Say It Plainly

By Lindy Earl

If you find yourself saying “in other words,” or “let me be honest here,” maybe you should reconsider what you’re saying in the first place.

            Communication is a HUGE part of our world.  Unless you’re a hermit, in which case you’re not reading this, you communicate with dozens of people daily.  Some are family and friends, and for unknown reasons, we tend to be harder on these people.  They are supposed to understand what we mean and think and want, even if we fail to communicate our thoughts or make our requests.

            We communicate with others we don’t even know, such as other drivers who signal to us that they need to be let in, or just come barreling over.  Cashiers and customer service people too often take a huge hit from poor communication.  Some people are just rude, yet expect others to smile through it.  Whether or not I’m in a bad mood, I have a responsibility to communicate clearly.

            So, please, say it plainly.  If you want me to pass the butter, then say, “Lindy, please pass the butter.”  Let’s look at this complicated sentence.  First, you get the person’s attention.  It’s always a good idea to use a name and pronounce the name correctly.  Mine is rarely mispronounced but it’s often misspelled.  Oh well.  Second, use your manners, thus the word, “please.”  Third – see, we are on our third point while only up to the third word in the sentence – communication is complicated.  Third, state your point – verb plus article plus noun.  It’s that easy.

            What not to say?  “Wow, it sure would be great if I had butter within reach.”  In the retail world, that sounds like, “There is a spill on aisle 8.”  So?  Whom are you addressing?  What do you want done?  The better communication is, “Joe, please clean up the spill on aisle 8 immediately.”  You’ve addressed the person, included your manners, and specifically made your request.

            Too often, communication is disguised.  When you pass a colleague and they ask, “How are you?” then there is a good chance they are just being kind, and the question is just another way of saying hello.  So the obligatory response is, “Fine.”  Do not provide a litany of your achievements or ailments.  If you want to speak plainly, then don’t ask, “How are you?” if your intent is to say, “Good morning.” If you do ask a question then be prepared for an answer, and accept that it may be long-winded or negative.

            If you want to know how many people will attend Thursday’s meeting, don’t ask who will be out of town, because that isn’t your question, and may not be your business.  Discern what you need to know and ask that question, “Mary, are you attending the 10:00am meeting this Thursday?”  You made it easy for Mary to respond with a single word. 

            Again, keeping it simple, just answer the question.  Yes or no.  Not, “Yes, and . . . “ and definitely not, “No, but you need to understand that . . . .” Just realize there is a head count for lunch and they need only a yes or no.

            Today, start applying this theory to every aspect of your communication. In an email, be polite but state your point or question. Then skip your lengthy analysis. In answering, answer yes or no and know that you do not need to be defensive. Sometimes you may choose to offer an explanation, and sometimes a reason is appreciated, but it is not required, and too often can come across as an excuse.

            Be aware of what messages you’re sending with your communication, and do your best to say it plainly and improve your communication.

            Lindy is a Speaker, In-house Consultant, and Business Author, currently living in Atlanta, GA.  She focuses on Communication, Leadership, and Corporate Culture. You will be more successful with Lindy on your staff or as your Business Coach.  Contact her at

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