When It Comes to the End of the Bottom Line, Yada Yada Yada…

By Guy Higgins

Last week, I posted about the use of specialized vocabulary (or jargon, depending on whether the vocabulary is aimed at an understanding audience or aimed at “impressing” a less knowledgeable audience). This week, I want to take a different look at our use of language and whether or not such use contributes to communication. Continue reading

Brevity or BS?

By Guy Higgins

I came across a blog recently the title of which implied that it was about Jargon. Actually it was about the abuse of grammar and how such abuse destroys meaning – kind of an analysis of, “…mistakes were made” type statements. But it got me thinking. Is use of specialized vocabulary (that would be jargon for “jargon”) always an impediment to clarity of communication? Continue reading

They Probably Don’t “Love You Enough …”

By Guy Higgins

I’ve posted on various communication topics before, but I want to cover a somewhat different topic – communicating versus silence.

I, personally, find it frustrating when I’m asked to do something and then, following my completion of that something, I find that it is not what they wanted or only part of what they wanted (“wrong rock”).  This situation, which occurs often, does not indicate incompetence in either party.  It’s just that people (as in all of us) have a tendency to first assume that other people know and understand what we know and understand.  Then we are surprised when we find out they didn’t understand everything.  This is a problem that actually has a name – Projection.  We project onto others what we know, understand or assume.  Continue reading


By Guy Higgins

I read an online article recently about how the color of your coffee cup affects the taste of the your coffee.  I thought that the article would be informative and possibly amusing.  It could have been both, but I couldn’t tell.

There are, I think, three practices (or perhaps they are “mis-practices” or “dys-practices”) that adversely affect attempts at communication.  It is also, I will boldly assert, critical for leaders to avoid all three of these communication practices.  They are, in order of importance: Continue reading

Three Messages – Three Clear Messages

By Guy Higgins

The “folk wisdom” about briefing executives is that no brief should include more than three messages.  I have found that to be excellent advice.  It forces the briefer to be disciplined in developing and delivering the brief.  I’ve found it to be equally useful in briefing any person or group.  “Three messages” (or fewer) seems like an excellent mantra for developing briefs.  More than three messages, and the briefer risks overwhelming the audience, failing to deliver the most important points and getting mired in trivia.

I think that leaders need to be particularly careful to adhere to the three (or fewer) messages strategy.  When the leader is communicating with his team, division, organization, or company, it is extremely important to be crisp, clear and concise.  The communication is important (otherwise the leader wouldn’t be delivering it), and it is, therefore, important that the message(s) be delivered without any confusion or “fuzzing up.”  This is particularly true when the message is bad news or when there is some impact that is unevenly spread across the audience (e.g. exceptionally uneven annual pay raises).

There is a natural tendency to try to pack everything that needs to be communicated into a single event (or written communication for that matter).  There is also a natural tendency, when there is concern that the messages will be unhappily received, to cast the messages in language that the leader (or speech writer) thinks will soften the message.  Such “softening” almost always simply serves to obscure the message and will ill serve the purpose of the communication.  Those tendencies must be overcome and the brief or memo or speech must be focused and the messages(s) limited and clear.

Delivering bad news is not pleasant, and I’ve never known anyone who enjoyed it.  It is nonetheless necessary, even in the best-run organizations to occasionally deliver bad news.  It must be done, and the three messages strategy will help leaders to it as well as it can be done.

At the same time, good news can be obscured too.  When delivering good news, there can be a tendency to “gild the lily” by adding sub-messages and introducing themes that do not add to the three messages – to the core of the communication.  It is just as important to deliver good news clearly and concisely, as it is to deliver bad news that way.

Bottom line – the three messages approach will help you communicate effectively whether you’re delivering good news, bad news or just news.



By Guy Higgins

One of the most important “inventions” of humankind is speech.  “We” invented speech about (very “about”) half a million years ago.  Since that time, far too many conversations have consisted of two, independent, monologues conducted in an alternating fashion where each participant waits (more or less) patiently for the (other) idiot to stop talking so they can wax eloquent.

