, ,

Part 2: How to communicate

Communication comes in different forms.  The obvious forms are language (written, spoken, and listening) and numbers. Language is really good at communicating context and relationships. Numbers are very good at communicating precisely. Language is really bad because it can be vague and the meanings of words can change unexpectedly. Numbers are dangerous because they may give a precise answer to the wrong question.

A previous post noted why effective communication was important but, in a sense, that is the easy part.  The challenge for anybody interested in the real estate business is that everybody must develop a personal style which combines both forms of communication.  Given the range of people who interact with real estate, people who want to excel must be able to adapt their style to a specific audience.

At the university level, we focus less on the techniques of what to do and more on practice (and on what to not do). Based on our teaching experience, some simple bits of advice make a big difference.

The advice when writing, in 11 words or less, is

  • Avoid the passive tense.
  • Use simple words instead of fancy ones.

The second bit of advice surprises many people because they think that the way to impress people at a university is to use fancy words. When a student tries this tactic with a professor, they are doomed to losing the battle.  When a student tries to use this tactic with a general audience, they lose the audience’s attention.  In both cases, the student has forgotten why the fancy words were developed: because they communicate more precisely.

The advice when speaking, in 10 words or less, is

  • To avoid saying “ummmmm” repeatedly, prepare and rehearse.

If you are speaking for an hour then you might want some speaking notes to remind you of what to say.  Otherwise, using notes tends to be a crutch which makes the rest of the speech less effective. In particular, breaking eye contact with the audience makes it harder to adapt a personal style to the audience of the moment.

Increasingly, arguments about old style communication are being adapted to visual communications.  Art departments at many major media organizations convey information using cute pictures, lines and bars.  Better software makes it easier, but careful thought can have a surprisingly big effect.

The key to how to communicate better is not based on some rule that somebody was taught. The benefit to being clear is that it is easy to understand. About 2000 years ago, a Roman writing professor noted the overlooked benefit: a good writer writes so clearly that they cannot be misunderstood (Quintilian, cited on p. 7 of a short, occasionally humourous and very useful book by D. McCloskey, Economical Writing, or was it Epictetus or Taft?). People who are learning always have trouble with that second part because they do not know what they do not know.

We offer a friendly environment to develop natural talent and to remove any rough edges. People with no talent for writing can learn to re-write well. People with stage fright can practice to improve their self-confidence. Anybody can make a list of their bad habits and fix them.

The change between what somebody does when they start our program and when they graduate is remarkable. We wish that it was a bit faster since, when grading, many students are losing lots of marks because they are not communicating as effectively as they hope.