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10 Tips to Make Yourself Understood Every Time

It’s incredibly easy to be misunderstood. What people think you are putting out is never exactly what you intend.

We all read and listen through our own brain filters, biases and broken ideas about the world.

You can’t blame your audience. It is up to us to speak and write clearly.

How can you communicate in a way that will make sure you are understood every single time?

  1. Use simple words – I love the English language but so many words we use have more than one meaning, plus if you make it too fancy your reader is not likely to pick up a dictionary, they will just find something else to read.
  2. Make it snappy – Short sentences, short paragraphs, use a phrase in place of a sentence and a word in favor of a phrase. Don’t overload your audiences brain.
  3. Be visual - You know what they say, a picture is worth many words. If you can’t use an actual picture, paint a picture with colorful words.
  4. Repeat – OK, you might get bored of saying the same things but for the people you are talking to it will likely be their first time. Repetition helps people understand. Advertisers know it takes repetition to get a point across and have it remembered.
  5. Rephrase – If you don’t get it right first time, try again with another approach.
  6. Mean what you say - Don’t say what you don’t believe. People have great BS detectors.
  7. Say what you mean – Don’t muddle your words trying to please everyone. Say exactly what is on your mind if you actually want people to get your point.
  8. Freshen up – Make your message new. If your content seems like something they have heard before you will switch off your audience.
  9. WIIFM – Answer “What’s in it for me?” – Get over yourself, it is about your audience not you.
  10. So What? – Spell out why what you are saying is important. If your audience doesn’t get why they should listen then they won’t.

It’s so easy to not be understood. Just look at poor Sverre at the top of this article. Poor Sverre, you couldn’t ask for a softer, gentler human being but for some reason people think he is frightening :)

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Comments

  1. Nice post Chris,

    I myself use (and maybe abuse) of analogies to explain things. Maybe it’s my teaching experience but I believe that there is always a good analogy (in the domain the listner knows well) for a the thing I’m trying to explain :)

    Also, I’d add something to your 1st advice: Use active voice, short sentences and phrases.

  2. Nice post Chris,

    I myself use (and maybe abuse) of analogies to explain things. Maybe it’s my teaching experience but I believe that there is always a good analogy (in the domain the listner knows well) for a the thing I’m trying to explain :)

    Also, I’d add something to your 1st advice: Use active voice, short sentences and phrases.

  3. See how useful Twitter is? It’s forcing us to make our point in 140 characters or less.. forcing us to ‘make it snappy’ and ‘use simple words’ :)

    Sverre is just misunderstood, poor guy. Perhaps if he lost the axe?

    Great post!

  4. See how useful Twitter is? It’s forcing us to make our point in 140 characters or less.. forcing us to ‘make it snappy’ and ‘use simple words’ :)

    Sverre is just misunderstood, poor guy. Perhaps if he lost the axe?

    Great post!

  5. Ah yes…#9. My favorite.

    Sometimes it can be difficult to keep one’s writing simple and clear. I can really ramble and wax poetic if I don’t watch it! I like how you keep your sentences and words short and snappy, yet still manage to make great points.

  6. Ah yes…#9. My favorite.

    Sometimes it can be difficult to keep one’s writing simple and clear. I can really ramble and wax poetic if I don’t watch it! I like how you keep your sentences and words short and snappy, yet still manage to make great points.

  7. Great tips. I enjoyed reading those.. :)

  8. Great tips. I enjoyed reading those.. :)

  9. You are absolutely right Chris; there is no use publishing “great” blog posts if the writer is the only person who knows what’s going on. Although sometimes the readers want challenges too. I think the more stress should be on clarity of purpose and sincerity and then it shows through your writing.

  10. You are absolutely right Chris; there is no use publishing “great” blog posts if the writer is the only person who knows what’s going on. Although sometimes the readers want challenges too. I think the more stress should be on clarity of purpose and sincerity and then it shows through your writing.

  11. Great advice… and I love the picture! I’ve been teaching people how to use software for eight years and one thing that helps is to remember what it’s like to be new to something. You never want to talk down to people, but you can’t make any assumptions about what they know, so best to cover all the bases.

