When you hear the world explicit, your mind might go straight to that parental advisory sticker you see on CDs sometimes.
(Or if you’re young, you’re like, OMG OLD PERSON ALERT...she just referenced CDs.)
Today, I’m not talking about being explicit in that context.
I’m talking about being explicit in the sense of communicating clearly, as in: “She was explicitly clear about her directions.”
Because so often a major failure of communication (written or otherwise) happens when we aren’t explicit.
There are times when less just is not more—contrary to the saying.
Gray area leaves room for ambiguity, and in moments when that might lead to negative outcomes, it’s better to say more and to be explicitly clear than to hope the other person(s) just “gets it.”
Here’s some context for why I’m saying all of this.
A couple of weeks ago I overheard a conversation between a man and a woman (not my fault, they were loud talking!) on the topic of depression.
The woman was explaining how she was frustrated—she was trying hard to be positive and do things for her mental health (like meditation, yoga classes, getting outside), but she always kept bumping into days where she just couldn’t get “out of the hole,” metaphorically speaking.
The guy said to her between bites of sandwich: “You just have to change your thoughts.”
She paused for a moment and then said, “What? Did you say I should just change my thoughts? If I could do that so easily, I would. I don’t enjoy feeling this way.” She was mad. I couldn’t even see her face, but I could hear the rage boiling in her voice.
The guy immediately started backpedaling. “No, no--sorry,” he said. “I think I oversimplified that a little too much. What I meant was: You know that once you start feeling that way, the only way to get out of it is to distract yourself with something else. You have to manually switch your line of thinking onto something else so you can break the cycle of endless negative rumination.”
Her voice softened. “Oh, okay. That makes more sense.”
Let’s zoom out and look at this for a minute, shall we?
V1: Just change your thoughts.
V2: You know that once you start feeling that way, the only way to get out of it is to distract yourself with something else. You have to manually switch your line of thinking onto something else so you can break the cycle of endless negative rumination.
Same message, but major difference between versions one and two here, folks.
One comes across as callous and oversimplified, while the other is clear, compassionate, and helpful.
Now think about how this relates to your own life. How many conflicts or sticky situations could you have avoided if you thought about all conversations this way? Probably a lot. I know it’s true for me.
The lesson here is this: So often when we communicate either in writing or speaking, we use the simplest version of what we’re trying to say. It’s the fewest words to text back to someone. It’s the fastest to get out of our mouths.
In general, it saves time to distill things down. And there’s certainly a case to be made for simplicity in writing—being succinct is an important skill to have.
HOWEVER...there are moments when you should be more explicit.
Go into more detail when:
There’s room for interpretation around what you’re saying that could be misunderstood
You’re talking about a sensitive subject
The point you’re making doesn’t fit nicely into a single sentence
If you can keep ‘being explicit’ top-of-mind as you communicate (both in writing and in speaking), I think you’ll find that it does wonders.
For one thing, you’ll have fewer conflicts and less people with hurt feelings in your life.
I’m on board for that, aren’t you?
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