Let Me Be Clear

I’ve been compiling a list of phrases I want to retire next year and “let me be clear” is right up there near the top. How many times per week can I listen to that phrase followed by a statement clearly intended to muddy the water and not lose my mind? If you said, 10,472 you’d probably be close.

There’s nothing wrong with the words or an intent to be clear. My problem is that the phrase is rarely used to mean the speaker wants to be clear. More often it means the speaker wants you to pay attention to a half-truth or full-fledged lie that creates the illusion they desire for you to see. So enough with deliberate misuse, misrepresentation, and misdirection already. Please stop!

Let’s all be clear!

Clarity is important. It’s crucial for a recipe. Without clarity, you may not end up with the intended result. But we all speak using unique turns of phrase. What’s crystal clear to me may not be clear to you. That’s where consistent format, industry-specific terminology, and formulaic rules can help – think grammar for instance. But no matter how carefully we craft, what content we create, which words we write, and how we verbalize sentences, our communication is subject to each consumer’s context.  

Clarity is even more important for health guidelines. It’s critical when writing conclusions drawn from data. And each time we pull back, hedge, or try to soften the message, we run the risk of confusing people.

So how can we communicate clearly?

I cannot possibly outline a way to avoid all misunderstanding, but I will give you five tips for drafting clear communication.

  1. Determine the scope and purpose of the communication.
  2. Identify and research your audience. Communication must be delivered in language that will be easily understood using an accessible method.
  3. Assume nothing. Draft every document, policy, and procedure as if nothing has preceded it and nothing will follow it. Write it as if it must stand on its own. Once the draft is done, document any overlap with other relevant documents. Keep a log of this overlap. Reference other existing documents and remove duplication when possible.
  4. Put all pertinent facts that live in your head in the draft. Once that all-inclusive version is written, review and pare down to essentials. It’s tempting to pare down first, but this creates one of the most common errors I see – critical information is left out. Since the information is known to you, you are less likely to recognize its omission upon review.
  5. Stick with the facts. Do not embellish or diminish them. Resolve conflicting statements prior to publication. Be conscious of word choice, but recognize that you may not please everyone. It is best to be concise and straightforward.

I realize this topic may be a stretch for this blog, but I feel really hungry for clear, concise communication that I can rely on for facts. I don’t think I’m alone in that. And, if you follow these tips, there should be no reason to say, “Let me be clear….” And not hearing that will work very nicely for me.