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Top tips

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How to... clarify the situation

It’s not always easy to make yourself understood. Sometimes colleagues seem to wilfully mishear what you are trying to say. Sometimes your words are taken out of context something the Archbishop of Canterbury knows all about. And sometimes you are just unclear about things by accident.

In the aftermath of a communication breakdown, it is important to set the record straight, and make sure that the information you are trying to get across is now cogent, comprehensible and being heard by the right people. So here are some top tips to ensure that next time your message is received and understood.

  • Simplify your words. Rowan Williams apologised for “unclarity” in his original comments about sharia law. Trying to get a complex or potentially controversial message across by using arcane or specialist language is likely to create confusion. Now is you chance to rectify the situation. Stick to short sentences, and clear language.

  • Use visual aids. If you are seeking to clarify your meaning in a face-to-face meeting, visual images might get the message across where words failed. Break the information you need to get across into key points, and illustrate each one with a visual aid.

  • Repeat, repeat, repeat. Perhaps you weren’t guilty of “unclarity” at all, but just of trying to make a complex point or convey information that is hard to take on board. In which case, don’t be afraid to go over the same ground. There’s a good reason why advertisers push the same points and slogans home time after time.

  • Be exact. Don’t fall into the pitfall of garbling your message because it hasn’t gone down well. You can’t please everyone, and it may be that the reason your initial communication was unsuccessful is that your audience is not happy about your actual meaning. In which case, fudging won’t help. Restate what you need to say succinctly and honestly.

  • Engage the right people. Another problem may be that your listeners feel you are talking about something which does not affect them or not directly. Getting your audience to see how the issue is relevant to their interests is likely to focus their minds.

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