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Opinion: 5 benefits of clear communication

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I learned a lesson about clear communication the hard way in college when a professor at the University of Texas gave me an “undetermined” grade on an assigned paper. When I asked why, he pointed out a word in my opening paragraph that he, himself, with two doctorates, didn’t know the meaning of. He said, “If I don’t recognize this word, there’s a good chance that over 99.9% of people won’t know. So, learn to communicate your thoughts clearly and concisely, or you’ll fail this class.”

It was a wake-up call that forced me to reevaluate how I communicate. Achieving clarity isn’t as easy as using long words or impressive syntax. We often confuse and frustrate people when we focus too much on trying to impress or sound wise.

There is a better way to get your meaning across.

First, it will help if you don’t use words unfamiliar to your audience. For instance, I’ve heard or seen others use words recently that may be common to the communicator’s vocabulary, but it’s doubtful whether they are in the everyday language of others – words like truncate, urbane, sardonic, pedantic and pericope. It’s not worth potentially confusing or frustrating your audience over these words.

Moreover, lacing your message with complicated jargon and lengthy sentences won’t help most of your listeners or readers since the average U.S. reading level is the seventh or eighth grade. Keeping the message simple is more likely to land with everyone and avoid confusing and alienating your audience.

Best-selling author C.S. Lewis once said, “Any fool can write learned language. The vernacular is the real test.” Writing or speaking with language someone will understand should always be our priority.

Here are five benefits from communicating clearly.

  1. It reduces misunderstandings. Misunderstandings can occur anywhere – at work, with friends or at home. However, they tend to escalate when we don’t express ourselves clearly. For example, a misunderstanding at work might arise if a supervisor gives unclear or incomplete instructions, leading to confusion about what needs to be done.
  2. It builds trust and rapport. Whether it’s your co-worker, friend or family member, clear communication can help strengthen relationships. All of us have had someone who talked or wrote above the clouds, so to speak, using big words when plain language would have done the job just fine.
  3. It reaches a wider audience. I like the wit of Mark Twain when he said, “If I had more time, I would make this shorter.” It requires extra time to write concisely and clearly, but it’s worth it. If you’re clear in your communication, you’ll be able to get a larger audience. Like a magnet, a speaker or writer who can express with clarity something that most people can comprehend and find useful attracts a following. In comparison, it’s hard to follow someone who gets too wordy or uses complicated terms.
  4. It increases effectiveness. A good communicator doesn’t use words to say look at me – but look at what I’m seeing. To communicate effectively, you must start with your audience and their needs – and communicate for them, not you.
  5. It resolves conflict. Clear communication is essential when dealing with conflict. One client asked me to lead conflict resolution with the company’s co-owners, who are brothers. Most of their conflict escalated over words, not actions. Clear communication, being understood when they spoke – and clarifying understanding when something was said before jumping to conclusions and getting angry – resolved most potential conflicts between them. By carefully considering what you want to say to others before actually telling it, you can help to resolve even the most serious disputes.

Clear communication with others is a crucial step toward achieving success. It builds strong relationships, helps you lead your team and sets the standard for successful collaboration. To succeed in any area, focus on ensuring that your message is communicated clearly and meaningfully – and experience the benefits because you did.

Consultant, professional speaker and author Mark Holmes is president of Springfield-based Consultant Board Inc. and He can be reached at


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