Grounded and Clear

Effective communication demands being both grounded and clear. Communicators who are grounded convey — and are in fact — deeply rooted in their conviction about what they are saying. Listeners get a sense those roots go deep — very deep into the ground on which the speaker stands. There’s a strong message in this: unshakeability. (Notice, though, that unshakeability does not have to equate with stubborness or obstinancy. I can be unshakeable in what I’m conveying AND also be unshakeable in my openness to considering alternatives).

Effective speakers are also clear. By clarity, I mean the words used spell out in straight forward, understandable and logical fashion what it is the speaker is saying.

Being both grounded and clear does not insure those listening will agree. But it does insure they will believe that you as the speaker know what you are about and are committed to your point of view. When Rush Limbaugh recently disparaged Michael Fox for Fox’s pro-stem cell research commercial, Limbaugh was both grounded and clear in his disparagement. He was deeply rooted in his own conviction that Fox was using his disease as a ploy and Limbaugh was also clear about how and why Fox was doing this.

As a listener, I found Rush Limbaugh’s grounded and clear sentiments in this case to be yet one more piece of evidence that Rush Limbaugh is a repugnant, despicable man. Still, he got his message across because he was grounded and clear.

Speakers who are grounded yet unclear, or who are clear yet ungrounded, or who are neither grounded nor clear can never hope to to elicit an effective response — whether that response is agreement, disagreement or a blend.

Instead, such speakers betray their own lack of conviction and/or understanding in what it is they are saying. When, for example, President Bush chose to read a prepared statement about dumping Rumsfeld at yesterday’s press briefing, Bush immediately showed he was neither grounded nor clear about his action. In contrast, his defense of Rumsfeld for the past few years was a much more grounded and clear communication. He didn’t need notes. The message was grounded and clear: Rumsfeld is doing a great job and he’s staying.

Yesterday’s use of notes dumped all that. And, if you had the chance to see Bush, you also saw that he could barely keep his feet planted behind the lectern — let alone firmly rooted there. His body language was as muddied as his verbal language.

Like the example of Limbaugh’s contemptible words about Michael Fox, Bush’s years-upon-years choice to stick with Rumsfeld was, to many, a tragic case of poor leadership. But he was grounded about it. He was clear. We knew where he stood.

All we know now is that he’s extraordinarily uncomfortable about dumping Rumsfeld. He doesn’t really believe in it. And he isn’t totally sure why. He may be doing what others have advised (or, less kindly, told him to do).

But we’ll have to watch the coming days, weeks, months and two years to find out if George W. Bush can regain his footing and his clarity about what he and his Presidency are all about. That tens of millions of Americans may well disagree with any formulation he re-discovers is a separate issue from whether the man himself can ever communicate effectively about what, why and whether he has any purpose to his life.

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