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7 Tips for Communicating with Clarity

By Deb Calvert (1354 words)
Posted in Communication Skills on January 2, 2013

There are (14) comments permalink

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By Deb Calvert, President, People First Productivity Solutions

Misunderstandings in the workplace cause productivity losses, hurt feelings, and unnecessary conflict. Communicating with clarity can prevent misunderstandings and keep things running smoothly and peaceably. Ensuring clarity in communication is the responsibility of each individual, particularly since our performance is so frequently appraised based on our ability to effectively communicate.


Here are Seven Tips for Improving the Clarity of Your Own Communication.


Consider Your Audience

To be clear and easy to understand, you’ll need to tailor your message to your audience. You talk to your 3-year-old differently than you talk to your co-workers. While that’s an extreme example, the same principles apply when you consider the needs of each audience you communicate with. What you say in your own department may be clear because everyone has been immersed in the same dialogue for months or because your educational backgrounds are similar. But as soon as you have someone from another department involved in the conversation, you need to adjust your communication. The folks from Accounting, for example, don’t know the HR strategy or hot topics. So you’d scale back and start from a common intersection around, perhaps, the company mission or strategic plan.


Say Exactly What You Mean

Don’t beat around the bush in business communications. No one has the time or tolerance for it. Instead, be direct without being unpleasant. Here is a feedback model you can use to say exactly what you mean without offending others. The reason this simple model works is that it is objective and focuses on behaviors that were observed rather than personalizing the feedback and causing a defensive response.


This model is known as the 3W Feedback Model. Each of the 3 W’s represents a simple step. Take these steps in order and be concise and to the point in each one.


What: Describe the situation and be specific. Your description should be based on your own observations, not on hearsay or assumptions. Use “I” instead of “You” at the beginning.


Why: Describe the impact of what you’ve observed. If there is not significant impact, a reason why this truly matters, then skip the feedback. 


Way: Describe what you would like to see as a replacement behavior. Again, be succinct.


Here’s what it sounds like when you put all three pieces together:


“I have noticed that your dirty dishes have been left in the shared kitchen sink each of the past three days. I wanted to bring this to your attention because my lunch time comes right after yours, and I have to move your dishes before I can wash my own. I have some severe food allergies, and it is alarming to me when I have to touch plates with unknown foodstuffs on them. So I’d really appreciate it if you’d take a minute to rinse and remove your dishes when you’re done eating.”

This is clear, concise and non-attacking. It’s also effective. A less effective approach, one that doesn’t get directly to the point could put the recipient on the defensive or miss the mark entirely by being cushioned in a lot of vague statements.


Avoid Jargon

Every company and every specialized field has its own terminology. Business, too, has certain phrases that become popular even though no one really knows what they mean. Whether you’re talking to your cohorts or to people outside your department, it’s best to avoid jargon.


These are the kinds of terms and phrases to avoid: action item, vet the idea, monetize, bandwidth, paradigm shift, big picture, outside the box, sharpen your pencil, manage the optics, feet on the street, bench strength, plug and play… Just speak like you would in a non-business setting. Your clarity will be a breath of fresh air. 


Keep it Short and Simple

While it is good to know the how and why behind your decisions, it’s not always necessary to provide lengthy explanations. Be prepared to answer questions others may ask, but don’t overwhelm them with details and back story unless they ask. Give the highlights and the key points. Less is more.


Ask for a Playback

When you are expecting others to do something in response to your communication, ask them to play back what they will do. Check to be sure they’ve understood. This doesn’t have to be done in a schoolmarm manner or in a way that seems condescending. As a routine, you can just ask “I want to make sure we’re in agreement on next steps so why don’t you play back for me what you’ll do next.”



The more important it is, the more times you need to say it. Your message will be lost as soon as another message or two comes into the mix. What’s more, for most people it takes repetition to remember and internalize what they have heard or learned. You may feel like you are over-communicating, but chances are good that each time you return to a subject you are instead reiterating and providing additional clarity.


Choose the Right Medium for the Message

E-mail? Voice mail? Old school memo? Video conference? Webinar? In person to a group? One-on-one? The choices are many, and the message should determine which medium you select. Don’t go with easiest and most efficient unless you are sharing something that is simple, straightforward and informational only. When you want interaction and engagement, when you need buy in or support, you’ll need to think instead about the most effective way to truly involve others.