The problem with that construct, of course, is that it does little or nothing to enhance communication.  It certainly feels good to “illuminate” the mind of that (other) idiot, but it does nothing for you.  Speaking without listening is like playing catch in a field by yourself.  You get to talk (throw the ball) but you receive nothing in return because you’re not listening. Continue reading

Clarity and Commas

I’m reading a “scholarly” book written and published in the United Kingdom.  I have found the book a bit challenging to read.  I find myself having to re-read sentences with alarming frequency.  Then, all at once, I understand.  For some reason, the British have (or at least have had in the past) an aversion to using commas.  As an aside, I have both read some of Winston Churchill’s histories and listened to others.  My recommendation is to listen to them since the producers of the recorded books have done all the punctuating (I think that Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples is actually, in the printed edition, only a single sentence, albeit broken into five volumes).  My editor for these illuminating blogs may be responsible for the comma shortage in the UK since she uses commas with such abandon that she may have caused the shortage by exceeding the global annual production of commas – not that she’s wrong.  Continue reading

Without Thinking

By Guy Higgins

On April 7th, CNN reported that Chili’s restaurant chain had cancelled a fundraising event in support of the National Autism Association (NAA) (http://money.cnn.com/2014/04/07/news/companies/chilis-autism/index.html?hpt=hp_t2).  That was an unfortunate, and I think entirely unnecessary, cancellation.  The NAA had stated on its website that, “Vaccinations can trigger or exacerbate autism in some, if not many, children, especially those who are genetically predisposed to immune, autoimmune or inflammatory conditions.

This statement generated a hurricane of comments for and against it, creating an environment in which Chili’s felt that it could not continue to support the fundraiser.  What happened, why did this caveated statement generate so much emotion? Continue reading

Do People Ever Listen to Themselves?

By Guy Higgins

I’m starting this off with a political anecdote, but this is about leaders and communication – not politics.  Four years ago, Representative Pelosi, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, stood at a podium and proclaimed that, “We have to pass this bill (The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) to find out what’s in it.”  Did she really mean what her words said?  While I’m not a fan of Ms. Pelosi, I suspect that what she meant was that she believed that the bill needed to be enacted into law and then watched to see how its implementation unrolled before amending it to make it better.  Regardless of her intent, the problem is that she apparently didn’t think about what she wanted to say before hand, she certainly wasn’t listening to herself when she said it, and it reflected poorly on her.

How often are leaders guilty of the same behavior?  Not thinking about what they want to say and not listening to themselves say it?  Far too often, if the media and social media provide any reliable evidence.  The CEO of BP complaining that, “I just want my life back” when eleven of his employees were never going to get their lives back because they were dead. Continue reading

I Know What I Wrote

By Guy Higgins

Last year, we responded to a number of Requests For Proposal (RFPs).  We make a habit of having each of us (that would be two people) reading any RFP separately and making notes of questions we have about the meaning and intent of the RFP.  We do that because we have learned that we each read and understand the RFPs differently, and, more often than not, through subsequent questions, we find out that our understanding was different from that intended by the authors.

In a similar vein, I received a news item in my email inbox recently that was headlined, “Liz Cheney abandons her campaign for the Wis (sic) senate seat.”  Well, I’m not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but I thought that the Cheneys were from my neighboring state of Wyoming (which would be WY not Wis).  I clicked on the link and went to the actual article where they discussed Ms. Cheney’s campaign in Wyoming.

I also recently received an email in one of my discussion groups that started out, “Your so naïve if you believe …”  I immediately sent a private email back to the author with something like, “’Your’ is the possessive of the personal pronoun you.  ‘You’re’ is the contraction of said personal pronoun and the verb are.  Your use of ‘your’ implies ownership of ‘so naïve.’  If you’re not paying attention to something this simple, why should I give my time and credence to your assertion or the logic behind it?” Continue reading