Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Why Do We Have Failure to Communicate?
Communication is a necessity for every successful group. Most fail to do it well and reach almost no one. And that is not the way anyone wants it.
Bad communication comes from barriers established by gibberish, which is unintelligible speech or writing. Most gibberish comes from either the least articulate or the most highly capable. People in between tend to actually get their points across pretty well.
Young people often communicate very poorly, more from the lack of experience than intelligence. Generally they don't give much thought to language style or word use. As a result, young people experiment and play with word use and definitions, creating slang. Some of these elevate into general use, like the word "cool." "Cool" entered slang decades ago, meaning a calm person, a good situation, and other things. It passed into political diction with "Keep Cool With Coolidge."
Words and phrases that don't make the cut fall quickly into dated disuse, a funny reminder of the place and time used. Where did "23 skiddoo" come from? Who knows? But it was slang for almost two decades.
Those trying to communicate with young people often make the mistake of trying to communicate in this invented lingo. They think it establishes rapport, but it really makes the listeners feel uncomfortable. Most likely, the awkwardness stems from the fact that most slang is just plain silly and comes from young people's inability to really use language precisely. The silliness is reflected in the surrealism of an older person speaking or writing in this way.
Invention of slang and playing with language is an effective collective stage for each generation, especially with the sharp decline of English language education. If any individual of any age wants to learn to communicate well, unless they went to a select few schools, they have to teach themselves. And innovation is not bad. At its best, slang keeps the language dynamic and relevant. But most slang is ridiculous.
Young people want messages related in the same way as anyone else, clearly and without fuss. Speaking to them in their own way smacks of condescension.
Other gibberish spewers deserve blame because they should know better. In this category fall business people, academics, and public policy wonks. Lawyers get a pass when they are trying to anticipate all legal variables which, honestly, is an almost impossible job. Lawyers are using necessary tools, not producing gibberish.
The rest of this crowd sets up barriers that do not need to be there, and they know better. Most understand that they can communicate more simply. They train themselves to speak gibberish just like a young person has to train themselves to like cigarettes. One has to overcome the initial revulsion of doing something unnatural until it becomes a comfortable, addicting habit.
But why? Likely because of an inferiority complex initially. One wants to sound "professional," be accepted as a peer. To moo using the same notes as the rest of the herd. To be a good cow.
This makes no sense in business. Certainly, each individual seeks acceptance as a professional and endeavors to reduce the gap between their actual employment position and their perceived professional goals (see how that works? Dreadful!) But the great corporate founders did not and do not speak that way. Tom Watson, Andrew Carnegie, Sam Walton never spoke like that. Bill Gates, one of the most brilliant minds in business, does not speak in gibberish. They use simple terms. They want to get their message across. Why business professionals don't emulate their models remains a great mystery.
Academics deserve no sympathy. Their entire job is communication and they purposefully erect gibberish walls to keep us commoners out, then blame us for not comprehending their point. The walls insulate their intellects, protecting them and their ideas from the vulgar Aristotlean world. Which is why their thoughts are often not practical and make no sense. They not so secretly hate accomplished writers like David McCullough whose writing has influenced generations. How? Instead of acres of pointless, dry, thick wordage he tells stories and produces beautiful prose.
Breaking the gibberish habit is simple. First, read George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language." Some of it does reflect linguistic nationalism, but the rest offers good advice. Use simpler words when possible. Follow the rules, but don't be afraid to break them if they lead you to writing something "barbarous."
Also, remove 10 percent of the total word count as part of the first edit. It forces the writer to simplify gibberish and communicate in the same way as normal humans.
The vast middle ground actually communicates well. For most people, simple and honest communication is a necessity. The barriers of bad language would keep them from accomplishing anything in their normal lives. The young and the professional world often condemn simple communicators as Philistines, but they could learn a lot from us.