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Clarify!


"I want you to want me." Rick Nielson, performed by Cheap Trick



According to medium.com, a 15th century Venitian monk named Angelo Barovier "took seaweed, mixed this with molten glass and formed cristallo, the clearest glass anyone had ever seen. He was the first glass maker that produced clear glass." Prior to that time, glass was far from clear. Stained glass is beautiful, but doesn't let in much light. And it's harder to make clear glass.


The same goes for writing, or indeed any kind of communication. It's easier to be colorful (note how many of today's comedians use "colorful" language to get a laugh) than it is to be clear. Now, to follow up on last week's "Re-write: Connect!" let's take a dive into clarity. Why? Because one of the main reasons that we "can't always get what you want" is that we aren't clear about what we want in the first place.


Case in point: A friend was recording a recruitment video. After slogging through the 3 minutes, you'd be hard-pressed to know exactly what he was hoping to be the outcome of the video. "Well, I had 8 points I wanted to make." Yes, and your audience, whether they be a viewers of your video, readers of your e-mail, or participants in a meeting, all have very limited attention spans. You may want to communicate 8 points, but if even you had a hard time remembering them (as any viewer could notice, my friend was checking his notes often), how in the world would the audience remember them? And how clear were you?


Instead, I suggested that for his next video, he get clear, and I mean "cristallo clear," on what he wants as a result of his video. Choose one overarching clear goal. Something like, "I want excellent candidates to feel attracted to my company." In another case, you might want "my company to loosen up the 'at desk' rules implemented under the new work-from- home policy." Whatever it is, be clear. There's a reason "Clear" is one of the 7 Cs of Effective Business Writing. It's also one of the most common of the 7 that are forgotten or simply overlooked.


The Eyes Have It

"I was being clear. They just didn't understand." I have heard that more than once. But communication is a two-way street. If your audience does not "get" your message, the burden rests with you, the sender of the message. Clarify yourself. In person, we get clues from our listeners with micro nods of the head, and also with verbal clues like, "uh-huh," both of which can be missing in the virtual environment.


One of the biggest challenges with Zoom meetings is that you must choose between A) showing eye-contact by looking directly into your camera or B) looking at your audience. As of today, I don't know of the the technology that lets you do both at the same time, which robs us of a key part of in-person communication. We'll be getting more into those and other elements of Zoom/WebEx/BlueJeans meetings in future articles.


Clarity of expression requires clarity of thought. Rudolf Flesch first wrote How to Write, Speak and Think More Effectively in 1946, and yet, except for some of the popular references, his book still lives up to its subtitle: "Your complete course in the art of communication." And get this: one of his recommended exercises is to "Write a 500 word essay to a friend every day." Did ol' Rudolf predict Blogging?


Not directly. After all, the personal computer was 30+ years away and the internet another couple decades, but he sure knew his stuff. And he opened my eyes yet again upon re-reading his classic work. Toward the end of a chapter he calls "Feedom from Error," he writes, "Of course we all pride ourselves on having an open mind. But what do we mean by that? More often than not, an open mind means we stick to our opinions and let other people have theirs. This fills us with a pleasant sense of tolerance and lack of bias–but it isn't good enough. What we need is not so much an open mind–readiness to accept new ideas–but an attitude of distrust toward our own ideas."


We may not all be as crystal clear as to what we want as Rick Nielson was in the song lyric that opens this article, but we can think through and express what we want before Zooming into our next meeting. Right?

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