Monday, August 20, 2007

How Giving Driving Directions Matters

When you give driving directions to other people, you belong in one of the three following camps:

The Left/Right Camp
The North/South/East/West Camp
The Combo Camp

Which camp you belong to indicates something about your communication effectiveness.

1. The Left/Right Camp
The Left/Right campers communicate primarily from a "self-experience" bias. Giving directions with the perception-based language of left and right is good if you are giving directions to yourself as you are driving, but bad if you are giving directions to others. You don't know from which direction they are approaching turns, thus each correct turn could be left or right.

To say it another way, consider two guys standing on either side of a street looking at each other and a car drives by. If these two gentlemen are Left/Right campers and you asked them which way the car was traveling, one would say left, one would say right. Even though they seemingly have totally opposing viewpoints, they actually agree on which way the car was traveling. They are simply communicating from a "self-experience" bias.

In the real world, this type of communicating can and does cause real problems. It is too self-focused. It doesn't take into account how the information will be perceived by other people with different experiences. If you find yourself wondering why people can't get on-board with your ideas, why others don't seem to see your point of view, or why people don't pay enough attention to what you have to say, you could very well be a Left/Right camper.

2. The North/South/East/West Camp
This camp is full of people who communicate in a more concrete, visual and simple manner. They use North/South/East/West when they give driving directions because of two reasons:
N/S/E/W is a universally accepted standard that everyone understands and has used all of their life. Understandably, some people have difficulty finding them from time to time, but they are findable.

N/S/E/W is unchanging. No matter which direction you are headed, North is always North, South is always South, etc. Therefore, the language is not "self-experience" based, but rather "everyone-experience" based.

To apply the North/South/East/West driving directions dynamic to your everyday life as a communicator, you must locate common-ground very quickly with people. You must form a frame-of-reference from which everyone can communicate. It is very similar to how members of the Armed Forces communicate. No matter where you go, the language and the corresponding action protocol is exactly the same from every Armed Forces soldier everywhere. This sameness allows them to work more efficiently and quickly and avoid the confusion and misdirection that ambiguity and "self-experience" language creates. You need to do the same.

3. The Combo Camp
The Combo Camp's positive inclusion of concrete N/S/E/W language is negatively offset by giving too much information. Direction givers in the Combo Camp think the quality of their directions goes up as the quantity goes up. This results in the problem of information overload.

But Combo campers know it, so they say it. This is the same dynamic that happens in the real world. People typically give too much information when communicating ideas. A perfect example is PowerPoint slides. The typical PowerPoint presentation includes too many slides and too much content on each slide (the most effective PowerPoint presentations are visually-based, not text-based.) Great communicators filter out the unimportant and only give the absolutely vital.

Your task as a communicator is to be concrete, simple and visual like the North/South/East/West campers, to avoid the "self-experience" curse of the Left/Right campers and to avoid the information overload that plagues the Combo campers.

[Thanks to David Graham for the "two guys across the street" analogy.]

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