Effective Communications Can Be Defined With Two Words: Clarity and Authenticity

Posted by Rick DeMarco on 17 September 2015

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We live in a complicated world with more information hitting us daily than we can possibly absorb. It’s interesting to watch the evolution of technology as it balances advancement with ease of use and absorption. I remember the days when you needed a programmer to access data or when the user interface was so confusing that technology only seemed relevant to the technologically adept. With significant technological advances over the last 10 years, the user interface has become easier and easier for those who are not technology wizards, with the increasing use of voice activation. I can now tell my GPS where I want to go, I can tell my TV what I want to watch, and with the recent introduction of the Amazon Echo, I can tell “Alexa” to provide me with the weather, look information up on Wikipedia, run calculations, and play music that I want to hear. At one point, Android phones were only for the technology experts, while Apple was creating user interfaces that were easy for anyone to use. Android has now made significant strides in using advanced technology but simplifying the ability to use it and access information.

Business communications have often struggled with the same challenge as technology. As we have become more and more educated, we feel compelled to reflect that education in complex communications with words that often, most of the audience does not comprehend. We have somehow fallen into the trap of believing that by using million dollar words and complex notions, we demonstrate our intellectual capacity, without regard for whether our audience understands the message we are delivering. 

Effective communications can be characterized by two words: clarity and authenticity. Denzel Washington played an attorney in a movie called “Philadelphia” and throughout the movie, he would tell people to “Explain it to me like I’m a 6 year old”. Think about how much easier it would be for people to understand our messages, absorb them, and engage with them if we were more focused on simplicity and clarity than on demonstrating our intellect. 

Equally important is authenticity. Messages delivered with no hidden agendas and with a true reflection of our thoughts and beliefs go a long way towards creating engagement. In the earlier years of my career, I remember listening to the CEO of United Technology, awestruck with his intellect and the complexity of his message. As I learned more and more about effective communication and leadership, my loyalty and engagement shifted to leaders like the VP of Marketing at Whirlpool, who was always clear in his communication and spoke from a position of authenticity and sincerity. I could then spend my time doing something with the message he was delivering instead of trying to figure out what he was saying or what he wanted me to do.

So the next time you have a message to deliver, think about Denzel Washington’s advice, “Explain it to me like I’m a 6 year old” and focus on clarity and authenticity. The time you save in explaining your message and the engagement you create by ensuring that people understand and absorb your message will dramatically increase your skill as a great communicator and influencer.