Playing With Fire

Simple rules for great communication.

At the bottom of this short article there is an easy to apply yet powerful exercise which can be used to underline some of the principles of effective communication. We like to use it with groups of senior managers to illustrate how complex language, company jargon and acronyms can often be counter-productive when it comes to engaging their people.

From what we’ve observed in these sessions, there appear to be three things to avoid when it comes to communicating in the workplace – namely: generalisation, exaggeration and obfuscation. Obfuscation is particularly destructive because so many people hide behind this – using complex words and terminology in the mistaken belief that it makes an individual appear more informed, when in reality it just pushes others away.

Put more simply (!) great communication should try to follow the ABC rule – in that it should, where possible, be: Accurate, Brief and Clear – this basic principle relates to emails, social media posts, 1-1 discussions, printed media and conversations in the pub with friends. To make it count we need to make it accessible.

See the attached worksheet for a great practical way to illustrate these principles in your next team meeting, workshop or training course. The material is based on an annual contest to encourage scientists to communicate familiar yet complex concepts in a way that is understandable to an 11-year-old. Have a go yourself at writing your own explanation of what a flame is first – its great fun.

(Exercise based on the Flame Challenge started in 2011 at Alda Center, Stony Brook University)

Download the resource sheet: The Flame Challenge Exercise

Find out more about the benefits of this approach to communication (and learning), search on-line for The Feynman Technique.

Posted On: 12 Oct 2017