Let’s Be Clear

Have you ever had someone tell you an inside joke that you didn’t understand?  Have you felt like an outsider because other people were laughing and all you could do was laugh along or look confused?  It feels frustrating to not understand something that other people seem to understand.  Humor is built around the premise that your audience will “get it” and laugh with you.  Many things that are humorous to a certain group of people would not be humorous to others. For example, there is a meme with the quote, “Use the Force, Harry,” attributed to Gandalf, next to a picture of actor Patrick Stewart.  This is hilarious to me because I have some knowledge of all four fantasy series that are referenced (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Star Trek).  But, if I didn’t know the references, the meme would not make you laugh.  It would be merely words and a picture. 

I started with a fun example, but not understanding someone can have much worse consequences than feeling left out after hearing a joke.  Communication is more than saying the words; it is about making sure that your words are understood by your audience. It includes using terms that do not require special knowledge to understand and providing definitions for key words and thorough explanations of central concepts.  The importance of this becomes clear in situations where we need the technical expertise of others, such as in doctors’ appointments, installing new devices like a television, and resolving computer problems.  You need to know enough to move forward without getting lost in the technical jargon.

When you are the one delivering information, strive to phrase it in a way you think others will understand.  After giving the information, it is good to ask a follow-up question like, “Do you understand?”  All of us are laypeople in certain aspects of our lives, so imagine how you feel in those areas.  The more you imagine others’ perspectives and tailor your language to the situation, the better your communication will be.  If you communicate well, the receiver is more likely to have the best outcomes.   

On the other hand, when you are on the receiving end of new information, it is vital to not be too embarrassed to ask questions for clarification.  One method that often helps is to repeat back to the person what you think they said.  It may help you remember it better, and it gives them an opportunity to rephrase as needed.  Nobody can read your mind, so speak up when you are confused.  When I am confused, I am more likely to quit trying.  My willpower only gets me so far.  When I can clear up my confusion as much as possible, I feel empowered to keep going. When I have a new insight or understand a new concept, I feel exhilarated.  That feeling is more likely when people tell me things in no uncertain terms, clear as crystal.  Besides seeking to be understood, we should speak so clearly that we cannot be misunderstood.  Clarity is essential, for both the giver of information and the receiver.  With clarity comes new possibilities of thinking and behavior.  Understanding a joke can be enjoyable (depending on the joke, of course), but understanding other people is necessary for our survival and well-being.  I can’t say it more clearly than that.  We all can work on our communication skills.

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