I think of communication as similar to sending someone an old fashioned yellow taxi. I want to move my listener from a point of not-knowing to a destination of understanding. There are three things that communication and taxi rides have in common:
Familiarity Comforts Us
Why are taxis yellow? Since most cars on the road are not yellow, it allows taxis to stand out from the other cars. This is similar to a yellow school bus, which allows it to stand out from other busses. We’re familiar with these yellow objects and they feel normal to us. We’re comfortable enough to ride in them, not just because they are yellow, but because they aren’t new or threatening to us.
When communicating, we’re more comfortable when we are dealing with words that are already in our vocabulary – words that we are familiar with. We don’t have to worry about misunderstanding their meaning or forgetting them midway through the conversation. When someone talks to us using familiar words, it’s easier to stay focused on the message.
Tone Sets the Stage
We’re putting our future at stake by stepping into a taxi. If the taxi shows up with a broken windshield and a missing bumper, we may question our safety. The appearance, or tone, of the taxi can shift the focus off the ride.
This is just like in communication, where tone can shift the focus off the message being communicated and on to the people who are communicating. Have you ever read an email and thought that you sensed some hostility? Setting the right tone can be especially challenging with email, as sometimes the voice in our head doesn’t match the voice of the speaker.
When reading email, it can help to have an ‘innocent until proven guilty’ approach, where we assume that the tone we are reading is calm and friendly until proven otherwise. It can be helpful to double check our writing to see if it can be mistakenly read in a different tone. As of writing this, there is no universally accepted sarcasm typeface, although the scientists in this article are really close.
Communication Hates Traffic Too
Traffic is no fun, especially if we have somewhere to be. When driving, we try to avoid traffic. Taxis want to find the path of least resistance.
Less words = less distractions. We want to find the path of least resistance to understanding what is being said. Using less words creates a clearer and more specific message. Before sending that email, see if you can sculpt your message by using only a few key words and phrases.
Sometimes in spoken communication, word count can be decreased by listening instead of speaking. This can be especially difficult when we have that feeling of ‘They’re just about to understand – I just need to say a few more things!’
When communicating, using familiar words, a friendly tone, and less word traffic makes it more likely that your audience will jump in for the ride and make it to their destination.