What You Need To Do To Be Understood


Thursday 9.00pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh lord please don’t let me be misunderstood. – Regina Spektor

If you could look out of two windows, one dirty and one clean, which would you choose?

Communicating is hard. Even the word “communicating” is long and multi-syllabic and doesn’t really catch the essence of what we’re trying to do.

We’re trying to pour our thoughts into someone else’s mind and we spill quite a lot as we try.

Chris Anderson, the curator at TED talks, says one of the reasons they work so well is that human beings have evolved to listen to storytellers.

That person who tells you stories as you huddle around a fire, your grandmother who tells you stories as you snuggle up together, that’s what you grew up with and what your genes have learned is the way to learn.

But just as important is the fact that the storyteller and you are near each other. She can look at you and tell by how you react whether you are hearing her or not.

Writing, on the other hand, is a relatively new invention. And even if you use audio or video it’s not the same as getting feedback from wide open eyes staring at you.

So, it’s not surprising that most of what we see and read is not easy to understand.

In fact, it’s easy to misunderstand.

And it’s even easier to ignore.

Then again, it’s naive to think that you’ll get it clear the first time you try and express yourself.

Clarity is iterative. It emerges over time, like polishing a diamond.

You start with a lump and end with a sparkling gemstone.

So, how can you get better at being clear?

The first thing is to remember that using big words doesn’t mean you are having big thoughts.

Winston Churchill said shorts words are best and the old ones, when short, are best of all.

You can say a lot with small words and you will almost certainly be better understood.

Being clear is important when you want to explain what you’re thinking to someone else.

But it’s just as important that you’re clear with yourself.

It’s easy to fool yourself about what’s important, what you should focus on and what you should do next.

But the more effort you put into making it clear to yourself about what matters to you and what is the best use of your time, the more likely it is that you’ll be happy at the end of each day.

So, what should you do if you want to be understood?

Try and be clear in everything you say, write and do.

William Zinsser, the author of On Writing Well said that the secret was to get rid of clutter.

Strip every sentence of every word that has no use, that is long when it could be short or passive instead of active.

And that skill comes with practice so the time to start being clear about everything is now.


Karthik Suresh

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