Fast Company

Choose Your Words Carefully for Success

Dynamic communication is one of the keys to success that I discuss in Straight Talk for Success.  If you want to become a dynamic communicator, you need to master three basic communication skills: conversation, writing and presenting.

Yesterday I was on line and saw a quote from Stephen King – “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”

Stephen’s words apply to each of the three basic communication skills.  Whether you’re in a conversation, writing an e mail or report, or making a presentation you will communicate better if you use simple, every day, commonly understood words.  I always suggest using the smallest possible word that communicates the exact point you want to make.

I take pride on my vocabulary and sometimes like to show it off.  For example, at my niece’s college graduation party I gave her a copy of Straight Talk.  I told her that I hoped it would help her as she began her career.  I also said that I tried for an “avuncular hip” tone as I was writing the book. 

My niece is a smart young woman.  She graduated cum laude.  But when I said the words, “avuncular hip,” she looked at me and said, “What does that mean?”  I responded, “Avuncular means uncle like.  I was trying to come across as a hip uncle in the book.”  She said, “Why didn’t you just say that?”

Good question.  The best answer is that I was just showing off.  Everybody knows what “uncle like” means.  Not everybody knows that “avuncular” means “uncle like.”  This is what Stephen King means when he suggests not using words that others will need a dictionary or thesaurus to understand.  Showing off your vocabulary is not a great way to become a dynamic communicator.

As I’m writing this, I’m reminded of an IBM commercial I saw recently.  A guy walks into a large, dimly lighted conference room where he sees no tables and chairs and about twenty people lying on the floor.  He says, “What are you guys doing?”  Someone answers, “We’re ideating.”  He says, “What’s that?”  Someone responds, “Coming up with new ways of doing things.”  He says, “Why don’t you just call it that?”

Interestingly enough, the word ideating sounds a lot like a made up word to me.  I expected spell check to flag it.  It didn’t.  So I guess I am behind the times on some of my business jargon.  Even so, I think saying that you’re “Coming up with new ways of doing things,” is much more clear than saying that you’re “Ideating.”  But what do I know?


The common sense point here is simple.  Successful people are dynamic communicators.  They are good conversationalists, clear writers and effective presenters.  If you want to master the basic skills associated with conversation, writing and presenting begin by choosing your words carefully.  Avoid those polysyllabic -- I mean big – words that show off your vocabulary but get in the way of effective communication.  Successful people communicate in everyday, straightforward language.

That’s my take on language and effective communication.  What’s yours?  Please leave a comment sharing your thoughts with us.  As always, thanks for reading.

Bud

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