One of the most difficult things to do in this world is for a person to explain themselves in an effective, efficient, and generous way so the listener comes away changed and realizes that there’s “something in it” for them as much as you do.
Poor communication and explanation are the seeds that germinate into war, divorce, a failed product launch, and even when good intentions can cause pain.
If you don’t understand it—your job, your book, your point—no one will.
First, there’s got to be a common thread between what you’re saying, the other person, and what you want them to understand. The sound of your voice, as charming and melodic as it is (I’m talking to you James Earl Jones); isn’t enough hold a person’s attention to listen with intent… well, unless you’re James Earl Jones.
Search for a starting point that’s going to make the person perk up their ears, whatever it is. Kelly Wilson describes what that moment was like when she had to explain something to her young son dealing with a disability. It’s brilliant, it marries the person and professional, and it’s HERE.
A) Keep it as brief as possible, B) remove the jargon, and C) give people the space to ask questions and understand on their own and in their own way.
It’s that last part “C” that’s truly the most difficult and for several reasons
1) Often when people ask questions there is something else, unsaid and affected by the person’s frame of reference, attached to the question: fear, mistrust; or even as simple as lack of vocabulary.
2) Part of what you’re doing when you’re giving people the space to ask questions and think things through—you’re also reading their body language and tone of voice for clues to help you explain yourself better or refine your message.
“I’m sensing by your tone of voice you might be skeptical.”
“I’m sensing by your arms crossed that you might be closed off to the idea.”
Then you get to ask why or go deeper on what you’re trying to expound upon. In some cases you won’t get another chance so A) you’ll learn to explain differently off the bat, or B) you can try again later in a different way, or C) you’ll learn that you need to learn more about the very thing you’re trying to explain
3) Helping people understand on their own and in their own way. This is something that people aren’t used to. If someone is in trouble or doesn’t understand, we want to fix the issue. But the problem is, we try to fix it in a way that makes sense to us, and not to the other person. You might find that it’s easier for you, for a variety of reasons to get to the highway using route A or the scenic route; but the other person might find using route B, the speedy route, is faster. Neither route is wrong for each respective person—each route leads to the highway—but give a person a route that makes little to no sense to them; and they may never get to the highway or worse, they’ll never try.
How do we give a person the space to understand on their own and in their own way? We listen both for verbal cues and for physical cues. Silence is great. People don’t often think well with a bunch of noise and demands on top of their thoughts. Asking questions is brilliant. “How can I help you understand this better?” “What part of this makes the least sense?” “Where did I lose you?”
The questions are great because you’re asking for instructions, you’re asking for permission from the other person rather than making demands (“no, you don’t get it, it’s like this” “listen to me explain it again”)—which is always a better way to approach a person.
If you want to sell that idea, make peace in the home, or help that person in crisis—try switching up or refining the way you explain yourself… but make it work for you in your own way. Take the words I wrote with a grain of salt, using the parts of it that work best for you (if any), while leaving the rest.
And yes, I’m aware of the irony that someone might read this and not understand it. And to you I ask, what part of this was difficult to understand and how can I explain it better?