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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Is This Poor Communication? You Bet!

Have I noticed a strange new language pattern creeping
into people's speech? Yes.

Does it make the message any clearer? No

Does it annoy me? Yes, it annoys me a lot!

With these three short paragraphs, business communication coach Helen Wilkie introduces a short rant in her excellent e-newsletter Communi-keys.

Of course, she could have written: "Recently I've noticed strange new pattern creeping into people's speech. It sounds very irritating, and doesn't make the message any clearer." Direct and to the point. Doesn't that sound better to you? My guess is that it does.

But Helen, of course, doesn't need to be taught how to communicate. She was using the very style she wanted to attack in order to drive home her point.

One hears this round-about way of talking in many places today, especially from public figures, politicians, business executives and other people who are frequently interviewed in the media. When asked to elaborate on a point or provide information, instead of making a simple, straightforward statement, they phrase their message as a question and answer.

This is the result:

Do we have all the answers? No.
Do we still have a long way to go? Yes.
Are we moving in the right direction? Yes.

A silly way to speak, right? A simple, straight-forward statement would get the message across more clearly and concisely than a gimmicky mini-session of one person asking and answering his own questions.

Helen laments that the virus is spreading and she's hearing these one-person Q&A's from people in the workplace. She says she's tempted to interrupt before they answer their own question and retort: "I don't know. I thought you did!"

Sometimes, concedes Helen, the self-directed question can be useful if the person you're conversing with doesn't make his or her own question clear. You might then say: "If you're asking me if we will be expanding our product line this quarter, then the answer is no." This is obviously an attempt to clarify the subject in order to be sure you are answering the right question, and is perfectly acceptable--once.

But when a series of factual statements is turned into a list of artificial questions, it's just plain silly. Not only that, but it soon becomes irritating, and verbal irritants make for poor communication.

At all times a good rule to follow is: never say in ten words what you could just as easily say in five without loss to clarity or meaning. So use questions to get information from other people, not from yourself! Forget about the flourishes. Just say what you have to say.

For another kind of irritating habit in verbal communication that's becoming increasingly common, see here.

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