Over the years, there have been some funny observations on the importance of punctuation, grammar and choice of words.  Sometimes, the words and structure you use to say something may be technically correct, but be interpreted in a manner that you did not intend for it to be received.

I realised how easily this can happen earlier this week when I decided to review a past university exam paper with a course coordinator.  I was unclear on a few questions I had initially been marked incorrect on and really did believe I had given a correct answer.  When I explained how I read the question, the course coordinator conceded that my answer was correct for the way I had read the question, although my answer was completely different to that on the criteria sheet.

Working in an industry where emails and phone calls are a daily routine, this interaction with my course coordinator made me really consider how what I say is interpreted and what the best way to ensure my intended point is really heard.  After considering this, I found there are a number of tips that are useful to help ensure that you are clearly understood when interacting with someone.

  • Use simple words. The problem can be creating ambiguity by using words that have more than one meaning, or using words that your audience does not understand.  Quite often, people will assume a meaning, when it could in fact be the complete opposite of what you have intended.  The way to avoid this? Use simple words, short sentences, short paragraphs and get to the point.  Also ensure that if you are requesting something, be concise and clear about what it is you need.
  • Summarise.  An effective way of ensuring understanding after a conversation (be it by phone call, in person or a lengthy email), or when giving instructions, is to repeat what you have said by quickly summarising the main points.  This will recapture in the other persons mind what it was that you have said, and gives a simplified version of the point or instruction you were trying to get across.
  • Freshen the content.  There are a lot of templates for things these days.  When someone frequently receives a letter or email that appears to be something they have read before, they may not read the guts of the content.  Suppose you send a routine email to your clients, but this time you include something vital in the middle of the email.  The chances of your client reading what you were trying to say and taking the time to understand it will be much higher if the correspondence looks to be something they have not seen before.

Forbes have recommended using the P.R.E.P. method.

P: Point – make it clear, clean and concise.

R: Reason – justify your point.

E: Example, Evidence or Experience back up your point

P: Point – restate your point – people best remember what they hear last!

These tips will assist in making sure that the point you are trying to make is heard, is clear and that it is not interpreted in a way you were not intending. There will be the occasion where you cannot help how a message has been received, but be sure to take a position where you can accept that the person has received the message wrongly and may have given you an appropriate response for what they believe was asked.  Remember to be patient and work through the process again to get across what was intended

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