Many times, our purpose in expressing ourselves is not to make ourselves happy but to ensure that the listener understands us clearly. So, how can we express ourselves in a way that makes it easier for others to comprehend and grasp the key points more quickly?
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01-Structured Thinking: The Key to Effective Communication
Let’s start with a scenario.
At the end of the year, you have to report to your boss, and you’re extremely nervous. You’ve prepared over 40 PowerPoint slides overnight. However, during the presentation the next day, you only managed to cover the first 2 slides before you sense your boss becoming a bit impatient. When you reach the 5th slide, he interrupts you and says, “Don’t go through the PowerPoint anymore, just get to the point.”
You’re left stunned, standing there not knowing what to do. You feel stuck, not knowing whether to continue standing or sit down, whether to keep talking or stay silent. Why did this happen? Is it because your report “lacks a point”? You might feel unfairly treated, thinking that everything you said was essential.
Your boss’s dissatisfaction might not be due to your report “lacking a point” but rather because your presentation lacks structure. In your disorganized delivery, your boss couldn’t grasp the main points. In this state, it’s very likely that you spoke for an hour but kept circling around one or two points without getting to the main point.
In such situations, the other person may become anxious, wondering why you can’t get to the point. So, how can you make sure that people grasp the main point? Your communication needs structure.
This relates to a skill called structured thinking. What is structured thinking?
Structured thinking is the ability to quickly outline a structure or framework when solving problems, communicating, reporting work, or even writing articles. It involves organizing scattered information, like the diagram on the right side of the image, into a structured format. Through organizing, summarizing, and refining, your expression transforms from disorderly to orderly, from chaotic to structurally complete.
The purpose of doing this is to make your speech logical and your expression structured because often, when we communicate, we have objectives. For example, transmitting information, reaching consensus, or solving a problem. So, your goal is not to make yourself feel happy but to ensure clarity for your audience.
02-Enhancing Communication and Problem-Solving Skills through Structured Thinking
So, structured thinking is also a very important skill at work. Besides communication, it greatly aids in collaboration and problem-solving.
Let me give you an example. Many people have experienced this feeling: they are diligent and responsible at work but struggle with presentations. They have various thoughts, but they can’t seem to get to the point. They envy those who present with clear thinking, rigorous logic, and a well-structured approach.
Why does this happen? It’s because their expression lacks structure, appearing chaotic and unfocused, making it difficult to grasp the key points.
Structured thinking can be developed through training. How can you train for it?
The first principle is “thesis,” which means you can try starting with the conclusion. Each time you express something, it’s best to have only one main theme, one viewpoint, and address one significant issue. It’s even better to present it at the beginning.
It’s like the title of an article, which is a highly condensed and summarized version of what you’re going to express, letting the other party know your main point right from the start.
The second principle is “evidence,” which means what is above should be supported by what is below. If you have a thesis, you should have evidence. If you have a result, you should have reasons. So, start with a conclusion or a viewpoint and then proceed to provide evidence for that viewpoint.
For example, in a work presentation, if you say that our department had good performance in February, this is a conclusion. Next, you should provide evidence through data or objective facts to explain why it was good. Why? Because compared to January, our revenue increased by 30%.
The third principle is “classification,” which means grouping things into categories. Each group of key points must belong to the same category. For instance, if you bought a bunch of things and someone asks what you bought, don’t you need to classify and group them? For example, you have fruits, vegetables, and beverages as three major categories. Within each category, there are specific items. You can’t classify vegetables under fruits or beverages under vegetables.
When presenting work or communicating, it’s the same – you can’t be talking about Event A and then suddenly jump to Events B, C, and D.
The fourth principle is “comparison,” which involves logical progression. Each point needs to be arranged in a logical sequence. Before expressing or presenting your topic, find a logical framework based on your main theme. This logic is like a line that strings your expression together, progressing step by step, with a solid foundation.
03-Enhancing Communication Clarity Through Structured Thinking
Regarding training structured thinking, there’s an interesting technique mentioned in “Effective Training of Your Structured Thinking,” which is “present three important points.”
Why three points? “Three” actually sets a scope for your expression, providing a kind of structure that helps you organize and summarize relatively chaotic information logically.
Have you ever noticed that many leaders like to say, “Let me present three points” during their speeches? Why? Because this approach makes their expression clearer and prevents it from getting lost in endless details.
Let me provide an example: You ask Person A for their thoughts on a matter, and they talk incessantly for an hour. You might feel like they’ve said everything and yet nothing at all.
You ask Person B, and they say, “I have three thoughts on this issue. The first point is…, the second point is…, and the third point is….” After listening, you’ll have a much clearer understanding.
This is because Person B, through summarizing, organizing, and refining, has structured the information related to your question. It’s like they found a structure within several tangled and messy threads, then handed you the threads already organized. What you get is a well-organized bunch of threads, sorted by color and type—red, white, black—all neatly categorized.
You can also use the “present three important points” approach to summarize, organize, and refine your thoughts. For example, when addressing a matter, you can start with a conclusion. Then, for that conclusion, find three supporting reasons that follow the principles of “logic and evidence.”
Horizontally, these reasons should follow the “comparison” and “classification” principles, ensuring the topic is comprehensive without omissions and is presented in a logical order. Vertically, it should follow the “thesis” and “evidence” principles, delving into the depth of thinking.
In many cases, when you say, “I have three thoughts on this matter,” you might encounter a few situations.
The first situation is when you can conveniently list three points.
The second is when you can only provide two points and need to emphasize the second one.
The third is when you can list three points and then discover two additional crucial points, requiring you to say, “Let me add two more points.”
Therefore, “presenting three important points” may seem simple, but it requires a strong ability to think structurally.
Many times, our expressions serve a purpose, such as conveying information, reaching a consensus, or solving a problem. Therefore, your goal is not to make yourself happy but to make the listener understand. When it comes to communication and reporting work, how can you help the other person quickly grasp the main points? You need to possess the ability of structured thinking. Through summarizing, organizing, and refining, you can structure the chaotic information. Regarding structured thinking, there are some methods you can consider. For instance, the four principles of clear expression: State. Support. Sort. Compare. State – lead with the conclusion. Support – provide evidence to back up your points. Sort – categorize and group related points together. Compare – present your ideas in a logical progression. For example, the “important things in threes” technique. Saying three key points about important matters actually sets a framework for your expression, helping you organize and clarify complex information logically.