“Send thrupence, we’re going to a dance”

The following blog is made up of the best bits of editorial, articles and blogs that I’ve come across in my 38 years of working life, 30 of which I spent as my own boss at a very successful Creative Agency.

I thank all those that have inspired me to make (and write!) my own observations on these subjects. I now want to switch my focus to helping the next generation find the success that I did, and hopefully avoid a few of the pitfalls I didn’t!

Let’s begin with a classic miscommunication example that is used in most marketing and communication schools. The story goes that the commander of a battalion on the Western Front radioed to HQ to ask “Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance”. This was grossly misheard and misinterpreted, with potentially disastrous consequences.

In military terms, miscommunication also caused absolutely carnage in the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade.

Thankfully, we have better communication technology now. And that should, in theory, allow us to negate errors in basic communication. However, this is sadly not always the case.

Poor use of language, being verbose in communication and not being clear on the question you’re asking or the request you’re making will often lead to misunderstanding.

The great communicators over the years have learned to be brief and very specific when outlining what they require from their opposite number. The greatest of them all was, of course, the Duke of Wellington. He reputedly said: “To write half as much takes me twice as long.” He always remembered to give only the most concise of orders to his commanders, so that they were entirely unambiguous and direct.

Airline Pilots have also been known to use a universal language that is, much like the Duke of Wellington’s communication style, designed to avoid misinterpretation. Any errors here, and the consequences are catastrophic.

Fortunately, in most of our lives miscommunication does not end in disaster or death. But, believe me, it can. So, the next time you write any email, regardless of its importance, think about how it will be read, and whether or not the language you’ve used is concise and unambiguous.

To finish, here are my ‘Top Tips’ on how to avoid these errors in everyday and business communication:

1. Use simple and universally understood words.
2. Be clear with what you want. A reply? An action? When do you need it by?
3. Be polite but brief.
4. Short sentences.
5. Limit adjectives.
6. Take your time to write it.
7. Pause before sending and reread and check.
8. Would your granny understand it?
9. Do not copy everyone in - it devalues the message.
10. Good luck!
CommunicationJonathan Leafe