/ Leadership

Effective Communication: How Not to Dilute Your Message

Has anyone been out on Twitter lately? Wow, can people be cruel to each other or what? Throw in some visceral subject matter, like maybe politics, for example, and there just seems to be a high potential for folks to lose their message in all the other stuff. So, I would like to take it on myself to express a few thoughts I have about some simple ways that we can all use to make sure that we are not only communicating effectively but also keeping our message at the forefront, instead of diluting it.

If, like me, you have come to the realization that 99% of the problems in the world, from interpersonal (intrapersonal if you like to talk to yourself) all the way up to international, are COMMUNICATION problems, then you know how important it is to communicate your message clearly and concisely. There are plenty of great examples out there on the Internet about that side of things. This post will serve to function more as a "Code of Conduct", between you and yourself, along with some tips and tricks you can use to alleviate some confusion.

Introduction

Here is the first and most important pro tip -- The Golden Effing Rule. Communicate with others the way that you would prefer them to communicate with you. However, if you are predisposed to uncivilized discourse, and you just like acting that way, know this: your message is being automatically discounted because you are diluting it by being an asshole.

Types of Communication

Let's set the stage a little bit: these are the types of communication that I have considered when putting this blog post together. I know that I am probably missing a few, and I am definitely writing the post, as I do all things, carrying whatever baggage I have, proudly. So, if I have left out your favorite communication medium, I am sorry. I even used the generic "Social Media" heading below. Besides, I'd like this article to have at least a little staying power. Who knows what social media platforms will be around in a year?

  • Written Communication. While this is self-explanatory, I will point out one key element of written communication...there are no non-verbal embellishments, eyebrow raises, inflections of tone or anything else. Just words on a paper or on a computer screen. So, you need to be even more mindful of things that can dilute, or distract from, your message when you are using the written word. Also -- without an eye roll or other non-verbal cue, sarcasm is not always readily apparent in written communication.
  • Oral Communication. So, everything missing from the written word is present here. That means that, for example, saying one thing with your mouth, while your eyes say something else entirely, is a possibility for diluting your message in oral communication that is not present in other forms of communication. What the hell, here is one of the best examples I remember vividly from my misspent yoot sneaking in to R-rated movies.
  • Social Media. OK, so just about all of the communication you do in this heading could fit under the "Written Communication" heading, but it still deserves its own heading. It deserves its own heading because people like to just lose their mind on social media platforms and conduct themselves, under the veil of pseudo-anoymity, or at least an expected lack of accountability, in a manner which they would never do in real life. If this is the case, you almost certainly have psychological issues that are preventing you from good relationships in the real world and online...but I am not equipped with the expertise, or quite frankly any f#cks to give, to help you with those problems. Until they come up with that full Ready Player One VR experience...then I will be virtual/actual poking nimrods in the eye all day long.
  • LinkedIn. This is a BUSINESS networking platform. If you express something on LinkedIn that you would not express at the office, you deserve every bad thing that happens to you as a result. Really. Without getting into a rant, and without spoiling the fun if you are ever going to see my LinkedIn - You're Doing It Wrong talk, there are other pitfalls on LinkedIn other than diluting your message or acting like a douche. OK - since you DIDN'T ask...here is a quick example. If I can look at your LinkedIn profile picture and tell what kind of drink you prefer, which sports team you like or whether you have a pet...it is highly unlikely that I would ever accept your invitation to connect.
Things to Avoid

Here are a handful of tips you can use to prevent diluting your message. As an extra benefit, they might even help you avoid trouble, keep you from getting blocked or even help you sleep better at night, unless you are a sociopath and can sleep well no matter who you offend during the day. As for me, I prefer to classify my sociopathic behavior as having the highly advanced compartmentalization skills that can only be present in the intellectually gifted. HINT: That argument really only works outside your own head if you have the intellect to back it up. Just sayin'.

