In the past few weeks I’ve had about a dozen conversations where the the listener was completely lost. At first, you might think it was the fault of the listener, but as I began to look more closely to the conversations, I realized that the problem was not with the listeners, but with the speakers. They were using pronouns without antecedents.
She doesn’t help her, but just sits and listens to him. That makes her wonder if he even cares about the work she does while she sits there doing nothing. “What’s wrong with him? What’s wrong with her?” she wonders?
Wow — what does that mean?
In good communication, every pronoun must be preceded by a noun and identified with that noun. If that doesn’t happen, the listener is frustrated and eventually, the speaker is frustrated.
Here’s some pointers to follow to help others not get lost in what you’re saying:
- At the onset of your speech, refrain from using pronouns at all. Instead, establish the persons, places, or things you are discussing by using their names or identity.
- In the course of communication, reintroduce the nouns — not to exclude pronouns, but to affirm their identity.
- When there is a possibility that a pronoun could be misidentified, use the noun.
- If you are speaking hypothetically, use different genders so that you can take advantage of gender-specific pronouns.
So, what happens if we follow these pointers in regard to the sample text above?
Mary doesn’t help Martha, but just sits and listens to Jesus. That makes Martha wonder if he even cares about the work she does while Mary sits there doing nothing. “What’s wrong with him? What’s wrong with Mary?” Martha wonders.
Aunty Seedent would be proud.