Clarity is critical in all communications

Shipping in Singapore is very much a multi-cultural endeavour and I am forever amazed, when sitting in a drill or training session, about the range of nationalities in the room who represent all corners of the globe. It makes for a beautiful mix of accents, cultural nuances and approaches – that when balanced can achieve remarkable things, but it can also present significant challenges especially in terms of clarity.  When clarity isn’t achieved it’s diagnosed as a breakdown in communication and whether it’s externally with a client or internally with staff, it inevitably leads to unnecessary conflict with damaging results.

To embrace clarity, start by making sure that your message is tailored for your audience. The level of sophistication or technicality in your message will vary widely from a small room of experts or industry peers to a publicly released statement. Understand your target audience and communicate at their level. If you’re unclear what that level is then err on the side of simplicity, less is more.

Don’t use big words when small ones will do. In the shipping industry these often come in the form of “Industry speak” or jargon. While your diatribe of shipping acronyms might give you an inflated sense of expertise, if your audience is clueless about what you mean then you’re wasting their time and yours.

Be direct and try to keep it short and simple. If need be, give the highlights and key points, don’t overwhelm people with details and back story unless they ask.

Reiterate what’s really important. If there are a number of points that you’re making – identify the key messages and keep touching on them. Humans are but simple beasts and it takes repetition to remember and internalise what we have heard. While it can seem a bit pedantic by returning to a subject, you are actually providing additional clarity and flagging its importance to your audience.

Check to be sure that they’ve understood. One of the biggest mistakes made in communication is just assuming others clearly know what you mean, as the saying goes “To assume makes an ASS out of U and ME”. Just because the message is clear in your head and indeed in the minds of your colleagues doesn’t mean that it’s clear in the minds of others.  Encourage questions from those that you are communicating with or at least get them in some way to play back the key messages.

Now I’m not saying that clarity it’s only the responsibility of the person delivering the message. When information is being shared, both the sender and the receiver has a responsibility to ensure understanding. If you’re receiving the message and there’s even a hint of confusion, then ask questions like “Just so I’m clear….” or “Does this mean…”.

There are countless ways to be certain that you clearly understand the message. Let’s face it, in this industry – stories abound of the junior officers who didn’t question or clarify – with disastrous results. Don’t commit business suicide by remaining confused. It’s not an excuse that will wash. There’s also the substantial upside that people won’t be wasting time doing work that doesn’t match with the expected results and in all industries, time is money.

So, make CLARITY king. It’s the best way to avoid misunderstandings that can seriously damage business relationships and indeed other relationships… have I made myself clear?

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