Perhaps the shortest correspondence in history occurred in 1862 when author Victor Hugo left on vacation after submitting his manuscript Les Miserables to his publisher. After some time away and wondering how his book was doing, he sent the following letter to his publisher: “?” His publisher replied in kind with: “!”
The context I just provided in addition to the context you bring to this reading (especially if you’re familiar with this very famous story) allows this exceedingly small amount of information to convey quite a lot. Like any well crafted work of art or science, what gets left out is often far more than what’s left when we’re done. Every writer and every artist knows this.
Imagine the considerable thought that must have preceded the communication above. The nature and context of the relationship between these two men imbued these two simple characters with meaning far beyond their intrinsic capacity.
What I’m pointing to here is that elegant communication, written, oral, or fabricated in the form of art or science, necessitates the omission of a considerable amount of material. And just as it’s nearly impossible to know what was removed from the marble slab that freed Michelangelo’s statue of David, our only clue lies in the degree of elegance in the finished product.
The Danish writer Tor Norretranders coined a term for this missing information in his book, The User Illusion. He calls it exformation.
By now you’re probably wondering what this all has to do with facilitation? Well, now I’ll tell you. Facilitation is about making group work easy. And one of the most excruciating experiences we have as facilitators, trainers, students, leaders, and team members is the endless drone of too much information! Here are some painful examples:
- The presenter droning on for 10 minutes describing a single power point slide.
- The co-worker that insists on describing an endless string of irrelevant details in answer to a simple question.
- Discomfort with silence giving way to nervous chatter.
Exformation is the shared context that allows effective communication between those communicating. Attempts to resolve many communication problems often involves an increase of information flow. In reality, effective communication is more about sharing the right information in the right context and doing away with the rest. So how do we become aware of and facilitate this context? Good question, I’m about to exform you.
More Meaning, Less Information
I found something change in my demeanor the other day when I sat across from the table from a friend explaining exformation to him. After all, if I’m going to write about this, I ought to be able to do it. Right?
Overcome by the sheer weight of information bred by the information age, it may be time for the Age of Exformation! I believe this is something we have all been waiting for. So now I’ll share a few simple tips to held you and others facilitate the exformation of verbal communication.
Slow down.The most basic advice I have in communicating with elegance begins with simply slowing down. When we slow our output, it seems that ideas have time to bubble to the surface with increased clarity. And clearer thoughts and images are easier to describe in clear terms.
Listen to yourself. I notice that when I find myself rambling, it is noticed that I’m rambling, and I can stop. Finding yourself is the key. When I’m lost in my head, I’m lost. It’s like running into the store while you’ve left your car motor running. In a word, this is unconscious chatter. It’s a common habit, especially for those intellectuals among us, to sometimes speak when we’re fully absorbed in our thoughts. It is possible however to be aware of yourself speaking, to listen to the sound of your own voice, and the thoughts still come. In fact, they often come more refined this way.
Listen to the receiver. Exformation is about shared context. Consider and create shared experience with your listener for more effective communication. For example, though I’d only met Bill at the door five minutes ago, I allowed myself to be completely absorbed listening to him describe his love of basketball. While I’m not a fan at all, allowing myself to feel his experience like he was feeling it helped me into his world for a short while. From this place, we had a shared context, a place where I could point to things in his world to make my point.
Encourage Exformication. OK, this is a bit of a stretch but good humor is a prime example of exformation. The urban dictionary defines Exfornication as: The purification of one’s mind and body. Create an agreement with your groups and with your friends to practice the use of exformation. When your colleagues need a little help, ask them to exformicate or exfornicate. It’s good for a laugh and a great reminder to cut to the chase.
I’m interested in hearing what you think of this article and any ideas you have to help spread the movement of less information, more meaning. Please share your ideas, questions, and experiences in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!
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