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Ask HN: How to learn to communicate clearly?
28 points by namenotrequired on Aug 28, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 15 comments
Sam Altman has said communicating clearly is one of the most important skills in startups.

How do we learn this?

Are there any good resources?

Vis-a-vis written communication: A book that I discovered via a recommendation here on HN, and which I will recommend in turn, is The Pyramid Principle[1] by Barbara Minto.

In terms of spoken communication... I'd suggest looking into Toastmasters, and/or just volunteer to speak at user-group meetings and things of that nature. There are a number of good books out there on public speaking / presenting, but most of what I've learned on the topic came from online sources (like threads here on HN) and just practice.

Also, as somebody else said: read lots of books. Try blogging / writing in some context. The more you write, the better you'll get. Somebody, I think maybe it was Stephen King[2], said something like (paraphrased) "the best way to learn to write well is to read a lot and write a lot".

[1]: https://www.amazon.com/Pyramid-Principle-Logic-Writing-Think...

[2]: https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/...

Field experience: Work closely with a volatile person for a while. You will naturally learn to be very deliberate and effective in what you say.

Or for a less traumatic approach: read a few books or attend a few workshops, then practice what you glean inside your existing relationships.

The books and workshops that are most helpful for you will be personal. To learn interpersonal communication techniques, try browsing the management, relationship, and self-help shelves for something that stands out. Similarly, management training/workshops and therapy groups can be very helpful.

If you just want to articulate your thoughts more clearly in writing or speech, look in the writing or public speaking shelves and look for writer's groups or Toastmaster's meeting.

Most of it comes down to practice, but there are innumerable resources that will help need to figure out what you need to practice. Few of them will lead you astray, so don't overthink it and just dive in.

> To learn interpersonal communication techniques, try browsing the management, relationship, and self-help shelves for something that stands out.

I thought Crucial Conversations was a great book for this

+1 for Crucial Coversations. That book, along with “Nonviolent Communication”, was a gift for my analytical mind in approaching the art of lucid communication.

For written communication, the classic textbook is Strunk and White's The Elements of Style (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Elements_of_Style), which contains one of the most famous bits of advice ever offered on how to write well: "omit needless words."

This book is the best outline/textbook for what clear and effective communication I’ve seen is. When your purpose is to be unambiguous.

There are tons of examples of bad communication and how to improve it.

One of my favorite parts is about how to be truthful in communicating. When “that’s stupid!” pops into your head how do you communicate that excluding the options of saying nothing and blurting out your thought vomit. And it is about realizing there is almost always a mismatch of assumptions on one or both sides. So the best response to that thought is usually to ask clarifying questions.


How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It's about how to listen to people in the right way. You have to set up communication systems that allow you to dial in to what THEY think is important and get out of your own way

I started a newsletter to help developers with their writing skills.

I am not sure I will continue to write new content, but the archive is here: https://writingfordevelopers.substack.com/archive

I believe it might help you.

If you can, try getting a Sales/Partnership role for an early stage B2B startup. Pitching to CXOs of different bossinesses would push you to be coherent, concise, and confident about what's coming out of your mouth.

Imagine youre speaking to a 5 year old, then listen actively, and respond in kind and then rinse, repeat.

Write a page and reduce it to three sentences, or one as I did here.

Write notes down, think about them and then re-write them.

Read books.

Be a good listener & keep ones head clear

Practice, practice and practice.

And observing results

Getting good at communication (not just eloquence or debate, but being effective at engagement and transferring information) is studying yourself in relation to other people at a deep level.

People say being a good listener is the key to communication, but to be more precise, it's understanding the context that you're communicating in deeply that allows you to be an effective communicator.

For me, it's been helpful to build internal frameworks to understand what value sensitivities and blind spots I have and apply context switches real time during conversation.

As a simple example, you may be sensitive to the logical accuracy and truth of things, and you may not care much about causing conflict. This is fine, but there exists other people that are sensitive to conflict and tend to ignore logical accuracy. Effective communication between these two parties starts with understanding these fundamental differences, and context switching out once you realize that you're talking about different things. There are many conversations that happen where one person is trying to communicate "you're factually wrong" and the other person is trying to communicate "you're making me feel uncomfortable with how much conflict you're causing", and the same thing gets repeated for hours while getting nowhere.

There are many frameworks out there on value sensitivities, and you can use any of them or even build one yourself. The 5 love languages is a simple one where understanding, digesting, and applying it can take one afternoon. I personally heavily rely on cognitive functions (wiki it, it's a deep topic). I also classify the source of activity as either being rational, emotional, or willful/goal oriented - I do this because it is simple, fast to evaluate, and yields actionable insight.

You also need to always try to improve your communication by expanding your values. Some people belittle other values instead of acknowledging them, and as a result never improve.

Try to acknowledge and incorporate additional values in your communication. An example value is terseness - can you communicate your point with as few words as possible? Another can be rapport - at the end of the conversation, does the other party like you more? A third can be precision - can you be more precise with your meaning when you convey ideas? A fourth can be objectivity - can you take your emotional slant or political preference out of your speaking? Or can you put more emotion into your speaking? Organization - can you practice to organize your thoughts better?

You do not have to subjectively internalize values, you just have to learn how to objectively evaluate them so that you can interact with people who subjectively value them. If you adopt this paradigm, there's really an endless amount of ways to improve/broaden your communication style.

Once you understand values and set a goal, then practice a lot. Most people recommend writing regularly because writing (along with editing) is the best way to discover, muse, and improve how you communicate. It's also helpful to take professional communication classes, which will train you in standardized ways that people have solved common communication issues (ambiguity, lack of professionalism, etc).

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