“What We’ve Got Here Is Failure to Communicate”

The headline is taken from words spoken by actor Strother Martin as Captain in the classic 1967 film Cool Hand Luke. These words echo in my head when I witness efforts to communicate that are lacking.

An electronic sign in front of a business is a good way to share a quick message. But when a business has five different messages that cycle through, a driver sees only two or three and may miss the most important one. (By the way, business owners, it’s no longer necessary to tell drivers the time and temperature.)

Fine print in newspaper ads is okay. We may need magnification to read the terms, qualifications and disclaimers that relate to auto lease rates touted in an ad. But when the same copy is flashed at the bottom of a TV ad for a few seconds, even a speed-reader with a 50-inch HDTV can’t take it all in. It’s even worse on radio when similar verbiage is sped up to the point of being incomprehensible. I understand that there are legal requirements involved here, but seriously, who’s fooling whom?

I like Twitter. Hashtags can be useful. An event hashtag should be recognizable to those who are not at the event, who wish to follow along. And those who are not insiders should be able to figure out what the hashtag refers to. (I’ve seen event hashtags in my Twitter timeline and, even after investigating, not been able to determine what was happening.)

An omitted word can sometimes be guessed based on context, but not always. I’ve recently noticed words omitted in emails, tweets, Facebook posts, media releases, newspaper articles and more. (Oh, I’ve been guilty myself.) It’s easy to do when your fingers are moving faster than your brain. It can also happen when you rewrite a sentence, adjusting number/tense/word order/etc. This is a good reason to have a second pair of eyes look over your most important work.

Speaking of movies and failure to communicate, dialogue that’s mumbled, buried under other sounds, in a foreign language or a strange dialect can be of little use to an audience that doesn’t get the meaning. This is why certain TV reality shows like “Honey Boo Boo” and “Moonshiners” use subtitles when the regional dialects of the shows’ participants may not be understood by a general American audience.

It’s my belief that, for successful communication, the greater onus is on the communicator, not the recipient of the message. Strive for clarity.


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