We’re all people, and we all talk. So, why is it so hard for us to communicate?
Remember that meeting where everyone walked away with a completely different interpretation of the content? How about the childhood game of telephone? Where kids sit in a circle, whisper the same words in the next person’s ear and excitedly wait to hear the mangled distortion of the original message at the circle’s end. If only our six-year-old selves knew just how much our play was preparing us for adult life.
At this year’s Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, a number of speakers shared their thoughts about this disconnect:
- We think everyone knows what we know. According to Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, we aren’t very good at understanding what others want. Why? Because we have the “curse of knowledge.” Just because we know something doesn’t mean others do, too. Add to that the 10,000 nouns and 4,000 verbs in the English language – that means there are 40,000 ways to begin a sentence. Odds are, no two people are going to pick the exact same way to start a conversation, never mind express a complex thought.
- We don’t listen. Everyone has something to say, but do we really pay attention to others? Rob Campbell and Martin Weigel, joint founders of the School of Strategic Arts, say the best way to make others care is by caring about them. Be interested in what they’re interested in. Look closely at the edges of ecosystems, the spaces where different cultures meet one another, and dig in. You’ll be surprised what you hear.
- Speech is like poetry – and jargon just isn’t pretty. Please stop with the alphabet soup of acronyms and insider business terms no one else understands, okay? Real people don’t talk that way.
- Creativity isn’t just an engineering problem. We’re often more obsessed with distributing our messages than we are with the ideas behind them. We listen to data, and yes, data is important when we make creative decisions. But is data king? No way – because it doesn’t understand emotion, and it doesn’t truly know the facets that define individuals. So think differently. Being human means being unpredictable.
This information has major implications for communicators. When it comes to communication, the devil isn’t in the details; it’s about the words we leave behind. There’s a famous quote that captures this idea: “They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
In other words, truly communicating, listening and conveying real meaning to the people who matter most is like yoga. You can practice it regularly and get better daily, but mastery isn’t necessarily the end goal. True focus and intentional connections with the world, and the people in it, is.