You write an email, letter or article and someone responds with a nonsensical answer.
“He just doesn’t get me.” That’s the thought that swimming through our minds.
It happens to all of us. You say or write something. The response makes it obvious they have no idea what you’re talking about. It’s frustrating. You feel like you’re speaking one language and the recipient may as well be listening to jibberish.
Who’s to blame?
Here’s a simple persuasion rule I was taught twelve years ago by a sales mentor:
It’s always the communicator’s responsibility to ensure the recipient(s) of his or her message understand what is being communicated
That was an important lesson when I was in sales. it’s even more important in the written persuasion world. I avoid the excuse that they’re too dumb, not paying attention or they don’t care. That’s just a way shifting blame.
Here’s how I reframe it to put the responsibility back on me:
- If they don’t understand it, I need to find a simpler way to say it. (Ignore the voice in your that blames your audience).
- If they’re not paying attention, then I need to say or write something that gets their attention.
- If they don’t care then I need to tie it into something they do care about
Once you accept responsibility, it’s easy to fix. These strategies allow you to overcome each challenge:
They don’t understand
There’s a saying among Copywriters that you should write at a 6th grade level. I couldn’t agree more. Trying to sound smart, using big words that half your audience won’t recognize or understand causes your audience to tune out. Simple straightforward language always wins…. even if you’re communicating to PHD’s.
They’re not paying attention or lost attention
We’re all guilty of this as communicators. We go off on a tangent or drag on a talking point longer than the topic merits. If you find people lose attention there are two ways to straighten up their backbone.
First, write something shocking or unexpected, something they would never expect. I was once giving a boring presentation and noticed my audience looking at their phones (literally, all of them). They lost interest and I knew it. I then made an ad lib remark that got everyone to put down their phones and pay attention. I don’t remember the exact words but it was something similar to this:
“The next slide is going to show sales results and all of these numbers are totally fabricated with no basis in reality. I apologize. That’s not really the case. My presentation was getting boring so I made this up to get your attention”
Everyone laughed and I earned a second chance to make an impression.
Another option is to launch into a story. Everyone loves a good story. When you tell the story, start right in the middle of the action. No setup or setting the stage. You can do that for a novel but not when you write to persuade.
They don’t care
An acquaintance starts taking to you, telling you about their day, week, job, vacation, whatever and you say to yourself: “Holy crap! When will this person stop? I don’t care about any of this.” We all know that guy or gal, right?
If you’ve done your research you should have a good idea of what they do care about and that gives you the opportunity to tie that into your topic.
For example, if you’re giving talk on term life insurance to people in their 30’s and married with no children, you might put your audience to sleep. Instead, find out what someone in that position does care about. Let’s pretend that they’re more concerned about saving money for a down payment to buy a house and starting a family. Structure your argument around building a “financial fortress.” Later, build on that by showing how they can buy a house and start a family without worry and anxiety of an unfortunate event.
When you get that “blank stare email” and it’s obvious your communication was not understood, don’t just dismiss it or blame it on their stupidity. As the communicator, it is Always your responsibility to make sure your message is being understood.