Nebulosities (besides being a word that I made up) create a lack of clarity in our communication.
Nebulosities contribute to vagueness and ambiguity. They’re the language of “saying things indirectly.” We may think we’re getting our point across without being too aggressive. Instead, we make it a cloud of words.
I hope you know what I’m getting at. I believe I’ve made it clear.
Do you understand now?
Those listening must work harder, or just guess, to decipher what we meant to say. They move through a cloud to get to what they (hope) is the right answer.
Often times, they come to a different conclusion.
Clear as a Bell
As a young man in high school, I was required to take a speech class. And at that age I spoke in language that was filled with “uhh, umm, I think, like.”
It didn’t mean I wasn’t thinking. I simply didn’t know how to clearly communicate what I meant.
I didn’t feel it was a problem at the time. And then my speech teacher pulled out a bell.
Every time a student would stand and deliver a speech, she would ding that bell when she heard the “uhhs” and the “umms.” Those phrases that masked the meaning of our words. Those placeholder words we’d say as we struggled to find the right one.
I watched other students get dinged.
Then I’d get dinged.
I had nightmares of standing in front of class and the bell would “ding, ding, ding, ding…”
I was terrified of that bell!
There’s a happy ending to this story though.
Because I wanted to avoid dings, I worked to catch those words when I spoke. I made sure I was clear and concise. Soon this transferred into my normal speech patterns.
Thanks to my speech teacher, I found a way to avoid the ne-BELL-osities.
Today, as I meet with members, I bring a bell with me.
It’s not to terrorize them. It’s a tool I use to teach others to catch nebulosities.
Taking out these phrases that contribute to cloudiness is important. When we use nebulosities we’re not conveying intent or purpose. We create a question in the person’s mind.
“I hope I defined nebulosities.”
The Right Handed Pen Raise
When we give directions, but don’t check for understanding, we think the other person knows exactly what it is that we want.
If we say something one day and don’t check for understanding, then we assume the task will get done a certain way.
“Trust but verify.” - Ronald Reagan
For example, I teach “The Right-Handed Pen Raise” to my members.
The Right-Handed Pen Raise is my example of a process that’s important for any company. By learning the proper protocol we save time in our communication. If not done properly, precious time is wasted because someone is raising the pen the wrong way. When that happens productivity drops, safety is compromised, sales decline, margins erode and soon the company is behind on their goals.
Now I’ll teach you The Right-Handed Pen Raise so you and your company can run more efficiently;
Take a pen in your right hand.
Clench the pen so it’s aligned with your knuckles and the tip is over your thumb.
Hold the pen up so it’s pointing towards your ear. Your arm is fully extended to the side of your body. Your elbow will be at a ninety-degree angle.
Raise your right hand straight up until it’s fully extended.
Now bring it back down until your elbow is again at a ninety-degree angle.
That is The Right-Handed Pen Raise.
You know what I mean when I ask you to perform The Right-Handed Pen Raise. You can now teach it to those on your team.
By teaching and demonstrating this to your team, you’re creating an environment of accountability.
Now that it’s been taught to you and successfully demonstrated, I know that you know how to do it. There will be no assumptions.
By taking away the nebulosities, we’ve created accountability and clarity within our team. Clarity in that you know how to do it because directions were communicated succinctly. Accountability because I know, that you know, that I know, that you know how to do The Right-Handed Pen Raise.
When we give direction to someone there’s really only two reasons why people don’t follow through on things;
They’re not capable of doing it.
They don’t care.
This is why we need to check for understanding when we give direction.
Once a task is demonstrated, check for understanding. To confirm I can ask the person to demonstrate it back to me or repeat the instructions. This confirmation reveals the information was properly formatted, transmitted, and received.
I know, that you know, that I know, that you know how to do what I’ve asked.
It may seem tedious to confirm these details.
Without confirmation, especially in the beginning of our work relationships, we leave ourselves open to miscommunication, disclarity, and nebulosities. By taking the time to confirm directions, we’re preventing problems down the road. Problems not just for ourselves, but for those around us as well.
The definition of accountability is, “I know, that you know, that I know.”
A Thousand Words
Removing nebulosities from our communication is vital to success in any company.
This doesn’t mean we should use more and more words to ensure clarity. Being clear and concise in our communication is a balancing act. We must first choose the right words to say, followed by succinctly expressing them.
