The clarity overestimation problem

As speakers, we overestimate how clearly we communicate. And, as listeners, we overestimate how much we understand.

Aside from long term investments in learning to communicate clearly and becoming better listeners (both valuable), it helps to have a short term counter to this asymmetry. And, the best I’ve found is habitually replaying what we think we just heard and requesting listeners to share what they think they took away.

We aren’t going to solve the overestimation habit (we all like to believe we are above average) – so, we might as well get on with solving the resulting issue.

Observation and Evaluation

“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.” | J Krishnamurthi.

Our natural instincts tend to have us overdo evaluation and under-do observation. They also push us to conflate both by attempting to do both at the same time.

There’s a time to observe and a time to evaluate. And, learning to keep observation and evaluation separate in our thinking and communication is a superpower because it enables us to have consistently productive and constructive conversations.

Next step for myself: Learn how to better separate the two. :-)

(H/T Non Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg)

Behind every effortless display of skill

Behind every effortless display of skill lies thousands of hours of effortful deliberate practice.

I recently had the opportunity to ask a fantastic communicator about his journey to effortless public speaking. He shared two nuggets.

First, he talked about the commitment he made when he decided to become a great communicator. He realized it mattered to him and wanted to get really good. So, he committed to doing 50 speaking events in the next twelve months. 10 speaking events would be a lot for most people. But, he started with a talk at the local library and went on to complete 50 in about 18 months.

Now that he had established a level of comfort and expertise, the next step was continuous improvement. Before every talk, he asks a friend/colleague to look out for 1-2 things he can do better. By making a specific request, he ensures there’s no cop out “you did great!” answer. He then follows up after the talk on the feedback and incorporates it for the next one. He’s been doing this for a decade.

It is worth repeating again then – behind every effortless display of skill lies thousands of hours of effortful deliberate practice.

Productive communication

We often think of productivity in terms of work we get done. But, our ability to communicate has a big impact on our own productivity as well as that of others around us.

And, as a friend pointed out the other day, we can get a lot more done if we can manage to communicate consistently in a way that manages to challenge people’s thinking without making them feel defensive.

PS: I’m not sure yet as to what the key to challenging without creating defensiveness is – since I’m not good at it myself. Would love your ideas. I’ll aim to share a synthesis after giving this more thought.

Back-and-forth

Tools like slack and email on the phone have made it easier for us to go back-and-forth with colleagues on questions. I’ve been paying attention to the many times I’ve been guilty of initiating these sorts of conversations.

These start with an unassuming “Hey, quick question -” and soon spiral into – “Oh, does that mean….?”

Every once a while, these back-and-forths exist because of the complexity of the problem. It is hard to ask that next question if you know little about the problem. But, more often than not, a little bit of upfront thought could help us lay out the 4-5 questions we actually do want to ask.

Giving that extra bit of thought upfront and batching our questions can make a big difference to the productivity of the person on the receiving end.

Here’s to doing that.

Explaining problems better

Here are 5 questions I’ve been thinking about a lot as I seek to explain problems better (no shortage of ongoing issues :-))-

1. What is the problem?

2. Where does it lie?

3. Why does it exist?

4. What could we do about it?

5. What should we do about it?

I’ve been finding it helpful to just write out my answers to these questions and then rearrange them in some version of “Situation-Complication-Solution.”

The principle here is to do a better job separating the thinking process from the writing process. And, the first step to separating the thinking process is ensuring the thinking is done in the first place.

(H/T Barbara Minto’s Pyramid Principle for recommending these questions when approaching problem solving)

Filler words

Sort of
Uhhh
Like
Kind of
Right
Basically
Honestly
Uhm

These are the filler words I’ve found myself using in order of frequency.

I noticed last week in a conversation with a wiser acquaintance that he used no filler words. None. Zilch. And, this was a normal conversation. We spoke about a bunch of topics and I asked him a couple of questions that definitely made him think. Even then, he spoke with a clarity that felt inspiring.

So, I’ve resolved to cut out filler words. They’ve largely seeped into my language out of habit and association. This journey will likely take a long while as it means undoing some very old habits.

But, it has begun with an increased awareness around how I speak. And, I’m excited about growing through this process of learning to think and communicate with clarity.