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One Word Ahead of You

On college campuses, Communications majors have a reputation for being ditzy and lazy because, well, how hard could it be to communicate?

Communicating effectively is actually very difficult. In order to be an effective communicator, you need to have an expansive imagination. You must take into consideration all the possible ways that you could be misunderstood.

For example, if you ask your friend to meet you at a Dunkin’ Donuts in your town, make sure that only one Dunkin’ location exists. Your friend, who has a different frame of reference, may think you mean the other Dunkin’ Donuts, which is on the other side of town. Being an effective communicator means being considerate and conscientious.

You must be good at “reading” people: judging body language, paying attention to facial expressions, and listening very carefully. You need to actually care that the other person is receiving your message as you mean to communicate it.

You need to treat every word and gesture like it makes the difference between life or death – let’s face it, in some situations (emergency room, construction site, factory, etc.), your word can assuage or exacerbate* a life-threatening situation.

Communicating effectively means appreciating and mastering language. You should have an extensive vocabulary but know how to wield it wisely. You will rarely use “big” words. You will *always choose the word that most closely matches the idea or image in your mind.

Sometimes, you will have to compromise the accuracy of a word for the sake of making sure that the other person understands – perhaps his or her vocabulary isn’t as expansive as your own.

as·suage Verb /??sw?j/: Make (an unpleasant feeling) less intense

ex·ac·er·bate Verb /ig?zas?r?b?t/: Make (a problem, bad situation, or negative feeling) worse

You need to consider the person or group of people that comprise your audience – cultural differences or language barriers may influence the way that you chose to convey your message. My favorite anecdote involves a car named the Chevy Nova. In Spanish, the phrase “no va” literally means “doesn’t go”.

Next time someone tells you that they are a writer or communicator, take them very seriously. Because, if they’re any good at what they do, they are taking you seriously, making sure you get the information you need and that your needs are understood.

(Photo by Andres Rueda)


  1. Communications is what I SHOULD have majored in. (That or theatre. Which when you think about it, are very close to the same thing…)

    I want to be employed in communication somehow. The actual communicating part, not the technical, wires and microchips part. Though I suppose as a freelance writer, I already am employed in communications.

    Most problems, and frankly, most things that piss me off, are due to somebody in the pipeline either communicating poorly, or refusing to do so at all.

    Oh and one other example, (which I didn’t research, but was taught in school by a communications professional) is as follows.

    “Pepsi: The Choice of a New Generation” was their slogan in the late 80’s. Except in Japan where those words were translated as, “Pepsi: Bringing Your Dead Ancestors Back to Life.”

  2. I’ve been in and out of love with writing. It’s interesting that during journalistic training the bootcamp education we received focused mostly on formulas and formats, and our original voices weren’t valued. With the exception of my magazine writing teacher who did encourage our voice –most likely the reason so many students wanted to be in his class.

    I remember my first college teacher of journalism said something along the lines of “in writing you have to kills your favorite children.” I wish she had used a different analogy, yet I think it made us take her class more seriously.

    Sometimes I really just wanted to write (or discover) something in my own voice, except that it turns out that when I write for pleasure it turns out like poetry. No grammar in sight. My journalism teacher would have thrown me out of the class, or failed me. Granted, I’m not a copy of Virginia Wolf, Whitman, or Emerson, yet these were the writers that I really admired.

    Original writing is comes in various ways, and I suppose I can admit reading Henry Miller novels as this point as well and developing admiration for his work, because at the end of the day the guts of that story made me snap out of boredom and want to join a narcissistic cult (of his or of Ann Rand).

    Is the writing economy about the heart, the guts, or ego? I know some of my simpler writing gave me chills and goose-bumps, or warmed my heart. It made me care. I don’t remember it as much, yet it did change my perception.

    In contrast with journalism marketing writing seems more youthful, profitable, aspiration driven. Everyone wants good branding and I assume that’s why pr agencies really flourish. It does serve a purpose, yet the line between marketing and editorial is becoming more and more blurry.

    Journalism had much more potential to reach someone else and make a difference. It preserved the writer’s integrity.

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