Why Don’t They “Get It?”

How many times have we asked ourselves that? Lots. How frustrating that they don’t understand our point when it is so clear to us!

Over the years, we’ve talked about a great many of the techniques that will help our readers understand the point quickly and easily, and we will continue to do so.

But today, let’s talk about the essential basics of what happens in the communication process, and what we need to know about that process to communicate more effectively with our readers. To help them “get it.”

We’ve said many times that writing is a visual art. And indeed it is – how those words and other visual elements look on your screen or on paper when printed out, has a tremendous impact on how the reader understands the point we are trying to make – or not. That’s another one of those “essential basics.”

Business writing is certainly a cerebral art as well. The thought that goes into each piece is critical to how your reader will feel about what you have said, and subsequently how your reader will feel about you and about the organization you represent. Please do not underestimate how important this is, or the responsibility you bear because of it.

The following diagram shows what happens, and what you need to know about what happens during the communication process:







The big question we’re asking ourselves here is, “Will the message that comes out of the system be the same as the message that went into the system?”

As you see, the message you start with begins with you. Then it goes through your “filters.” So what are some of these filters? Filters are things like experience, education, understanding, expectations, biases, and in general, how you look at the world.

Mechanical issues, such as your competence in the language in which your material is written, factor in as well. Another mechanical issue can be how well you understand, and can use, the channel through which your message will be sent.

So let’s take a look at that channel, now that the message has gone through your filters. The channel is the vehicle by means of which your message will travel. This could be an email, an advertisement, a phone call, a personal visit, a training session – well, you get the idea.

But once that message is on board the channel, it will still have to negotiate the receiver’s filters. Like you, that reader will likewise have his or her own filters. An objective understanding of your reader’s filters can be very useful. Note the word, “objective.”

So now it’s time to retrieve the message from the system, and to answer the question, “Does the message we sent equal the message the reader ‘got?’”

When you were a kid, did you ever play that birthday party game, “Gossip”? Or maybe you called it “Telephone”? Same game, different name. The way the game went was this: The first little kid would whisper a short sentence to the second little kid, who in turn whispered what he or she had heard to the third little kid, and so on around the circle until that message stopped with the last little kid, who had to repeat what he or she heard.

Thus, “pressing papa’s purple pants” (for some reason, this one was always a favorite at the parties I went to – don’t know why, maybe it was the effect of whispering so many plosives into the next kids’ ears), came out of the system usually sounding something like, “pop, pop, the bandana.” This result was, of course, always unfailingly funny to a group of six- or seven-year-olds.

But how funny is it in adult miscommunication? The objectives are not the same. Kids of a certain age love to be silly. The objective of their game was to laugh, and to make others laugh – even to the point of laughing at them.

Adults in the business situation: probably not so much.

To answer our question: No, it’s not a sure bet that the receiver will 100% “get” the message exactly as sent. There are many tactics and techniques we can use to improve the odds, but those filters are very powerful influencers in the communication system. Understanding them well – ours as well as the reader’s – can go a long way toward improving those odds.

And so will the careful selection, and knowledgeable use, of the most appropriate channel through which to send your message.


Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

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