Meaning as well as clarity

posted by Scott McKenzie

It’s no secret that we communicators are often accused by our stakeholders of “dumbing things down”. So it was something of a surprise when someone suggested that I had made a message a bit too complicated last week.

It’s meant I’ve spent the weekend revisiting a fundamental truth about communications (don’t worry I’ve done other more interesting things as well!) . I settled on the view that clarity is not an end in itself. Meaning is what we’re striving for.

I have been an advocate for my entire working life for developing concise, clear  and consistent communication. But I’ve had a couple of conversations recently which led me to be concerned that there’s a bit of an over-correction going on. There’s a 4th ‘c’ missing. Namely “Compelling”.

I’ve observed that some people are afraid of using words of more than 3 syllables in case the audience doesn’t understand.

I guess that’s the challenge. Will the audience understand and more importantly do anything differently as a result?

I was talking to my friend Henri about it. We’d just developed a really simple framework. It was clear and easy to understand. But we both got a little nervous. “Surely it needs to be more complex than this?” we started to ask ourselves.

This is where local context and meaning is critical. Line managers and leaders tend to know what will resonate with their colleagues. They know the proof points, stories and case studies which will bring things to life.

And they can undertand the broad thrust without having to parrot the exact same messages developed centrally. That way it will be authentic, convincing and yes compelling.

Not only will poeple understand. They may actually do something too.

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