Message Not Received: A book review by Bob Morris

Mersasage Not ReceivedMessage Not Received: Why Business Communication Is Broken and How to Fix It
Phil Simon
John Wiley & Sons (2015)

“If can’t explain your idea to a six-year old, you really do not understand it.”
Albert Einstein, 4 April 2015

On average, each of us receives about 8,000 “messages” from various sources each day. I wish I had a dollar for every unnecessary message I have received during the last twelve months. Einstein’s observation, the title of this review, correctly expresses one of Phil Simon’s key points: Make absolutely certain that the “message” sent is worthy of the efforts made to ensure that it is received by the person to whom it is sent. More often than not, I suspect, messages that are received should not have been sent

Phil Simon skillfully uses several reader-friendly devices that include especially relevant quotations that are inserted throughout his lively and eloquent narrative. For example:

“The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do.” B.F. Skinner
“The future ain’t what it used to be.” Yogi Berra
“The biggest single problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw

Other reader-friendly devices include seven Tables (e.g. 1.1 “Average Interest Spans”) and 18 Figures (e.g. 4.2 “Metcalfe’s Law in Action”), mini-introductions to Chapters 1-8, boxed mini-commentaries, “Next” sections that offer a head’s-up to material in the next chapter, “Notes” at the end of chapters, and an appendix to Chapter 3. These devices will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key material later. I agree with Simon that most business communication doesn’t work very well, if at all. He wrote this book to help as many people as possible master the skills needed to communicate with clarity, concision, and context-appropriateness.

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Simon’s coverage:

o My Personal Communications Journey (Pages 18)
o Accelerating Technological Change, and, The Rise of the Machines (25-30)
o The Sliding Scale of Search (37-39)
o Marketing Madness (41-44)
o Information Overload: From Bad to Worse (54-55)
o From Organizations to Projects: The Evolution of Work (62-63)
o Is Being Overwhelmed Even a Choice Anymore? (64-69)
o Jargon: The Cause of So Much Noise (75-90)
o Adult ADD (91)
o A Communication Dynasty: Explain E-Mail’s Impressive Reign (102-112)
o How We’re Working Isn’t Working (114-125)
o Why Bad Communication Is Bad Business (129-145)
o The World of Words (155-165)
o Communication Context, Awareness, and Technique (165-174)
o Shhh! Why Amazon Starts Senior Meetings with 30 Minutes of Silence (181-182)
o The Internal Social Network (204-210)
o Three Choices 216-217)

In a prior life, after earning an M.A. in comparative literature at Yale, I taught Advanced Placement English at two boarding schools in New England for thirteen years. Over time, I devised a system I called EDNA (based on Aristotle’s concept of levels of discourse) that I later used when conducting workshops on high-impact communications for dozens of corporate clients. Briefly, Exposition explains with information, Description makes vivid with compelling details, Narrative tells a story or (with Exposition) explains a process or sequence, and finally, Argumentations convinces with logic and/or evidence. EDNA also works as a mindset for oral communication, by the way.

All of the information, insights, and counsel that Phil Simon provides in this volume will strengthen and improve EDNA or any other system of discourse. More to the point, it will help each person who reads this book to think and communicate much more clearly. Better yet, it will also help those who read it to become better listeners as well as manage much more effectively the messages they receive, not only at work but everywhere else.

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