U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” This phrase became the cornerstone of Roosevelt’s foreign policy. This post is not about foreign policy. It is, however, going to address the need for simple and straightforward communication in a world filled with nuance, metaphor, and hyperbole.
Clear and concise communication is what sustains productivity and profitability. The best companies and organizations put a premium on effective communication. It’s not enough to just set clear expectations. You must go further and set those expectations in the simplest of terms. Don’t worry about insulting anyone’s intelligence. The most intelligent people desire straightforward instruction.
There is a scene from the movie, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” that perfectly illustrates the difference between superfluous and simple communication. Sir Geoffrey Rush’s character, Captain Barbosa is responding to Kiera Knightly’s character’s asking for a “cessation of hostilities against Port Royal.” Barbosa tells her that he’s a “humble pirate and those are big words.” He proceeds to ask her a pointed question, “what is it that you want?” She responds, “I want you to leave and never come back.” Barbosa replies, “I’m disinclined to acquiesce to your request. Means ‘no.’”
Isn’t it interesting how a rambling discussion can be so easily condensed? “I want you to leave.” “No.” These are the only words that needed to be spoken. Why do we use fancy words and phrases to communicate such simple requests? Are we trying to impress someone? Do we want to sound smarter? Are we purposely trying to insult someone’s intelligence by pointing out that they have a limited vocabulary?
The best authors to have ever lived knew that “less is more.” They constantly write and re-write. They edit their work themselves and then they pass their revisions onto someone else for additional editing. The goal is to communicate the message as clearly and concisely as possible.
Before you send out e-mail or speak at a meeting, ask yourselves these questions:
Is the information that I’m sharing easy to understand?
Am I being crystal clear as to what my expectation is?
Is my message void of all idioms, internal phrasing/acronyms, and unnecessary language?
Could a third party read or listen to this message and complete this sentence in 20 words or less? ‘The point of this message is ___________.”
Who would have thought that President Roosevelt and Captain Barbosa felt the same way about communicating?
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