book Made to Stick tell the story of a Stanford University Ph.D. candidate studying a game called “Tappers & Listeners.” In this game, one person taps out a song by knocking on a table while the other person tries to guess the song’s name. The “tappers” predicted that the “listeners” would guess the song title 50 percent of the time. When the game was over, the “tappers” had only guessed the title 2.5 percent of the time. I did this experiment in front of an audience at a workshop I was delivering on improving effective communication skills. I alerted the audience I was a world-class tapper, and I would like them to guess the song and even sing along if they wanted. When I completed the tapping, not only was no one singing, they were all looking at me like I had lost my mind.
The burden of clarity rests solely on the communicator.
WHAT JUST HAPPENED HERE?
In the debrief of the exercise, the audience energetically voiced their observation and the point of the whole exercise; I was singing the song (Happy Birthday) in my head as I tapped. All they had to go on was a seemingly unrelated sequence of noises. This represents the problem we all face when attempting to communicate with clarity. We think we are clear because we can hear it in our heads, and it all makes sense. The other person, not so much.
THE PATH TO CLARITY IN EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
The ability to communicate effectively with clarity is a skill that needs constant focus. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you look to improve the clarity of your communication.
- Are YOU clear on what you are communicating? It starts with you. Seminary professor and author Howard Hendricks commented, “If it’s a mist in the pulpit, it will be a fog in the pews.” Have you thoughtfully considered your message and the outcome you desire? The burden of clarity is squarely on you.
- Who is the audience for your communication? Who are they? What do they already know? What is their level of understanding—the big picture? How much detail do they need? What can you do to help them see things with clarity?
- What medium is best for this communication? Will this be one-to-one, in-person communication? Or is this a one-to-many email communication? Or will you have the benefit of video in a one-to-many message? Nonverbals like tone and body language are lost in email and text messages.
- How can you reduce the I/P Gap? Every communication has the potential for the Intention/Perception Gap. What you intend one way, the listener perceives another. If you know this could exist, what can you do to minimize it as much as possible? Author Brian Tracy once commented that we must accept the responsibility for understanding and being understood.
- Does the audience have a unique perspective you need to consider? Are there any preconceived ideas or beliefs you need to ensure your communication addresses? When leaders can clearly communicate vision, values, performance objectives, and expectations, they establish a winning culture. Lack of clarity on any of these undermines everything you are trying to accomplish.
About Perry Holley
Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with Maxwell Leadership, as well as a published author. He has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.
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