Using Big Words…Does That Make Me Smart?

 A Critical Doer capitalizes on opportunities to be better 

Let’s start a new week with some practical wisdom.  I recently read a post by blogger Paul Graham, and the theme of his post was that writing in everyday language would attract more readers and make the posts easier to understand.  Paul is absolutely right…and it doesn’t end with written communication.  The same principle also extends to oral communication.

In true Critical Doer fashion, let’s peel this back to the purpose of communication to help understand “why.”  We communicate for two reasons…information and persuasion.  In judging the effectiveness of communication, the quality of your oratory is not a valid measure of merit.  The measure of merit that counts is whether you successfully informed or persuaded.  Even if your communication could have been smoother, more eloquent, more concise, etc…if you achieved the purpose and didn’t close the door to future communication, you were successful.

Here are a few tips to consider as you think through the opportunities to “communicate for effect” this coming week:

  1. Know your audience. Whether it’s a group or an individual, come up with a strategy for effective communication tailored to that particular audience.  If you ask yourself “what do I need to say” versus “what does the listener need to hear” you’ve already introduced risk of failure.  Remember, it’s not about you…it’s about the listener.
  2. Words mean things, so don’t use one if you don’t know what it means. There are so many words with so many very specific and nuanced meanings that using a word without understanding its meaning can have the same effect as dropping a bomb off-target.  In general, don’t use a word is you don’t understand its meaning.  Consulting a dictionary is always preferable to using an errant word that foils your communication.
  3. Don’t let the messenger become bigger than the message. Some people become so enamored with their communication skill that the focus swings to the messenger rather than the message.  Acceptability of the speaker is important for connection, but ultimately the message has to carry the day.  The message and messenger need to be in harmony…the message is never subordinate to the messenger.
  4. Use stories for effect. Stories of everyday life that break down complex thoughts into terms anyone can understand are highly effective communication tools.  Adding simplicity rather than complexity through a good story or analogy will help you execute a winning strategy.  Regardless of what you hear about attention span being no longer than a text or tweet, the age of storytelling is not dead and audiences still respond to an illustration that helps their understanding.

No matter what you do, there are plenty of opportunities to communicate for effect this week.  Success in pretty much anything begins with understanding the desired outcome/purpose and devising a strategy to accomplish that purpose.  At home and at work, make a concerted effort this week to apply the principles of sound communication with proper focus on the listener rather than the speaker.

Using big words may actually means you’re smart…but it could also mean you’ve failed to effectively communicate.  Failing to accomplish your goal due to poor or no planning of your communication is not smart…it’s just plain failing.  Put these tips into practice today and increase your capacity to think and do.  It’s what a Critical Doer would…do!


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Updated: November 9, 2015 — 10:12 am