Is Your Articulate Communication Befuddling? (Or, are you trying so hard no one hears what you’re trying to say?)

In the last 24 hours, I’ve been involved in miscommunications with a vendor, the receptionist at my doctor’s office and, naturally, my husband, although the latter I think we can chalk it up to the whole men-are-from-mars thing. With the first two, however, this had me wonder if the problem lies with the sender, receiver or both.

We’re all busy. I get it. When we’re not physically busy, like when sweeping floors or curing cancer, our minds are busy, with that little rascal refusing to shut up. Despite our physical and mental gymnastics, we’re still talking, writing, texting … communicating. Or, so we think. Exactly how many times have you had to say to someone, “Are you listening?” Uh, no, they weren’t. At least not to you. All the chatter going on in their heads makes it impossible for you to get a word in edgewise. So, is it really a giant surprise when someone forgot to pick up something you explicitly told them to pick up or it takes three attempts to get your point across?

Let’s take a closer look, shall we? Here’s the exchange with the earlier referenced vendor:

Vendor: We ran a billing audit last night and during this process, we applied a charge for the cost of one user seat to your account. To be certain your account is charged the correct amount this month, we will bill you for one less seat during your next billing cycle. We apologize for any inconvenience and can ensure you won’t be overbilled. 

Me: Thanks, but I am not understanding.

Vendor: Your normal billing date is for $119 on the 30th of every month. Basically this month you were charged 3 weeks early, but moving forward in September it will return to normal that you are charged on the 30th.

As I scratched my head over their first communication, I am pretty confident the “sender” believed they did an entirely adequate job conveying their message at the start as it appears articulate, professional and smartly composed. As I typically assume responsibility for communication failures, believing I must have some part in it, lest it would not occur, especially when the communicator seems to be trying really hard, this time, nope. It was all on them considering their “explanation” communication wasn’t all that reflective of their first. Why didn’t they just say: “We usually invoice you on the 30th of the month but this month we invoiced you 3 weeks early. Our bad. Next month we won’t screw up“?

I have a theory as to why we don’t just say things like they are. We mistakenly believe that to-the-point communication may make us sound dumb so we junk up our communications with extra or big words and, in some cases, sounds, reminding of the story told by Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity (https://www.kimmalonescott.com), about a conversation she had with Sheryl Sandberg following a meeting Kim had with Google’s founders she felt had gone very well. Post-meeting, Sandberg counseled Kim on her peppering her communication with too many “ums”. Kim brushed it off in light of the great meeting. Sandberg pushed back, saying, “You know, Kim, I can tell I’m not really getting through to you. I’m going to have to be clearer here. When you say um every third word, it makes you sound stupid.” (https://firstround.com/review/radical-candor-the-surprising-secret-to-being-a-good-boss/) No mistaking what Sandberg meant to give Kim clarity on actions she might want to take.

Good communication doesn’t require “smart” words, guttural fillers or using 10 words when 2 works great. Love him or hate him, Dona;d Trump’s, “You’re fired”, left nothing to the imagination. Sheryl Sandberg telling Kim Scott she sounds stupid when saying “um” every third words, equally concise. And isn’t that the point of communicating, to be understood? Does it get any smarter than that?