Have you ever given an explanation and the person receiving it didn’t seem to understand what you’re saying? A lot of us have. How do you overcome that situation? Let’s work this through.
Realize that you are the one to fix the situation.
One of the most valuable things I remember from US Air Force ROTC was that the person communicating the message was the one responsible for making sure it came across clearly. This assumes the listener/receiver wants to understand the message. However, if the message is unclear to the listener, there’s little the listener can do about it. The listener can ask questions to try and understand, but ultimately clarity must come from the one giving the message.
Therefore, if you’re the one giving the explanation, it’s up to you to ensure the message comes across clearly. It’s not the listener’s fault if it doesn’t and the listener is earnestly trying to understand.
You must make things plain.
The word ‘explanation’ comes from the idea of making plain, or making clear. – Thomas Swanson, Classical Philosophy for Homeschool Students
Mr. Swanson’s definition for explanation is the one that will help us the most if we’re looking to be understood. If we are explaining, we should try to make things clear. There are some steps to this:
Understand what you are explaining.
First, we must ensure we understand the explanation. I’ve been in the situation where I began to explain something and then realized I didn’t fully understand what it was I was explaining. Likely you’ve been there, too. Before beginning to explain something, ensure you understand it.
Consider the audience.
Second, we need to consider the audience. If I’m dealing with another IT security professional, there is jargon that I’ll use that is common in that career field. These special words often convey ideas that we understand the meaning of. For instance, when I say, “DDoS,” another security professional should know exactly what that means. When I’m talking to my daughter who is in elementary school, simply saying that will be meaningless.
Likewise, if I am talking to a fellow security professional about the Mane character in the My Little Pony card game, I probably will have to explain what My Little Pony is, what the concept behind the game is, etc. When it comes to my daughter, no such explanation is required. We can start right into why she has chosen the Mane character she has in her deck.
Employ KISS, both versions.
Finally, remember what you’re trying to accomplish: you’re trying to make something clear. Most folks don’t need the whole history of what happened. They don’t need to know the auxiliary details. If you’re like me, this kind of stuff fascinates you and you do want to know. Again, remember your audience. Most don’t. Therefore, employ the KISS method, just in two different ways. Not familiar with the KISS method or not familiar with the second way? Here they are:
- Keep It Simple, Stupid
- Keep It Short, Stupid
Therefore, keep the explanation as simple as possible. Also, keep it as short as possible. Explain the root issue and what caused it. If you’re audience wants further explanation, you will be asked for it.
A final note:
One final point: if you’re the type who likes to be wordy (guilty as charged), remember that writing an essay when a paragraph will do will cause some folks to not read your explanation. If you’re giving it verbally, they’ll tune it out. And you’ve just defeated your whole purpose.