Thursday, 22 March 2012

The power of simple

In my continuing quest to find the new job (I say 'the' new job because I know it's out there just waiting to be discovered), I have many phone calls with recruitment agency consultants. In fact, not so long ago, I blogged about a horrific example of one such call.

Thankfully, these bad calls are in the minority. Yet today, I found myself having another of those bad calls.  Really, it should have all gone so well. The ringing of my phone not only signalled my first chance to speak to another human being that day (twittertalk and fbfriends excluded) but it pulled me away from the mountain of ironing in which I was stuck. So, you know I was very enthusiastic when I answered the call.

The gentleman on the other end of the call was someone I hadn't spoken to before; I usually have very enjoyable conversations with his colleague, but she was on holiday today. But while she was out, he'd looked on her candidate database and thought that I might be suitable for a role on the opportunities list.

As usual, we had the chat first - the weather, the how are you, the what have you been doing, applied for much lately lines - and then it was down to the business. He proceeded to sell me a role. He talked for ten minutes. Straight. No pauses, no questions, no invitation to comment; in fact, I'm not even sure he stopped to breathe. I tried to interject a few times, but was ignored, so I let him talk till he stopped.

Now I listened. I listened really well. It's something I'm actually reasonably skilled at after years in the comms industry, teaching and pastoral work; and not to mention being a mum.  But after his ten minute speech, I had no clue about what this role was. Really. Not a clue. So I did what any good comms professional does. I asked questions. When I didn't get the answers I needed, I asked the same questions using different phrases. I asked for examples. I gave choices. You name it, I did it. But every question  led to more confusion, with lots of acronyms, and 'erm, I think that's just something they say/do in X sector; it's complex' types of answers.

Mr Talk- without- Breathing could tell I was getting a little frustrated here, and eventually said, "Look, it's obvious you don't understand what I'm talking about, and if you can't pick it up after me going over it so much, this role probably isn't for you."

While he is probably right, that role is more than likely not for me; it's not because I didn't understand. And not just because it's me. (Although - and please note shameful self promotion coming up, if you'd like to skip a few lines here - I'm good with words. Words are what I do. I love words. I love long, winding, seductive sentences. I delight in descriptive analogies filled with metaphor and magic. I thrill at poetic words. I  enjoy lexical injokes and imaginative wordplay. But, I know how to use all of those linguistic tools. I know they have their time and place.) But because it was his job to explain it to his audience. When I'm trying to explain something new to someone, whether that's at work, at home, in the classroom or in the pub, I aim to explain it in a way they can understand it. I've always believed that's the purpose of communication - to express, not to impress. As a communicator, it's my responsibility, my job to make the audience 'get it'.

Mr T-w-B didn't see that; he thought I'd be impressed with his technical jargon, and I might have been had he had the knowledge to then explain it to me. He didn't understand the role himself, and so he just read and repeated to me.

This is a valuable reminder for me as I prepare to go back to work in the comms world; but it's useful for everyone. You can't sell what you don't understand. Even when it's complicated, make it uncomplicated. It's often said that the plot of every bestseller in the world, of every film, of every song can be accurately summarised in four sentences.

Simple (not simplistic) works. As Albert said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

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