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Conveying information

After having written quite a few formal and informal documents and regularly explaining various topics, I've picked up on a few useful practices and things to be aware of.

Communication window

There's a certain amount of words or time you have to grip your audience's attention. The attention span might differ depending on the medium, the individual and your choice of words.

Information might be understood to varying degrees, depending on the user's familiarity surrounding the topic. And ignorance (a lack of knowledge or information) is different from stupidity (a lack of good sense or judgement).

The combination between your audience's attention span and their understanding is what I call the communication window. Effectively any surplus words spent on the topic might end up being wasted.

Listening to understand

Many things people say are true from within the perspective in which it is meant; there is often a logical sense behind what others say, and it's certainly true to them. However, not every perspective is strictly helpful. It is worth filtering information by intent and usefulness.

That is to say: it is important to understand the idea behind what's being conveyed and only make an evaluation after that, then keep what's helpful for you.

Given that statement, it also makes sense that discerning inference from observation will go a long way in being able to interpret other people's perspectives and the world as a whole. However, letting go of the ego takes time and requires practice.

We're also not talking about absolute truth here, as I believe there is no such thing. People do not store knowledge as binary data, but rather as a collection of connections that are made in the brain. Additionally, it has been proven that the brain can be tricked into believing anything. Vsauce has an interesting practical video showcasing the implanting of a memory into someone's mind.

Knowing your audience

When speaking with others it can be useful to understand their emotional maturity. For example, there are those who can argue other people's points of view for sake of a discussion and enjoy this learning process, and conversely there are those who directly identify with their own opinions and who get worked up when the conversation doesn't end in agreement. Afterall, if an opinion directly correlates with one's identity, it must be defended at all costs.

People with a higher emotional maturity are more likely to have moved from a Fixed Mindset onto a Growth Mindset most of the time.

Someone's mindset, mental availability in the moment and their stake in the conversation can be important to identify for your audience in order to communicate effectively.

For example, if a friend seems stressed or momentarily disorganised, you might choose to pick another moment for your more serious topics, or to go less into details about them. Or when they are processing some emotions, you might listen to them first.

Here I would argue that the quality of a conversation can be greatly enhanced, whereas the effort often only consists of a couple of seconds of consideration 💡

Technical writing

Through hundreds of instances of feedback, or also often the lack thereof, and from analysing page analytics of web applications I've learned that it's important to write both concisely and in a way that's broadly easy to understand.

Apart from tailoring to the audience, the medium and the goal, to write concise text well you need to consider context, relevance and importance.

  • Context so that the information can be correctly interpreted.
  • Relevance to ensure information is useful.
  • Importance, as some words might not need to be written at all.

Wikipedia Co-founder Jimmy Wales talks about relevance and undue weight in Lex Fridman Podcast #385

A great way to make information easy to understand is to provide a clear structure that is easy to follow. Use headings, lists, tables, diagrams, etc. to make the information easy to digest.

What are your thoughts?