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Explicit Communication

Strange how it seems we only see the word explicit used when it’s labeling a song or a word as… explicit.

Explicit Communication is not about “curse words” or the like. Explicit Communication is about reducing misinterpretation and ambiguity.

Websters defines explicit as:

  1. Not implied merely, or conveyed by implication; distinctly stated; plain in language; open to the understanding; clear; not obscure or ambiguous; express; unequivocal; as, an explicit declaration.
  2. Having no disguised meaning or reservation; unreserved; outspoken; – applied to persons; as, he was earnest and explicit in his statement.

In anthropology, high-context culture and low-context culture are ends of a continuum of how explicit the messages exchanged in a culture are and how important the context is in communication.

In her book, The Culture Map, Erin Meyer explores this as one of the eight scales of culture.

The Eight Scales of Culture

  • Communicating (low-context vs. high-context)
  • Evaluating (direct negative feedback vs. indirect negative feedback)
  • Persuading (principles-first vs. applications first)
  • Leading (egalitarian vs. hierarchical)
  • Deciding (consensual vs. top-down)
  • Trusting (task-based vs. relationship-based)
  • Disagreeing (confrontational vs. avoids confrontation)
  • Scheduling (linear-time vs. flexible-time)

I’m here to focus in on the first scale–communicating.

In his 1959 book, “The Silent Language,” Edward T. Hall, an American anthropologist introduced the concept of low-context and high-context communication.

He often used marriage to describe the contexts.

Newlyweds need to state their messages explicitly and repeat them frequently to ensure they are received accurately.

Now imagine two people who are married for fifty or sixty years. Having shared the same context for so long, they can gather enormous amounts of information just by looking at each other’s faces or gestures.

Most all coworkers do not have anywhere near the same level of shared context as people married for decades. (I’d argue many relationships nowadays lack shared context but I digress)

Therefore: the default mode of communication at work should be low-context.

Remote teams in particular need low-context processes.

Communication should be precise, simple, and clear. Explicit. Repetition is appreciated if it helps clarify communication.

High-context cultures often perceive low-context communicators as inappropriately stating the obvious, or even condescending and patronizing. Get over it.

Recognize when you are expecting the other person to read your intended message between the lines and convey it more explicitly.

Here’s another thing: If it’s obvious, it’s worth stating explicitly.

Put everything in writing. Putting everything in writing reduces confusion and saves time. Poor communication creates more work.

Internal communication based on long-form writing, rather than a verbal tradition of meetings, speaking, and chatting, leads to a welcomed reduction in meetings, video conferences, calls, or other real-time opportunities to interrupt and be interrupted.

See: Managing a remote team