“We don’t tell you what you like to hear, we tell you what you need to know.” This was the tagline in a radio promotion for an Accounting & Taxation Services company, sometime ago. Its simplicity and honesty made it click and stay in my mind. Since then, I’ve been using it to explain ‘how’ to communicate project progress every time I teach project management.
With similar simplicity and honesty, was the child’s question to his pregnant mother: “if the new baby is growing in your tummy, then what’s growing in your butt?” This story was used in a TED talk by a speaker who I can’t remember. The speaker beautifully explained the importance of telling what we need to know rather than what we like to hear. Before I proceed, let me clarify one thing now: I’m not talking about the dimension of ‘honest’ communication and that we should always be honest in what we say. I don’t want to go down that route, honestly. I’m trying to present communication from children’s point of view where they are really “honest” in what they say, even when they are lying. In their judgment they are honest because they are saying something ‘useful’, they are telling what they believe needs to be known: “it’s not me who broke the vase”, “my dad says that he is not in”, “my mother said that you look ugly”, etc.
So, when communicating, make sure that you have a ‘useful’ communication. And by communication I don’t mean only talking or writing; listening and reading are also important means of communication and you should ensure that all of this is ‘useful’. When asking a question, aim for useful answers. When giving out new information, make an effort to present something useful to the receiver. When reading a book or a blog, rate it as how much useful was it for you. And when telling out something, make sure that you tell what the receivers need to know, not only what they like to hear. It would be great if what they need to know matches what they like to hear. But if these don’t match, tilt towards what needs to be known.
One way of having good and useful communication is to communicate as a child. I don’t mean that you get emotional or innocently rude when talking, but to use some childish techniques to make useful and effective communication. For example, children like to ask a lot of ‘why’ questions. So, always ‘start with why’ as Simon Sinek advises in his book: ‘Start with why’. Ask yourself: why I am doing this, and why the receiver will accept my communication? This will help you fine-tune your communication.
Also, children ask a lot of probing questions, like “where do babies come from?” or “where does Santa Clause live?” Get into the habit of asking probing questions rather than closed ones, and be ready to explain the facts in a useful way, not necessarily in an honest way. After all, when describing the facts about ‘the birds and the bees’, you don’t want to be completely honest to get your message through, you just need to exchange useful information. When explaining something, make it as simple as if you are presenting it to children. When preparing a communiqué, always remember the quote attributed to Einstein: “if you can’t explain it to a six years old, you don’t understand it.”
Finally, let me ask you this: when you get curious to know a secret about your neighbours, who do you ask?