Don't Be a Douche

So, I suspect this goes hand in hand with The Golden Rule, as mentioned above, but any time you get the opportunity to use the word "douche" in a blog post, you have to seize it, no? This should go without saying, but unfortunately, it does not. Just try to treat people, even those you disagree with, with some modicum of respect. But what if they were treating me bad...what if they started it? Well, that depends on whether or not you are a toddler or an adult. If you are a toddler, then you have an excuse to mirror poor behavior. If you are an adult, then BE AN ADULT, for fuck's sake.

Don't Be WRONG Wrong

Usually, I am a big fan of rightness and wrongness being completely binary...it is kind of tough to be both. However, let's assume, for the sake of argument, that there are different levels of wrong. If you are WRONG, that means that you might not have all the facts, you are talking out of your ass, you are in over your head on a topic or you are just not as good at presenting an argument as the "other guy." If you are WRONG WRONG, that means that you are presenting false facts (also known as LYING) in an effort to simply win the day.

Let me just say this...and I will only say it once. Truth is never not binary. Ever. Understand?

This heading becomes especially problematic as technology becomes more and more ubiquitous over time. When it only takes about 30 seconds to fact check something with 100% reliability, then there are really only 2 excuses for lying: 1) you are a pathological liar or 2) you are extremely stupid. I suspect there are other "excuses", especially in political discourse (e.g., towing the party line, regardless of the facts, for political self-preservation), but I maintain that if you possess the lack of moral character to tolerate such behavior in yourself or others, you are most likely pathological and/or stupid...maybe a little bit of both, if you are willing to place your policitcal party over your country...so it all works out.

What is the maximum effective range of an excuse? Zero meters.

To bring it back around -- very few things dilute your message more than being just plain wrong, even once. If you are deficient enough in ethics and/or intellect to continue to push wrong positions, you run the risk of cultivating a future perception that every message you present is assumed to be suspect.

Try Not to Complain

No one likes a whiner. I think that about covers it. Well, let's expound just a tiny bit...hopefully this will help you in your career, or at least in your communications. Frankly, it is probably OK to complain, in general, but when you not only present a cogent argument about why you are complaining, but also present one or more potentially viable solutions? Infinitely better. Also, quite the opposite effect of diluting your message.

No Gloating

The best way to explain this is that I have been working from home for the past several months, and I like to have cable news on as background noise during the day. When I use the term "news", you can assume that I am speaking of any channel other than the one our President* watches, as that could only be classified as propaganda. Over the months, I have arrived at a personal schedule where I go back and forth between the cable news options, based solely on the "gloat-i-ness" of the host(s) of a show. If the host(s) seem to be taking extra joy from the fact that the news is favorable to the side to which they obviously lean, then they are not worth my time, even as background noise.

I am not going to list any names or shows or channels in this space. Suffice it to say that my preferred schedule has me changing channels quite a bit throughout the day. I consider myself a "woke progressive", but Walter Cronkite is spinning in his grave every time one of these ass-hats is on air gloating about some lie or misstep from the President*...the least I could do is take my viewership elsewhere. Their gloating dilutes their message, and since everyone is basically reporting on the same stuff, I will get it from somewhere else.

In case you are wondering, the "fair and balanced" channel fits snugly under the "Don't Be WRONG Wrong" heading above.

Tread Lightly

While we are on the subject of politics...let's talk a little bit about topics that you might want to avoid talking about altogether, because they cause people to lose their sense of reality. Like, to the point that even your most carefully crafted and flawlessly presented argument may not be able to keep your message from being diluted, by the sheer power of the subject matter in the eyes of your audience.

These are easy to guess. Everyone knows what they are, and everyone that is not a RECOGNIZED expert in the field should tread lightly, unless they want to run the risk of diluting their message, which is kind of the whole point of this blog post, if I recall correctly. So, tread lightly in these areas: race, politics, religion and sports. I know...it's silly that sports is even on there, but just remember: "fan" is short for FANatic. There are plenty of recognized experts presenting great information on all of these areas; stay in your bloody lane and leave them to it.

