What Did You Learn Today?

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I have two children from whom I ask the same question(s) at the dinner table almost every night. I’m interested in their lives in many ways, but quite prominently in their school and learning. I insistently repeat myself with the same question, “what did you learn today?”. Answers vary from “nothing” to considerably detailed explanations of French method of calculus or the rise of the Carolingian dynasty.

My kids like to learn, and one of them is always eager to demonstrate, in detail, the pieces of data she has accumulated throughout the day. I most often enjoy listening to the lengthy explanations and wish I would also have so many bits to share every day. I do, however, sometimes hope that she was more concise with her comments, but being brief and comprehensive is a difficult skill to learn, and not required in this setting.

According to Joseph McCormack, who helps leaders craft a clear and concise message, over explaining, under preparing and missing the point are the tendencies that hinder us to deliver a terse message. My child who likes lengthy discourse doesn’t miss the point but over explains; She wants to talk and monopolize the conversation. She doesn’t do it deliberately, but because she is yet to master the skills of compressing her confession.

On the other hand, son’s feedback, “nothing,” is another extreme and simply a disappointing return. Even if real-life situations demand straightforward messaging, and brevity – concise and exact use of words in writing or speech – “nothing” is not enough and most probably, as a reaction to the title question, not true.

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“Nothing” shows a relaxed attitude and uninterest in the exchange. It may tell about negligence in the classroom or an unwillingness to share with others, for whatever reason. It might also signal fear, overconfidence, insensitivity to people’s feelings or disregard just like sharing too much information and overcharging people with superfluous details.

Luckily, Mr. McCormack supplies a do-it-kit for condensed communications that could help both expansive and reticent talkers. In his book “BRIEF: Make a Bigger Impact By Saying Less,” he advises mapping the message before communicating it. Just draw a circle around the central point and few connected bubbles around it. The ideal communication should only consist of the facts stated in these bubbles. Nothing more, nothing less. He also suggests telling a story by talking and showing rather than controlling the conversation. Everyone likes a short account explaining who, what, where, when and why. We also like to get a chance to process, participate and react; To feel and be part of it.

Communicating what you’ve learned is as important as learning itself. Tonight, I’ll have information to interpret – in perfect brevity – I hope. I’ll tell my family about succinct communications, and I’ll follow the method of Mr. McCormack when doing so.

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