This bit of wisdom came from a long-time friend and co-worker who received this sage advice from a leader in the Corps of Cadets at Virginia Polytechnic Institute:
“If you give an order that can be understood, you have failed. You have only succeeded if you give an order that cannot be MISunderstood.”
Entire books can be written on this topic and, if you consider its military roots, it’s easy to understand why. Think for a minute about how critical communication is in wartime. People live and die according to orders. And we are not talking about only the giving of the orders – you must also take into account how the order is received. Both have to be lock-in-step or things can get sideways in a hurry.
As civilians, we shouldn’t take orders (directions) any less seriously. We each go through our day, communicating with our clients, co-workers, and partners. How many of us spend enough time communicating with the goal to ensure clear and effective information that cannot be misinterpreted?
Often, this means more time will need to be taken in the creation of the order. In modern times, we have developed different technologies with an emphasis on short and quick communication. Text messages, emails, etc. have led us down a path where we water things down in the interest of 140 characters. While simple writing is almost always best in the day-to-day, it can get too simple. Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes. Try to empathize and clear your mind of what you know about the directive and give an honest attempt to understand how your information will be digested before you craft that message. Then, using plain and simple language, convey the information in a way that leaves little to the imagination. Your recipient is likely not as immersed in the situation as are you and therefore may need a few more dots to connect to arrive at a full understanding.
Forget what you know in order to help others understand what you mean.
This is the first in a three-part series. Next month, we will talk about “Three-Way Communication” and in March we will touch on why it’s important to “Read the Instructions”.