Clear Communication Is Hard

bullseyeIt seems like it should be so easy to communicate – we all know the English language fluently – what could possibly be so hard about communicating?  Well, for one thing, English is so heavily nuanced, that communicating isn’t the problem as much as clearly communicating is.  Our English language has way too much wiggle room, so nailing down specifics of what you said and what you mean becomes a real challenge in communication.

Take for instance some New Year’s resolutions you might have made to yourself.  For instance, I’m hoping to 1) get more sleep, 2) start eating breakfast each morning, and 3) exercise more.  All good ideas!  But let’s look at each of these resolutions.

How much “more” sleep is beneficial?  Does 10 extra minutes count for much?  I once read that sleep should happen in ½ hour increments or it doesn’t do much good, which serves to question the research behind that assumption, and to whether you can generalize such a broad statement across all individuals.  But leaving that concern aside, let’s assume it’s true.  So now I want to get what? – an extra ½ hour of sleep each night?  an hour?  And what about if I wake up after 20 minutes, out of habit – is it worthwhile to force myself to lie in bed for another 10 mins to get a full ½ hour in?  And what about the kind of sleep – is there benefit to drowsy sleep or are we talking only about deep REM sleep?  Murky waters this sleep business.

Let’s move on to “eating breakfast” to get a caloric and energy boost on the day, most important meal and all that jazz.  While I believe that a morning meal is important and I should start to include one, what counts as breakfast?  Does a candy bar count?  How it is any different from a bowl of heavily sugar-sweetened cereal, especially if I drink a glass of milk with the candy bar?  I am quite serious!  How about a slice of pizza for breakfast?  Pizza covers all the major food groups.  How much quantity of any kind of food constitutes ‘breakfast’?  Another unclear area that makes resolutions hard to keep – or easy to fool ourselves that we are keeping when we really aren’t.

As for exercise, well you know how this one will go.  Self-talk will whisper “walking is exercise” and “any exercise is better than nothing” since ‘more’ exercise is the hard to nail down qualifier here.  Of course, I hear you saying that all of this unclear communication is just ‘cheating’ yourself, but isn’t that the point?  There is so much room for ‘abuse’ with non-specific language that we can tell ourselves (and others) anything and get away with it.  It’s so easy to rationalize bad behavior.

COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:  If you really want accountability – yours or someone else’s – make your language as specific as possible.  This is especially true for goals.  Don’t allow yourself to settle for broad generalities or nothing will happen.  We always want what is easy, which is the status quo.  Change, i.e. growth, can only happen when we move out of our comfort zone, and specific tie-you-down-tight language is needed to get those well-intentioned goals to become realities.

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