Going to Extremes in Communications

How a Busy Catalog and a Blank Sheet of Paper Can Make You a Better Communicator.

Every day when I return home, my mailbox has two, three or sometimes four catalogs in it, and they’re rarely addressed to me. I’m sure there’s some direct marketing algorithm gone awry, but it really seems a costly error.

Regardless, one such mailbox trip this week took me back to my university days—to a creative writing class where I was given two writing assignments, one on each end of the communications spectrum. The first assignment had to do with catalogs. If you’ve ever been compelled, or required in my case, to read through a catalog, I’m fairly certain you’ve stumbled across a few mistakes in the writing. Such was the point of my professor’s assignment, which was to examine catalog copy for spelling and grammar errors, and clumsy word choices. Then, once we found all of the errors, we needed to fix them in the space allowed. Her point was to force us to confront, and not be afraid of writing in constrained spaces, as there is always room for proper communication.

The same professor swung us to the other extreme with her next assignment. This one involved examining a single sheet of white computer paper, and then writing no less than two typed pages describing it. That’s essentially 800 words to describe millimeter-thin nothingness. Not easy. So what’s a communicator to do? We had to establish the obvious, then look for the details which others might overlook. Focus on the things that others might take for granted. When given space to write on a complicated topic, we must find a way describe it more clearly than anyone else can.

The combination of these two exercises is an important intersection in the power of good writing. When you put them together in practice, one can come to take a diagnostic view of almost any topic and communicate succinctly about it. That’s when we win as communicators. Whether a simple or complicated topic, when you can appreciate and value perspective, and apply discipline in the delivery of the message, you’ll be well on your way to A+ communications.