  12. Great advice… and I love the picture! I’ve been teaching people how to use software for eight years and one thing that helps is to remember what it’s like to be new to something. You never want to talk down to people, but you can’t make any assumptions about what they know, so best to cover all the bases.

  13. Great post! (See straight to the point and brief — unless you count this post-blather-point-it-out text.) :)

  14. Great post! (See straight to the point and brief — unless you count this post-blather-point-it-out text.) :)

  15. Haha, I was wondering who you were going to tie that picture into the post.

    Anyway, I mostly agree. Although, I don’t know about using a phrase in place of a sentence. Do you mean using sentence fragments? Because, while I think fragments certainly have their place, and can be great for setting up a certain cadence for your writing, if you overuse them, it starts to look like you’re just a sloppy writer, rather than someone who is using a stylistic device.

  16. Haha, I was wondering who you were going to tie that picture into the post.

    Anyway, I mostly agree. Although, I don’t know about using a phrase in place of a sentence. Do you mean using sentence fragments? Because, while I think fragments certainly have their place, and can be great for setting up a certain cadence for your writing, if you overuse them, it starts to look like you’re just a sloppy writer, rather than someone who is using a stylistic device.

  17. Ask questions and from the replies you can find if they understood what you have told them. If thereis more than one person the others by listening to their response will gain more understanding.
    David

  18. Ask questions and from the replies you can find if they understood what you have told them. If thereis more than one person the others by listening to their response will gain more understanding.
    David

  19. Chris,

    Your post works on countless levels, and is applicable beyond the blogosphere. Thanks for your always relevant and though-provoking content.

    Respectfully Your in Safety and Service

    Brian Humphrey
    Firefighter/Specialist
    Public Service Officer
    Los Angeles Fire Department

  20. Chris,

    Your post works on countless levels, and is applicable beyond the blogosphere. Thanks for your always relevant and though-provoking content.

    Respectfully Your in Safety and Service

    Brian Humphrey
    Firefighter/Specialist
    Public Service Officer
    Los Angeles Fire Department

  21. Ed Erickson says:

    Hey Chris,

    The data backs up your thoughts today. Read this a few months ago.
    http://www.stevenberlinjohnson.com/2007/10/this-may-be-old.html

  22. Ed Erickson says:

    Hey Chris,

    The data backs up your thoughts today. Read this a few months ago.
    http://www.stevenberlinjohnson.com/2007/10/this-may-be-old.html

  23. Simplify your words, that’s what my school paper editor always tell me. :P

  24. Simplify your words, that’s what my school paper editor always tell me. :P

  25. @Karim – Analogies are great, so long as they are not cliches

    @Lisa – Sverre will never give up the axes of evil ;)

    @Reese – It’s fine to let loose and be as poetic as we like, so long as we remember the more we do that the more the reader will need to concentrate :)

    @Rebellious – I’m glad to hear it :)

    @Amrit – Sure, sometimes it is fun to hide the message to get people to think

    @Michael – Exactly, sometimes I forget to switch off “explain mode” and my wife gets cross at me for saying the same thing three different ways ;)

    @Genevieve – Heh, you got your point across :)

    @Adam – Anything can be overdone. I would rather the reader understand and tsk at my grammar than praise the grammar but miss the point :)

    @David – Indeed, your audience is the best litmus test

    @Brian – I expect firefighters *really* need clear communication, right? :)

    @Ed – Nice link, thanks! :)

    @jhay – Exactly :)

  26. @Karim – Analogies are great, so long as they are not cliches

    @Lisa – Sverre will never give up the axes of evil ;)

    @Reese – It’s fine to let loose and be as poetic as we like, so long as we remember the more we do that the more the reader will need to concentrate :)

    @Rebellious – I’m glad to hear it :)

    @Amrit – Sure, sometimes it is fun to hide the message to get people to think

    @Michael – Exactly, sometimes I forget to switch off “explain mode” and my wife gets cross at me for saying the same thing three different ways ;)

    @Genevieve – Heh, you got your point across :)

    @Adam – Anything can be overdone. I would rather the reader understand and tsk at my grammar than praise the grammar but miss the point :)

    @David – Indeed, your audience is the best litmus test

    @Brian – I expect firefighters *really* need clear communication, right? :)

    @Ed – Nice link, thanks! :)

    @jhay – Exactly :)