Nicole Fenton is the coauthor of Nicely Said. They design with words.

The Art of Communicating

I recently read Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Art of Communicating. He talks about compassion and communicating clearly. He says:

“When we think, when we speak, when we act, we create — and we are there in our creations. That is the outcome of our being… Our thoughts, speech, and actions are our real continuation.”

I love this idea; there’s a longevity to our decisions, even when our work is fragile or temporary. Language has a rippling effect. A thought bubbles up in the author’s mind, comes out as words, and sparks something in the reader. Waves of words might carry on in conversation, in a story, or in memory.

Thich Nhat Hanh mentions that “communication” and “community” have the same Latin root, communicare, which means to impart, share, or make common.

I think communication is ultimately about caring and showing that you care. Online, it’s also about earning trust from your customers or readers. I don’t know about you, but it’s really hard for me to trust somebody that I can’t see or understand, especially when I don’t feel like they care about me at all. We have to grapple with the intricacies of communicating with strangers. That’s wild and interesting in its own ways, but it’s not a new thing for writers or designers to think about.

Thich Nhat Hanh outlines four bodhisattva guidelines for gentle, loving speech:

  1. Tell the truth. Don’t lie or turn the truth upside down.
  2. Don’t exaggerate.
  3. Be consistent. This means no double-talk.
  4. Use peaceful language. Don’t use insulting or violent words, cruel speech, verbal abuse, or condemnation.

The first three fit right into a style guide, with a little editing and elaboration. The last one means a lot to me personally. I want to do more with this post in the future.

Hanh discusses technology and its role in our lives. I definitely recommend reading the book, even if you’re not interested in Buddhist teachings. Maybe a good one to check out from the library? One last quote for you:

“We believe too much in the technologies of communication. Behind all of these instruments we have the mind, the most fundamental instrument for communication. If our minds are blocked, there is no device that will make up for our inability to communicate with ourselves or others.”