Communications Consulting

The purpose of language is to communicate. Successful verbal communication generally depends on the choice of the right words, but first you have to know what you want to say and to whom. Whether you are selling washing powder or explaining Darwin’s theory of evolution, there is a communicator who has a message to get across and there is an audience who will read the words and hopefully derive some meaning from them. The tool we use to do that job, language, is a wonderful invention, but it is not perfect. No language corresponds exactly with another (to quickly convince yourself of this, use Google Translate to convert this paragraph into another language, and then convert it back to English!), let alone with some objective reality. We all have our own sets of vocabulary and associations, our own concepts which in effect define the limits of the world we can describe. It’s a mistake to assume that our words mean the same thing to someone else as they do to us, even taken in isolation. Put them together into sentences, and the potential for mismatches between transmission and reception is great.

But it’s not just about the words. An even more tricky gap between intentions and results in the matter of verbal communication is created by the fact that there is always a sub-text behind the words we use, a set of accessory meanings which we have to grasp in order to get the total message. Partly this is a matter of cultural practice (English understatement, Dutch directness, and so on), but in general the most crucial and yet overlooked messages in any communication are about the author’s needs and values in relation to the text. Since these are typically not explicit or clearly expressed, it takes some special training and understanding to become aware of them and to make them clear.

In text editing and translation work, I try to make my clients aware of the full range of meanings and associations implicit in the various formulations we might use, and to choose language that aligns with their specific needs and values in relation to the project. To do that effectively, we need to discuss what the clients’ purposes or needs actually are, and how explicit we want to make them; as well as to consider who the intended audience is and how they might receive and respond to the message. This whole process is deeply informed by what I call ‘needs-based’ communication (NbC).

My experience is that time spent on exploring these factors before we start writing or translating a text is well spent. It can save time and money at the end of the day by reducing the need for editing at a later stage, but it also maximises the impact of the message and produces a better quality result.

I offer communications consulting as a stand-alone service as well as in conjunction with translation and editing services. Exactly the same principles are used to improve communications within businesses, organisations, families or personal relationships, though methods and tools vary of course.