Ernest Hemingway, for example, wrote the shortest short story- For Sale, baby shoes, only worn once. With only seven words, Hemingway clearly and succinctly conveys volumes of information.
Sometimes we feel we must convey volumes of information. This leads to rambling with no clear information given. I work with someone who can say about a thousand words in sixty seconds. Impressive as this is, it’s hard to understand what he means as he says so much in a short time.
I’ve been working with this person to come up with a phrase he can remember quickly, like a time-out. After a couple sessions he came back to me and said “A thousand words.”
“What does that mean to you?” I asked.
“I can say a thousand words in sixty seconds, but nobody can understand what I’m saying. When you hear me over-talking, I want you to say ‘a thousand words.’”
Thanks to this phrase, he’s been able to catch himself over-talking. I’ve seen real improvement with him.
We as people tend to over-explain and over-talk as a defense mechanism.
When people don’t understand things, when we’re lying about something, when we’re trying to be someone we’re not, when we’re trying to please our boss or those around us-- we over-talk.
More words doesn’t always mean more clarity.
Over-talking and over-explaining, like nebulosities, contribute to a lack of clarity. And when that happens, things that need to get done don’t get done. Goals aren’t met and distance is created between people.
This goes back to the style of communication we use and an understanding of what we’re saying and how we’re saying it. We need to communicate in a way that’s clear.
Communication is key to all of our relationships.
There is more than one way to communicate within our companies.
There is more than one way nebulosities can find their way into other forms of communication as well. For example, emails are a common way to share information.
When everyone in the office is sending emails to each other, this can result in lost time because we’re forced to sit and read through each one. If one or two of those emails are lengthy emails, that’s even more time spent reading through them instead of working on something else. The real issue is when long emails are written when only a handful of words will do.
Many companies will establish an email protocol to solve this problem. By defining how emails are used will limit the amount sent, saving time and confusion.
Protocols can extend beyond emails to phone calls, messages on display around the office, and many more. By setting up a clear method for how information should be transferred, you’re clearly defining how to communicate. When done properly you’ll be able to avoid lost time and miscommunication.
It reminds me of a former boss of mine, Mike. To keep in touch, we’d call each other at our offices. When we were done talking, I would hear a click.
No “thank you,” or “have a nice day, goodbye.”
Just dead air.
So I asked him, “Why don’t you say ‘goodbye’ on the phone?”
“Well, when I hang up, what do you think happened?” He said.
“I think the call’s over.”
“Exactly,” he said, “Is there some emotional need that you have for me saying ‘goodbye’ to you? I’m giving you back time. In the few seconds it would have taken for you to listen and say goodbye, and say goodbye back to me, it’s just not necessary. So when we’re done, I hang up.”
Now I understood that about him. I no longer felt badly.
For Mike, and others that I’ve worked with, they’re fine keeping things short and to the point. They say what they need to say and cut out other phrases.
Other people are not like that.
Some people expect a spoken “thank you,” or a “goodbye” when the conversation ends. It’s a relational aspect that shouldn’t be ignored. Be aware of this when it comes to your team. One person may want to hear the “thank you” while the other is perfectly fine without it.
That may not be part of your communication style and that’s okay. Knowing how people communicate is part of the balancing act of being a leader.
Nebulosities cause problems within organizations.
When we use phrases like “I hope, I think, I believe, I feel, could you, let’s try this, maybe if we,”etc., we’re creating that cloud of words. Instead of clearly stating what’s to be done and how, we’re creating a question of “what” or “how” in a person’s mind.
More important than the what or the how is the why.
The people you work with, and who answer to you, need to understand the significance and the importance of the work that they’re doing. We have to check in and make sure they know what’s expected from them. They need to know they’re capable of doing it.
We need to balance that with clear communication. Many times that becomes an excuse and we over-talk and over-explain. We add too much context in the middle of the thousand words when three words was all that was needed.
If we use nebulosities to help us explain the why of what we’re doing, then we’ll miss it and head off in the wrong direction. By clearing defining the why, we’re setting the course for our company and organization.
Without a clear why, we’ll get lost. By using phrases “like, I hope, I feel, could we,” the why remains unknown. We’ll be shrouded in a cloud that obscures where we’re going and what we’re supposed to be doing.
As a leader, it’s up to you to have a clear vision of both.
Beyond that, it’s up to you to clearly communicate that to your team and to your organization.
I ‘hope’ I’ve made that clear.