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My Son Teaches Me about Professional Communication

One of my favorite things to do with my kids while my wife is at work is to take walks around the neighborhood. We usually have a destination, but if the weather is especially nice and we’re having a good time, I won’t exactly rush home.

Recently, we were on just such a walk on a very mild summer afternoon. My son was sipping on a cold chocolate milk and asking all sorts of questions about the various cars and houses we passed as we walked. It wasn’t until we were getting close to home that we happened upon this, sitting in the grass near the street:

The Beat-Up Cone

“Daddy, what’s that?”

“Looks like an old, beat-up traffic cone to me, buddy.”

…walking for a couple more minutes…

“Daddy, what do you mean ‘beat-up’?”

Clearly, when I said “beat-up”, I was trying to, as succinctly as possible, describe the cone has old, worn down, falling apart, etc. Just about any adult I can think of (that I know) would be pretty clear about what I was trying to say. At least, that’s my assumption.

It’s that assumption that brought about a 5-minute discussion about, exactly, what I meant by “beat-up” with my son. After trying my damndest to explain, I think he ultimately got what I was trying to say. If I’d chosen my words a little more carefully then perhaps a whole bunch of confusion could’ve been avoided.

So what the hell does this have to do with communication in the workplace? I know that, for me, I have a tendency to speak to other people as though I’m speaking to myself (and vice versa). If I walk up to a graphic designer and start talking about high order functions and abstract classes, I’m probably going to met with a blank stare – the same type of blank stare you’ll find spread across my mug when the same designer starts talking about things like “kerning”.

The point I’m trying to make is that, when speaking to somebody – especially at work – consider your audience. Workplace communication usually sucks anyway, so anything you can do to improve the situation will be met with smiling bosses.

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