Since the last post was on communication, this post continues that trend as it’s a part that  frankly appears to be an art more than a skill.

Inference is often just reading between the lines.  For a person receiving a message, they need to understand both the speaker’s intent and be attentive to the message.  For a person giving a message, they need to manage the expectations of the audience.

I still recall an old example from uni, based on a sentence structure.  The italics represent the focus on a given word, then the inference from the statement.  First the base statement.

  • You should not steal these books.

Simple enough.  Don’t steal those books. Let’s focus on each word now.

  • You should not steal theses books.

Infer that you shouldn’t do this, but someone else can.

  • You should not steal these books.

Infers this is a suggestion only. If it was must not, then you can’t at all.  But if you have a good reason, then do so.

  • You should not steal these books.

Don’t steal them, but you can burn them, take them, draw in them, etc…

  • You should not steal these books.

Those other ones are OK.

Inflection & Tone

As much as it’s what’s said, it’s how it’s said that really matters.  The verbal aspect applies  a significant amount of context and impact to a given message.  The non-verbal items also add a lot, as you can tell from facial expression and hand gestures where the key points are of a given message.  I’ve often said there’s more in a raised eyebrow than there is in a book.

Monotone orators, or those with nasal inflections make for tough speakers.  There’s only so much Ben Stein I can take in a day.

Brevity vs. Discourse

The length of a message also has a lot of inference.  Very short messages are often seen as poignant and commanding.  They are important.  Very long messages that meander (like Grampa Simpson) lose the audience’s attention and key bits are just ignored.  The quality of the speaker has a huge impact on the value of that time.  Great storytellers could go for hours and I’d be at edge of seat.  Poor speakers I’ve had enough after 5 minutes.  The “umm, ok, ahh,like” speakers drive me right up the wall.  I try to give a lot of feedback on this part of oration to my team members… it makes a world of difference.

Written Form

I would hope that in all our mind’s eye we have a picture of a good speaker and a poor one.  From a writing perspective, we all have our own preferences.  The above items still apply, where the method of the message has a larger impact than the subject.  Simple things like italics, semi-colons… heck, even just the number of words in a given sentence do more for me than the material.  It’s sort of like food.  It could taste amazing, but if it doesn’t look good, then I won’t enjoy it.


Back to the actual subject now.  There are multiple levers to get a message across, and the giver intends and how the receiver captures.  Even if everyone posted on the same topic, every blogger would have their own interpretation and message.  Some prefer to add a lot of screenshots to get a point across, others prefer walls of text.  Some clearly do a QA parse, others it’s first draft every time.  When a blogger differs from their “normal” style, it’s quite interesting to read through.  Yet the key here is that most bloggers I read are not trying to sway any particular opinion, they don’t have an agenda, they are just sharing cause they want to.  Big difference from traditional print, or even online news (Buzzfeed’s eternal search for clicks).

I could go into the subtleties of writing, where there are hidden messages in the actual message.  But that’s borderline spin, and I think we all have enough of that on a daily basis.  For this post, it’s just about being conscious of a writer’s style, and how that style itself frames a given message.


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