BK Blog Post
Posted by Liz Guthridge, Managing Director, Connect Consulting Group.
Liz Guthridge is a coach, consultant and facilitator who helps leaders turn their blue-sky ideas into greener-pasture actions. She uses applied neuroscience, behavior design and mindful communications.
The 72-72 rule.
It’s succinct, specific and gets stamped into your memory—once you learn what it is.
The 72-72 rule says that the City of Charleston should be “as good a place for tourists who visit for 72 hours as it is for residents who live here for 72 years.”
When he took office, Charleston City Council member Mike Seekings invented this rule as his governing principle.
Precise phrases like the 72-72 rule are better for the brain than glittery generalities. That’s because it’s easier for us to picture concrete things in our mind. We also have a simpler time of explaining them to others and building a shared understanding.
By contrast, glittery generalities and abstract ideas are subject to our individual interpretations. For example, consider the phrase “enjoyable experience.” One person’s pleasure could be another person’s pain.
Concrete words and phrases express what we know through our six senses, explains Cheryl Stephens, the plain language writer, editor, and trainer at Plain Language Wizardry, in her insightful LinkedIn post, A Slab of Concrete Words. Anything concrete exists in a material or physical form.
Time tends to verge between concrete and abstract. Time isn’t physical matter yet if you’re a Westerner you have a strong understanding of time periods, such as 72 hours and 72 years.
And there’s the rub to quote Shakespeare’s character Hamlet.
Concrete phrases also can serve as a type of concrete barrier, dividing people and things into categories, with possibly unintended consequences.
For example, when one of my neighbors and I heard Councilman Seekings explain his 72-72 rule at a community meeting, we both determined that he wasn’t speaking to us. Nor for that matter was he probably governing with our interests in mind. And as a result, we felt like outsiders, marginalized compared with the tourists and the long-time residents.
We reached the same conclusion, but for slightly different reasons. My neighbor splits her time throughout the year between Charleston and Cincinnati. I moved to Charleston as a middle-aged adult so it’s unrealistic I’ll live here 72 years unless scientists make major strides in increasing life expectancy.
What’s the point of this rant?
Concrete words and phrases are better than glittering generalities with this exception: Unless your intent is to be exclusionary, don’t be so specific that you end up accidentally eliminating people who could be vital stakeholders for you and your initiatives.
Now how do you prevent people from feeling like they’re on the outside looking in?
Use these three questions as stepping stones the next time you’re crafting concrete language:
You need to step carefully when you’re trying to communicate clearly and concretely as well as be open and inclusive.
That’s why it’s important to be intentional. Think first, act carefully and when in doubt, test to determine how others may perceive your ideas.
Are these steps concrete enough for you? If not, comment and let me know.