I don’t seeeeee you!

If I don’t see in my head what you’re talking about I won’t feel it and I won’t remember it. Humans are primarily visual creatures. Hence such comments as “see you later,” “I see what you’re saying,” and “See! I told you so!” A manager once told me he was going to build a new plant that was “conducive to employment opportunities for a plurality of the population.” I didn’t see his point at all. My translation was, “So you’re putting a paycheck in the pockets of 300 workers?” Oh yeah, that was it. I see what you’re getting at.

The challenge is that few if any of us have exactly the same visual image when we hear a word or phrase. Try this simple research. Ask six people what they visualized when you said the word “orange” (or pick any other simple word). I’ll bet you a red apple that no group of six subjects “saw” the same thing in their head. Such misinterpretation of even a simple word gets massively compounded when we use fuzzy phrases like “conflict,” “respect,” “leadership,” and “fairness.” Hence the urgency of validating that what you’re seeing is what they’re seeing.

Effective communications uses the power of ESP. No, not extra-sensory perception (although that can help). It’s what I call language that is Emotive (grabs our emotions), Simple (no big words and crazy acronyms), and Personal (what you’re saying has a very direct impact on the receiver). News reporters and great writers are super at this. Hemingway is reported to have written a tear-jerker short-story in six words: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”

In our workplaces the need for concise, clear language has never been more urgent. Many employees have mastered the tightness and terseness of the Twitterverse. But then they read incomprehensible gibberish from managers and spin-doctors who leave but one powerful visual in the brain. A giant question mark.

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