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The Best Communicators Know Both the Pareto Rule and the Dilbert Rule

The Best Communicators Know Both the Pareto Rule and the Dilbert Rule

by Frank Roche on June 3, 2007

in Communication

There are 600,000 words in the Oxford English Dictionary. Pick any of them.

I make my living as a writer. (No, not this blog.) And anyone who hangs around me for a while has heard me say that quote about the O.E.D. Yes, there are actually 615,500 word forms, but what’s 15,500 among friends? Which is my point. Among friends, and in employee communication, exactness — unless you’re talking about legal definitions — is in the eye of the beholder.

We once were asked by a client to reprint a brochure — that they had approved for print — because they wanted to change the word “rewards” to “benefits.” It was in a sentence that went something like, “The combination is part of the rewards of working here.” They wanted it changed to, “The combination is part of the benefits of working here.” Um, same thing to me. And I said, “There are 600,000 words in the Oxford English Dictionary. Pick any of them.” They chose “benefits” and we reprinted. Did employees notice? I don’t think so.

So, when I read Golden Happiness Ratio it made me think about what I meant about choosing one of 600,000 words and getting perspective on the rewards/benefits of one word over another. Scott Adams, yes, that Scott Adams, writes about an update on the Pareto Rule, which could be called the Pareto Rule — Dilbert Variant:

I have a theory that you can predict how happy people are – and perhaps how successful – by their ability to tolerate imperfection. The Golden Happiness Ratio is about 4/5ths right, also known as “good enough.”

Once you achieve about 80% rightness, any extra effort is rarely worth the effort. People who can’t stop until they get to 100% are usually stressed to the point where they can barely function. And don’t expect them to do much multitasking.

People who are happy with results much below 80% right are usually serial losers. Those are the people who show up for work when it “feels right.” They generally have money problems, which lead to social problems.

Here’s the point: It doesn’t really matter about one little word here and there. Yes, be accurate. Be clear. Be concise. Be right. But don’t be anal retentive in your editing. Let it go and you’ll be a far better communicator. Communication happens in the composite, not by choosing a single word over another. The Dutch have a phrase for this: Goed is goed genoeg. Good is good enough. That goes double in choosing words for employee communication. It’s about the big idea, not one of 600,000 little words.

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