We all want the important matters in our lives — for instance the way we choose to invest our money — to be flexible. So, when my investment advisor told me there was “flexibility” in the new financial program she’d created, I was pleased. I thought that by “flexibility” she meant that whenever I wanted to invest in a specific equity, I could pick up the phone and she would make that investment on my behalf.
But it turned out that to her “flexibility” meant that I had the option of making some specific choices within the structure of the new program. It didn’t mean I had carte blanche to call her to change my investments, or that my investments could be “easily modified,” to quote the Oxford definition of the word “flexibility.”
Yes, I admit it, I looked up the word while she and I were on the phone discussing the matter. Not, I should point out, to be a know-it-all, but because I genuinely believed that the word “flexibility” held a precise meaning. Of course it does; yet my investment advisor and I still had different interpretations of the word.
When people don’t share the same understanding of a word it can lead to confused communication, the kind of confusion that can be frustrating. There are other reasons for communication confusion, of course, and you may find the list Sylvia Hepler posted on the “managing” blog insightful, as did I.
But when it comes to written communication, which is a more controlled form of communication than a conversation, there are some key steps you can take to help avoid confusion, steps I’ve outlined below.
The Language Lab’s Top Tips For Avoiding Communication Confusion
1. Less Is More: Be concise in business writing. Get right to the point. Avoid long, rambling, convoluted sentences.
2. Simple Is Not Stupid: Use plain language in business communication. Bafflegab or jargon can be alienating. (Note: the word “bafflegab” would not make it onto any list of plain language vocabulary choices!)
3. The Reader Is Right: The retail industry is correct when it says that the customer is always right. Consider your audience’s abilities and needs first. No one cares if you can write at a PhD level if they cannot understand what it is you are expressing.
4. Clarity Counts: Written instructions must be logically sequenced and organized. This is particularly true in technical writing, for instance in the creation of manuals. (As anyone who has ever tried to assemble furniture from such a manual knows!)
Whether you own a business or work for one, you probably know from first hand experience how communication that is confusing causes lost time. But the consequences extend beyond a momentary loss of productivity. They can include income or business loss, and damaged reputations too.
And on a very human level, confused communication can lead to hurt feelings. That’s why, in the end, I took the time to look up the word “flexibility” as I spoke to my investment advisor. I wanted to make sure that we could reach a real understanding as we continued to do business together. I wanted to make sure that we understood each other — and ultimately, that’s what good communication is all about.
Have a look at The Language Lab’s online courses to find out how you can improve the clarity of your business communications.