The Importance of Good Communication
When asked what I think causes more problems than anything else in the world, I invariably reply, "poor communications". By my answer, I am not referring to the physical layer of communications. The internet, telephones, newspapers, and television do a very good job in that area. The problem lies in written and oral communications. Furthermore, I don't want to discuss the problems of translating one language into another, although there are certainly profound problems with that, not the least of which is finding words in the destination language which convey the full intended meaning in the source language. What I want to discuss is written or oral communications intended for an audience conversant in the same language.
Too many people don't ask the right question or don't answer the question they are asked and therein lies one of communications worst problems. When you ask someone a question, it's generally something you have been thinking about for some period of time and in so doing, you have built up in your mind a certain amount of background material. You must supply this background material to the person before you ask the question or they will often misinterpret what you're asking. This is a very common problem between people who have worked or lived together for a long time. It's so easy to assume the other person has been thinking along the same lines about the problem as you have when in fact they have not and they have no idea what your question means. They misinperpret the question and their answer sounds to you like the answer to another question altogether.
And then there is the "definition of terms" problem. The same word means vastly different things to different people - sometimes even the opposite of that intended. Define your terms before you deliver your message, in such a way that they can not be misunderstood.
Before speaking or putting pen to page, you should consider the audience you are addressing. Try to think how that audience will interpret what you are about to say based upon their attitudes, opinions and mentality and if you can't find words to match your audience, then you must define the words you are about to use. It's a mistake to do this in a way that implies your audience is lacking knowledge or wisdom. This makes me think of the one small piece of poetry which I read as a teenager and was so impressed by it that I memorized it way back then. It is the last stanza of Emerson's "Merlin's Song" and it goes like this:
The music that can deepest reach
And cure all ill is cordial speech.
Mask thy wisdom with delight.
Toy with the bow, yet hit the white.
Of all wits uses, the main one
Is to live well with who has none.
My interpretation of what Emerson is saying is: If there is any ill will (misunderstanding) between you and someone else, speak nicely to them (no ranting or raving or raised voice). Don't come off as being smarter than they are. Gently prod them into coming up with the solution you believe is correct and then show delight in it. The best use you can make of your wit is to get along well with others who don't seem to have any wit. I at first thought that last part sounded a little egotistical but later reasoned that whether you think it is or not does not detract from the fact that this is some of the most valuable advice you can find if your aim is to communicate well with others. So you see it's fine to be smarter than others as long as you don't act (or talk or write) like you are. Even though it's all right to be wrong, many people will take offence when told that they are.
A great way to get your point across is to use analogy or allegory. In that way you are enabling your audience to come up with the meaning you intend but it feels to them more like they are coming up with that meaning. This is one way of "toying with the bow" as Emerson put it. Another way is to provide a lot of the background information you used in arriving at the meaning and allowing the audience to gradually come to the same conclusion you have. In other words, don't just "hit the nail on the head", but "turn the screw until it's tight enough".
Being a good listener is very important for good communication. If you wait to hear the rest of the story before you raise an objection, it may turn out that they are right and you will have learned something. I always say that a person who can't do this is "listening with their mouth". Besides, a good listener many times gives the impression of being smarter than they really are.
Having references or evidence for your ideas lends credence to them and is invaluable if the purpose of your communication is to convince your audience of something. Of course, if you can devise an experiment to illustrate your meaning then you can "show" instead of just "tell" your audience that you know what you're talking about.