Sometimes vague doesn’t help.

I was driving on the Indiana Toll Road. I stopped for coffee. Since I was there, I stopped in the restroom, too.

restroom sign Apparently, someone was cleaning somewhere. That was a good thing. The sign, however, didn’t say much more than that.

“Man or woman porter in one of three restrooms.”

Someone is somewhere.

I laughed. I knew I needed a picture. I wondered what would happen if someone caught me taking pictures in the hallway to the restroom.

No one did.

And I went on my way unchanged.

I know. An ambiguous sign shouldn’t change me. And yet, I had noticed the uncertainty introduced into my life by this sign. And I realized that I need to pay attention to what I say in a way that will remove ambiguity from my audience.

(See? I can’t help myself. Let’s try again. “I need to be clear.” Much better. Okay. Back to the post.)

In several conversations since I saw that sign, I have been just as vague. I tried to tell people when my boss/colleague’s birthday was. I tried to tell Nancy several things. I tried to explain ideas at a conference.

Every time, I felt as ineffective as the sign.

Someone is cleaning somewhere.

You know what the problem is? I try to be vague. It’s ironic. It’s subtle. It’s easy. It’s lazy.

And it doesn’t work.

You know what I mean?


4 responses to “Sometimes vague doesn’t help.

  1. I’ve noticed my writing has degraded with the introduction of Social media tools. I write in 140 character bytes, rather than for clarity. I have to make a conscious effort to not write vaguely all the time.

  2. I think it depends on the intention – what you’re trying to communicate.

    There’s a time to be clear, but there’s also a time when vague is what you want – I’m guessing you know the work of Milton Erickson who explored what you could do with being ‘artfully vague’, allowing people to make their own meanings and conclusions.

    There’s nothing lazy about that – it’s part of your art. But maybe not what you want in a restroom sign 😉

  3. I find that I expend so much effort trying to be clear that I get lost in the attempt for clarity.

    That, and I have a short attention span and bad short term memory too.

    Oh look, something shiny.

  4. northpointcc

    Sometimes vague allows the imagination to fill in the details allowing a reader to develop his own version of the story. On the other hand some communication needs to be very clear. I once saw a sign on the front of a dry cleaning company that read, “Men’s and Women’s alterations made.”