(Stephen Pinker is a professor of psychology at Harvard University. The article states first and foremost that the content is based on his research and findings.)
The main paradox behind botched information in today’s world is the inability of people to communicate in absolute and articulate terms. Professor Pinker says, it is because one assumes that the knowledge one possesses is immediately and unquestionably available to the person one is speaking to.
Of course this is an ideal that is never fulfilled. There are societal, cultural and economic biases that need to be taken into consideration.
And this curse of miscommunication is one from which there is no escape. Everyone, from professors to students and experienced editors to laymen, are victims to this, in this age of mails, and social media linguistic phenomena.
The paradox, called the “curse of knowledge” by Pinker is simple: We tend to use our own language, or idiolects, to propagate our thoughts; terms we understand very well as a consequence of our position in our social worlds.
Pinker further notes the difficulty that comes as part of this conundrum.
Communication and elucidation is done as a process of breaking up into simpler bits, a process that requires one to posit themselves in a place where they don’t know something. But given the education system and societal standards nowadays, that prefer experts in every field, this positioning oneself in a place of not knowing, however partially, is becoming increasingly difficult. As a result, you end up cramming the listener’s/student’s head with unnecessary and opaque jargon that further obscures the purpose of the process of explanation.
So what must one do in order to overcome this so-called curse of language?
Professor Pinker proposes the following ways:
1. Testing your message out
Before your target audience, try and convince yourself first. Take it as a control group of sorts. Another thing that helps is testing it out on an audience that is bound to understand the message or might be able to provide insight into its betterment. There are instances of Victorian authors who made select circles of women readers read their drafts before publishing, because they knew novel reading was very much a thing for the housewife or the women of the house.
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2. Choose your words and phrases carefully
Make sure you are crisp and to the point. Euphemisms and beating around the bush are things that no one has time to indulge in, as a reader and a listener in today’s world. The better you drive at your point, and the more efficiency you demonstrate while doing so, the better. Choose your words in such a way that they tread the fine line hugging both clarity and lucidity, and appropriate and explanatory. And believe us, it is possible.
3. Take a breather
One of the many ways that helps to do what we mention in the last point is to rethink over and over again till you reach a consensus with yourself. Don’t stress yourself out over this, because that would make the thing even more opaque than it already is. The reason is simple, you will be angry and stop caring about the lucidity of your content and in turn your audience’s reception of it.
4. Edit more than you write
This is the final cornerstone to proper communication. No matter how hastily you jot down notes and writings, make sure you take an ample amount of time editing and conditioning your text. Content that is well edited is basically content that is passed through almost every test possible: editing is merely an exercise to see in what ways a text can fail. Hence good, judicious editing can make a lot of difference in the long run.
Image source: Flickr/Simon Fraser University