Our Communication Vehicle

“Words are vehicles upon which thoughts travel.” Audiences have heard me say that for years. I’ve been unable to find the original source of the quote. So I have sort of made it my own.

The words conjure up, in my mind, a vivid image. Let’s see if they do the same for you.

Think with me, if you will, of your dream car. For some, it might be the car they now drive. For others, ownership of a certain dream car might be just that — a dream. Regardless of whether you now own it, or would like to, get a clear picture of that car in your mind.

Now let’s transfer that picture to a type of vehicle that provides transportation for thoughts. For that, would we want a clunker or a dream vehicle? Keep in mind that the automobile we drive every day can only get us from point A to point B. A vehicle of thought, on the other hand, can take us to fulfilling business and personal relationships, as well as to positions of influence. Those things being true, what might a dream “vehicle of thought” look like? Using the letters of the word “car” as an acronym, let’s build our ideal vehicle of thought.

First of all, let the “c” in car stand for clarity. Mark Twain said: “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter — it’s the difference between the lightening bug and the lightening.” It’s also the difference, many times, between being understood and being misunderstood.

Along this line, I’m reminded of the story about the first sergeant who told his new recruits: “I want you to put on a clean pair of socks every day.” One young recruit discovered at the end of the first week that he couldn’t get his boots on. Some folks require more clarity in communication than others, but basic clarity must be standard equipment on all communication vehicles.

It must also be equipped with the ask-for-feedback package. Thus, the letter “a” stands for ask.

As a writer, I know that I do not always choose the right vehicle for my thoughts. So, I have a wonderful editor, Paul Smith, who gives me feedback on everything I write. Sometimes I’m surprised when he tells me what a certain phrase conveys to him. It’s not what I had in mind at all.

For all of us, whether we’re writing or speaking, it helps to ask others if we’re being clear. More specifically, before we take part in an important meeting or conversation we should ask our spouse, friend, co-worker, supervisor (or anyone whose opinion we value) if what we plan to say is clear and proper. Also, when we are face-to-face in conversation, and the other person has a puzzled look on his or her face, we should politely ask, “What is your understanding of what I just said?” Most importantly, we need to habitually ask ourselves before speaking: “Is what I’m about to say clear and is it going to come out as intended?”

Not only should clarity and asking for feedback be part of the standard equipment of our communication vehicle. It should also be equipped with responsibility. The “r” in car should serve to remind us of that.

Of all the things our society needs, a sense of responsibility would have to be at the top of the list. Many don’t want to be responsible for much of anything.

As an illustration, we’ve all heard folks say that they are self-made. Of course, when such a claim is made it is always with reference to success — “self-made success.” Have you ever heard anyone claim to be a self-made failure? No one wants to accept responsibility for that.

Similarly, few want to accept responsibility for communication failure. Yet, it too is “self-made.” How could it be otherwise? (There are certain exceptions involving the other person.) If I’m the one talking, I’m the only one who could possibly be responsible for what comes out of my mouth. Knowing such, and consistently applying that knowledge, should keep my C-A-R from crashing. And when it does crash, I’m generally the one who is “liable.”

LEADERSHIP TIP: Always keep your vehicle of thought well maintained, and all its equipment in proper working order.

Feel free to reprint this article in your organization’s newsletter. Please add the following notice: For over 25 years, leadership author and conference speaker, Terry L. Sumerlin, has been addressing audiences throughout the U.S. and internationally. www.terrysleadership.com

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