The real challenge is to convey what we mean.
It’s tough enough to say what we mean. But it’s more difficult – and far more important – to convey it.
Those two are not the same.
To say something well, we put it into precise words that capture, and perfectly express, our meaning. But what if our reader or hearer doesn’t understand what we say?
Worse yet, what if that person misunderstands what we say – but doesn’t realize there was a misunderstanding? (And perhaps we, also, don’t realize this?)
That’s the “convey” part! The word “convey” means, literally, to carry something across. That’s what a conveyor belt does: It carries something between two points, making sure it arrives at the other end.
What Comes Across
What we say is what leaves here. From our mind, our mouth, our pen, our keyboard. What we convey is what arrives over there. It’s what – from a recipient’s point of view – comes across. It’s how our words translate in the mind of our audience.
That’s one reason it’s crucial to speak and write using the simplest, plainest, most direct words and sentences available. Every needless syllable, phrase, or figure of speech is another chance for misunderstanding.
But direct simplicity isn’t always enough. What if we oversimplify? What if the topic is sensitive and emotionally charged, so that our no-nonsense exposition comes across as blunt, abrupt, callous, uncaring? What if our words (simple though they are) mean something entirely different to our audience?
The more I write, the more I become convinced: Anything that can be misunderstood, will be. By someone, somewhere, sometime. And anything can be misunderstood.
The Conveyance Cure
There’s a simple antidote to this problem. It’s conversation!
Preferably conversation that is amicable and ongoing. Conversation where all parties listen carefully, map out common ground, and strive to get inside one another’s minds.
This is why, as a writer, I like blogging. I write something (like this) and readers can respond immediately with replies and comments.
Social media is great for that, too. Maybe even better, because social media is all about conversation in the first place.
If there’s miscommunication, we tend, through conversation, to notice it earlier. Assuming we’re truly listening.
We get a sense of what we’re conveying by what gets conveyed back. Any mismatch? That’s a red flag that needs attending.
The neat thing about blogging and social media is that you can fix stuff right away. Find out what wasn’t clear, and clarify it.
Try that with paper books and magazine articles! There, it’s much harder to roll out recalls and updates. (You can update ebooks and ezines – and sometimes this becomes important.)
Which means it’s good, before we embed anything in print, to kick it around online. Or simply discuss it, in person, with enough other people.
Particularly with other people who view the world through lenses other than our own!
One-on-one conversation is terrific because of the intimacy. But group conversation is also great for gauging conveyance.
Whenever group conversation is carried out with courtesy, in a mutual desire to listen and learn, it’s called “consultation”.
At least that’s what we call it where I come from. I’m not sure what that word conveys to everyone else!
Something more to converse about!
(This article is part of my series on words that are #worth1000pictures.)