The one worthwhile lesson I ever learned from a management course was that if someone misunderstands something you’ve told them, the fault lies with you and you alone.
Communication is a skill, and one which we don’t value nearly highly enough. Show me any successful person in any walk of life and I’ll bet you a pound to a penny they’ll be a good, if not exceptional, communicator.
Effective communication is the meat and potatoes of leadership. There’s no point in having “vision”, whatever the fuck that means, unless you can make people understand it. To be truly outstanding you not only need to crack that, but to inspire too.
Business leaders, politicians, teachers, TV presenters, all of these people (and that’s a ridiculous subset that just came into my head) need fantastic communication skills to succeed.
What does that leave you with in middle management? People with ambition who can’t write an email to save their lives.
You know who else needs to communicate effectively? Writers. In fact writers are probably the single group most reliant on this skill. Of course, they know that (or at least the best ones do) and they practice, hone and develop their ability with words to a breathtaking level.
The reason I’m writing this now is that I read two blog posts today, one by a lady I have huge respect and admiration for, who is a massively talented and successful author. The other, also by a lady, also a writer, but not yet a successful one. The pieces were completely different in their subject matter and tone, yet both tried to describe something of their author’s inner selves.
As I read the second, I found myself comparing it to the first not in terms of the prose but in how easily I understood their messages.
Yes, the professional writer’s work was cleaner and better punctuated, all the words were correct and used the proper tense or pluralisation – all the things that smack of an eye drilled in self-editing through years of hard graft, but that wasn’t it, or at least not it entirely.
Her writing was – is ALWAYS – like looking through a pane of crystal glass into her mind. Her prose is terrific, yes, but not what I’d call literary. Words are her tools and she uses them like a watchmaker, piecing together precisely the right ones to get her message across. Just those and no more. It’s her clarity of thought that’s amazing, together with her ability to introduce the reader to those thoughts with nothing in the way.
The second piece, while nicely written and poignant, was still just a piece of writing on a screen. It didn’t allow me easily past that. I got the message but it took effort, and that’s communication with room for improvement.
You’ll often hear writers, agents and publishers talk about “spare” writing, about removing any and all superfluous words. I’m sure many people, me included, take that simply to mean cutting down on the verbiage. I think I’ve (finally) come to realise that reducing the word count isn’t the end goal, though. What they’re really talking about is polishing the message, of making the writing so clear that reading it is like seeing the author’s thoughts through that pane of crystal glass.
It’s a very good lesson, even if you have to learn it twice.