Self-evident truths

by Marisa Boevers

With the two major political conventions of the year wrapped up and the presidential election in full swing, I’ve been thinking a lot about the phrase “we hold these truths to be self-evident“. Our founding fathers felt that what came after that, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” was so obvious it required no further explanation or proof.

But not all ideas and information are quite that obvious.

In fact, even the Declaration of Independence requires a little unpacking and a lot of revisiting. What do we mean by “all men”? What’s “unalienable”? What makes up “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”? We ask ourselves these questions and struggle to agree year after year, generation after generation. Thomas Jefferson gave us soaring rhetoric and grand philosophy when he wrote these words, but not a clear set of instructions or expectations.

So, what does this mean for you?

You may think that you’ll just be able to explain your new idea to the boss and she’ll love it, or that you can roll out a new policy or procedure to your staff with a detailed email. After all, the idea is good, the policy makes sense. You get it–why won’t they?

But, things often don’t work out that way. The boss is confused and doesn’t agree with your plan. The employees are unsure of what, how, or when you want them to change, even though you thought you mentioned all of those things. Or even worse, your message gets through, but is quickly forgotten in the hubbub of other messages and distractions. It can be so frustrating–it seems so obvious to you, why can’t others get it?

Your message may not be quite as complicated as starting a new country or a new form of government, but it could still benefit from a thoughtful analysis of what you’re trying to communicate and how you will reach your audience. Here are three things to try next time you need to be clear.

Go back to basics
 In the third grade I learned that “essays” should focus on who, what, where, when, why, and how. It served me well when I was 8 and it’s not let me down since. So, make sure you know the details. And more than just knowing them, write them down with as much precision as you can manage.

Focus on the Big Ideas (and write them down)
 Long before we start sketching or writing copy, we at ThoughtForm think about the Big Ideas. We write them down. On paper or in an email. We discuss them with our colleagues and our clients. We make sure that we understand the basics, but also the complexity. Why is this idea a good one? Who will benefit? What might go wrong? Are there unintended consequences? The writing is the thinking and even if you think you know it–write it down.

Tell it to a stranger
 Try explaining your story to someone who knows nothing about the situation. What questions do they have? Where did you lose them? You might think that your audience won’t stumble in the same places because they’re experts, but even experts can’t hold all of the information in their heads all of the time. Your audience (no matter who they are) is tired, distracted, and worried about other things–so don’t rely on their cognitive abilities too much.

Communication matters. The words we say and the way we share ideas impacts our success, whether in business or in our personal lives. And although it’s a beautiful phrase, we can’t assume that any truths are self-evident to others. So, we have to give them that extra explanation, that proof, that context, that helps them to see it the way we see it.

Marisa Boevers is a account manager and director of marketing at ThoughtForm. She used to think all of her truths were self-evident until she discovered they were not. You can reach her at