Insights and Opinions

Effective Communication

Have you ever wondered why the statue of Moses created by Michelangelo depicts Moses with horns on his head? More importantly, the damage this has caused throughout the centuries? Was this a satanic joke? No, it was a Bible mistranslation!

The ancient Greek translation of Exodus 34:29 reads, "when Moses went down from the mountain, Moses knew not that the appearance of the skin of his face was glorified" This Greek translation is not faithful to the original Hebrew, but does give the sense of the passage - Moses' face shone brightly.

The issue is verb קָרַ֛ן (qāran). The noun form of this verb, קֶ֤רֶן (qeren) has as its primary meaning, 'horn,' like the horns of an animal. However, this word can also refer to things that radiate from a common source. This noun refers to the rays of light in Habakkuk 3:4: "His radiance is like the sunlight; and in this instance, it referred to rays of light.

And due to a simple mistranslation, "rays of light" became "horns". And even though during the Reformation, translators removed the horns from the text of Exodus, Moses with horns became a common western, medieval depiction of Moses. The damage was done, and has lasted for centuries.

What does this have with to building, running, and growing a company? As Epictetus famously said, "First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak." We all need to learn to communicate effectively, as we continue to make mistakes daily at work and at home.

I am a firm believer that effective communication is the most important factor in being a leader and building a successful company. How else do you recruit the best talent if you are unable to articulate a vision? How do you instill trust in your clients? How do you get your team to work as a team? Jim Rohn said, "Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know."

Over the years I have been involved with many companies, as a CEO, advisor, and investor. When and where there is proper communication, there is success. Where there is none, what success there is will not last or scale. Technical skills are clearly very important, but they can be acquired. Communication skills have to be learned. And not everyone has the capacity, predisposition, or interest to learn it.

How many times have you heard managers say, What I meant was ..", or our political leaders backtrack by saying, You have to understand what I said in the context of ….." As Peter Drucker said, "The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said."

More often than not, issues arise as people believe they have a clear understanding of a situation. But as George Bernard Shaw said, "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." Just because I have said something, it does not mean the other side heard or understood it.

Another aspect is the choice of language. Mark Twain put it well when he said, "A man's character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation". Be quiet and shut up have the same goal, with very different implications.

The key to effective communication is understanding the other side, relating to them at a personal and deep level, and speaking in a manner that is clear, concise, and understandable for them. We all have the desire to show off the depth and breath of our vocabulary, but proper command of a language belongs to those who cater the message to the listener. This can be learned, but requires patience, humility, and awareness. But its importance cannot be overstated. As Paul J. Meyer said it well, "Communication - the human connection - is the key to personal and career success."

So don’t "misunderestimate", argue over the meaning of "is", or fight a law suit over the meaning of "concerned". Learn patience, take the time to communicate effectively, and all else will follow.


Ivan Nikkhoo
is an experienced entrepreneur, investment banker and VC focused on the life cycle of tech companies. He is a Managing Director at Siemer & Associates and an advisor to Siemer Ventures.


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