We have a failure to communicate
Stop making others guess what you mean
While reading an interesting book, you find an astounding assertion and want to know the source or the evidence for the statement. A superscript number indicates that endnote 22 will provide that information. You then turn to the back of the book to find the reference for the endnote – and get lost. Chapter 6 has a note 22, but so do Chapter 4 and 5 and all the other chapters, but the chapter names are not listed in the back. You then flip back to the page that you were reading and find that the name of the chapter is in the header – but not the chapter number. So now, with one hand on the endnotes section, and one hand on the page you were reading, you try to flip back to the table of contents to find the elusive chapter number, and try to hold it open, presumably with your elbow or your chin. Or, you just give up in disgust.
(I have asked a number of professional librarians why this counterproductive tradition is perpetuated by so many authors or publishers, but have received no good answers yet.)
Ever wonder why intelligent people whose whole purpose is to communicate with you manage to miss the mark? And more importantly, are you doing the same with your products and services?
Many times, we get so immersed in what we do that we forget that our universe of potential customers are laypeople with regard to our area of expertise. “They” don’t talk IT language, or accounting language, or under-the-hood language. Moreover, “they” resent it when we tell them how easy our communications are to comprehend, despite never bothering to find out if they really get it. Consider these common examples:
There are simple solutions to these problems. You need someone who is not immersed in your world to try the product or review your materials. Multiple someones would be desirable, and if you are selling to a different demographic than yourself, be it age, race, sex or techi-ness, they should be included prominently in your sample. They should be asked to navigate through whatever you are selling at their own pace. Their false starts, their frustrations, even when they give up in impatience and despair – should all be noted. What would have prevented them from being derailed should also be noted. You have access to any number of applied psychologists and human factors specialists who are experienced in conducting this type of review and pinpointing what should be changed.
Keep in mind that this is not an evaluation of your product; it is an evaluation of how you are communicating how to operate your product. The point is not to lose your customer before the sale, or lose their good will for the future . As much as you think it should, the fact that you and your staff found the book, the website, the instructions, or the manual easy to use doesn’t really matter. You may still have a failure to communicate.
Fred Mael, PhD, helps organizations and their employees work more effectively, and coaches executives and managers. www.maelconsulting.com. This article appeared originally in the April, 2010 issue of Baltimore SmartCEO and Washington SmartCEO magazine.