Sensationalism / Clickbait

Even though this should go without saying, very few things will dilute your message with such alacrity and completeness like employing these tactics. Think about using a sensational headline or blog post title, just to get people to click through, and then having nothing by mundane or nondescript content for them to read. Not a good look.
WORDS MATTER

Words Matter

Let's build on the Clickbait title above and talk about several areas where your choice of words can cause problems. I promise that I will keep this section from becoming a rant on the precipitous downslide of general writing and speaking skill over the years. In unrelated news, GET OFF MY LAWN!

Say What You Mean, and Mean What You Say

If I cannot tell exactly what you are trying to say, then you might want to take a closer look at the words you are using, or MISusing. I have seen lots of folks get in trouble by using words that are a little above their skill level. I don't mean that as a knock, even if it sounds that way. Jeez - I am starting to personify this heading, no?

Let's just keep it simple. This is much easier to solve for written communication than oral communication. In fact, I am not sure there is a cure for this in the oral communication realm, other than practicing your speech while getting constructive criticism, or just plain shutting the hell up. Regarding written communication, when you are completely satisfied with what you are about to send/post...do yourself and the reader a favor, and read through it one more time.

Spelling and Grammar

Speaking of proofreading, there is no excuse whatsoever for spelling or grammar mistakes. They show an extreme lack of focus and intellect that will dilute your message faster than almost anything else. I realize that everyone makes mistakes, but if you are going to take so little pride in your communications that you are putting out content with spelling and grammar mistakes...if you care so little about giving me something of quality...why on earth would I care enough to read it?

Antonyms

Full disclosure - I abhor antonyms. They just sound incredibly stupid to me. Without getting on a rant, know this: if you describe a technology as "disruptive", you sound just as intelligent as when someone calls the oldest guy at the cookout "90 years young." Furthermore, if you call something "disruptive", I will immediately think that it should be treated as anything else disruptive...terminated with extreme prejudice, or at least rapped on the knuckles and made to behave.

How about this - just try not to say or write things that sound stupid, okay? They dilute your message.

Hyperbole

I have always had a problem with this one myself. Maybe it is my love of fishing bleeding over into other facets of my life. Whatever the reason, I find myself breaking the rule I just presented in the last section: try not to say or write things that sound stupid.

Once again - we live in a world in which every claim can be almost instantly validated (or refuted). So, if you are exaggerating for effect, there's really no point. In almost every case, it will only serve to dilute your message.

Sure, it ain't bragging if you done it...but if you are venturing away from merely reporting the facts and into something more akin to hyperbole, you are asking for problems.

Things to Do, and Encourage in Others

The few items in this section seem to be lacking in most interactions I see these days, especially online. Just read them over and give them a try...and see what happens. I'll bet you catch a lot less flak online.

Know Your Audience

We have the power to tailor our communications to our audience. Every. Single. Time. No exceptions, and you should not tolerate any less than this in yourself and others.

By way of simple example, think about giving an oral presentation on your subject of expertise to two very different audiences. Think about how order/agenda, cadence and even word choice could allow you to present two very different things to your two very different audiences.

If you fail to be cognizant of this, you have the potential to dilute your message.
Harry Morgan and Jack Webb

Stick to the Facts

Do not go out on a limb. Stick to what you know to be true, or what you can reasonably assume to be true, based on everything you ACTUALLY know to be true. Any time you start to venture out into some territory where you are improvising the truth, as we have mentioned in several other sections, you can get into trouble. The ease with which your claims can be refuted almost instantly will dilute your message even more.

Conclusion

I hope you found something useful here. I urge all of you to take a little extra time in all of your written and oral communications to be conscious of keeping your message at the forefront and not diluting it. As always, all comments are welcome and encouraged.

Joe Mack

Joe Mack

Joe Mack is the creator of this blog. He is an Enterprise Transformation consultant with over 30 years of leadership and technology experience.

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