• Lucas North

How masks hamper all communications

Photo: South Wales Argus

NOW THAT WE’RE ALL wearing masks when we go shopping, we’re beginning to understand there’s more to chatting than meets the eye. Or maybe that should be that there’s more to chatting than meets the ear.

When masks prevent us from ‘seeing’ what people say, we don’t ‘hear’ them so well.

Non-verbal cues help us understand each other

When we speak, we do other things to help people understand us. We gesticulate (we gesture with our hands to show people what we mean). We change our faces to express our mood. We also modulate our tone, so listeners can hear if we’re angry or happy or sad or whatever. We may even touch someone, if appropriate, to communicate our feelings.

It’s the sum of all these different things that helps people understand what we’re ‘saying’.

Some writing masks its meaning

Writing is no different. We often need to provide a number of clues to help readers understand what we’re trying to ‘say’.

Take this sentence:

‘An esurient line of discrete consumers stood mutely at the store’s entrance, awaiting authorisation to harvest their comestibles.’

Did you find that quite tricky to understand? If so, it’s because it’s meaning is, in a sense, wearing a mask.

Help readers understand you

Like listeners who look for the kind of non-verbal cues mentioned above, readers also look for clues.

Some will try to help themselves by reading the sentence more than once. Others may pretend they understand all the words, like those who pretend they hear all your words when you speak.

Struggling to find meaning

A very small number will reach for a dictionary to see what individual words mean. Or they may try to study the words briefly to ‘picture’ the meaning.

As the writer of the sentence in question, I could instead have written:

‘A queue of hungry people stood in silence outside a supermarket, waiting to be allowed inside to get their shopping.’

Clear writing is well worth sharing

This version of the same message is far easier to understand. And, if you want to be understood by lots of people (when you’re writing a blog, social post or newsletter for your customers, for example), it makes sense to use clear language (because difficult words ‘mask’ meaning).

Learn from how we’ve developed

Think of it in terms of evolution. We’ve been talking to each other for millennia without wearing masks. So, now that we’ve all started covering our mouths, we find it slightly harder to understand one another.

The same applies to sentences. We’ve used easy words most of our lives. I’m talking about the words we learned when we were little, like ‘food’ and ‘shop’ and ‘hungry’ and ‘people’. We weren’t taught the meaning of words like ‘esurient’ and ‘consumers’ and ‘comestibles’ at primary school.

Use this technique to write more clearly

As you gesticulate to emphasise meaning when you speak, you can also help your readers when you write.

You can do this by using SEE-I. There’s tons of stuff online on this easy-to-use technique. Here’s a quick summary to get you started. SEE-I stands for:

  • State: clearly and briefly state your idea

  • Elaborate: explain it further in your own words

  • Exemplify: provide concrete examples of your idea

  • Illustrate: provide a picture, diagram, metaphor or analogy to ‘show’ people what you mean

SEE-I is particularly useful if you’re trying to explain something that’s relatively complex. You tell (state) people what it is. Then you explain more (elaborate). Then you provide an example or two (exemplify). Then, if possible, you provide an image or some kind of literary device like a simile to ‘illustrate’ your meaning.

So, for this last point, if I wrote: ‘she moved like a gazelle’, it helps (by ‘illustrating’) people understand that she moved gracefully.

Contact me for words that speak for themselves

Get in touch if you want help making your messages easier for more people to understand. This will also boost your word-of-mouth marketing.

#copywriting, #contentwriting, #contentmarketing, #writing, #writingtechnique, #communication, #clearcommunication, #clarity, #simplicity, #facemasks, #masks

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