As a general rule, the more impersonal the communication is the less likely it is to be clear for everyone. That’s because you need to tailor your message to your audience and broad distribution doesn’t allow for that to happen (see tip #1).


Finally, when you are on the receiving end of others’ communication, you can also be sure that you have the clarity you need. Ask questions. Say “I’d like to restate what I’ve heard to make sure I understood fully and correctly.” Even though the communication should ultimately be the responsibility of the sender rather than the responsibility of the receiver, why take chances?  Go ahead and double check so that you don’t end up doing work that doesn’t match the expected outcomes.


Here’s the best news about ensuring clarity in your communication. It saves you time and it is appreciated by others because it saves them time, too. These simple steps can make a big difference in your effectiveness, and you can put them into practice right away. 


Please join Deb's conversation in 'This Week's Discussion', located in our Workplace Communication Skills Community.


Written by Deb Calvert,

Workplace Communication Skills Expert for ManagingAmericans.com & President, People First Productivity Solutions.


Ask our Expert Panel a question in Workplace Communication Skills Ask an Expert Forum.


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Here are some related articles you may be interested in:

Eight Communication Tips to Gain Respect at Work

Six ways to improve your communication skills.

Are Speaking Skills More Valued than Listening?

Communication Guidelines for New Graduates and Their Employers

Make It Easy to Have that Difficult Conversation



At ManagingAmericans.com we encourage members to go in and out of our communities to learn about different areas of the business; how to work together, solve problems and improve skills.  Each community details expectations, challenges, success tips, training programs and useful resources. Growing your knowledge base and learning about all areas of business can help you navigate towards success in your career. 

Comments (14)

Alex Dumpfree posted on: January 3, 2013

Very rich article. I like the KISS (keep it short and simple). These tips will help a lot. Thanks for sharing.

FELIPE DÍAZ ORTIZ posted on: January 3, 2013

Very interesting. In my experience there is two decisive factors : say exactly what you mean and keep it short and simple. Obviously every Project Manager will adapt to audience , but more important, over all in the work team generation, for me, is the two previous considerations.

Marie Lou Coupal posted on: January 3, 2013

We tend to naturally stay in our comfort zones, however, I believe we can always improve on our ability to communicate; Deb Calvert's Tips are a quick and easy tool to refresh our communication skills. Adopt one new way of doing things in 2013 and you will experience the benefits!

John Murphy posted on: January 3, 2013

Good advice. One to highlight - you can never over communicate. I have never heard a complaint from staff that there is too much communication!

David Shaffer posted on: January 3, 2013

Well written and on point. The very first point of recognizing that not all people communicate equally and adjusting to your audience is a great point that we should all consider.

Sanjay Patel posted on: January 4, 2013

Thanks for sharing - great advice :)

Luis Vega posted on: January 7, 2013

In all this there basic points to make things better.
1. Adaptability to environment. 2. Clearly say what you want and how you want. 3. Return to base, make things simple, every day we add more technological processes that we believe will make life easier, but sometimes we miss them more time and make more complicated the message.

Donald Thoman posted on: January 8, 2013

Great facts.

ALFRED EMODE posted on: January 8, 2013

This tips are truly commendable but could be taken for granted by many. thanks for a good work.

IAN MULLALLY posted on: January 8, 2013

I found a number of articles in the Managing Americans topical, concise and clear. Grate good Aide men moiré.

clayton posted on: January 18, 2013

Clarity is so important. Couldn't agree more. And these steps are super helpful. I would add that, after clear communication, a leader or manager has the responsibility of removing obstacles, enabling people to act. There's a really great video by Steve Reinemund, former CEO of PepsiCo on this topic SODERQUIST.org/complexity-to-clarity

Communication skills training posted on: February 5, 2013

Thanks for the great Communication skills training you are really providing best and easy step to improve Communication skills. But i thought if anyone does not have good vocabulary knowledge then the can improve our communication skills ?

Evan posted on: March 7, 2013

100% agree with this post! All the tips make absolute sense. I want to add from my personal experience to the point of keeping article short: if you are very very inspired and your post is aver 1000 words, divide it into two parts Part one and Part two is always a good way to attract more readers to your blog.

Ellene posted on: July 4, 2016

Excellent piece!

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