"Do you know what the secret of life is?” asks Curly, the old cowboy.

"No. What?” says Mitch, the city slicker.

Curly simply answers, “This.”

"Your finger?” asks Mitch, glancing at the cowboy’s raised gloved hand.

"One Thing. Just One Thing. You stick to that, and everything else don’t mean shiiiit.”

"That’s great,” says Mitch. “But what’s the one thing?”

Curly chuckles, “That’s what you gotta figure out.”

It’s a pivotal scene from the movie City Slickers. As Mitch learns, the secret of life is something different for each of us. But when we figure it out, it’s what guides all our decisions, anchors our character, and keeps us steady during good times and bad.

Just One Thing.

Turns out, it’s also the secret to good communications — the kind that drives alignment, understanding, and great relationships, as well.

When I talk with manufacturing clients large and small, the issue of clear communication is a sticking point that drives up their frustrations, slows them down, affects safety and ends up impacting their bottom line in numerous ways through lost efficiencies and re-work. What’s more, it gets in the way of developing great relationships — within teams, in reporting relationships, with vendors, with clients, and amongst leadership groups themselves.

Sometimes, we on the receiving end aren’t really listening or are bringing our own assumptions to the conversation and not truly seeking to understand.

More likely, though, it’s because the communicator isn’t working hard enough to drive clarity and package it in a way their intended audience will best understand and receive it. It’s the communicator’s job to find a way to cut through the clutter. And we can be our own worst enemy in that regard.

All too often, we get caught up in the minutia and lose sight of the main point. Sometimes it’s hard work to simplify a complex idea into one main point, but that effort makes all the difference in understanding and memorability.

Simplifying communications

I’m not talking about dumbing things down; I’m advocating for making that complexity compelling. That takes some work on behalf of the communicator. Once you learn how to do it, though, it becomes almost second nature and takes much less time to achieve.

We have a process for defining, answering and solving communication challenges that gets all the complexity out on the table (download the 11 Questions position paper). But the key comes at the end: Take your idea and boil it down to one thought…a paragraph…a sentence…a phrase…a word. Then build your communications back up from there.

It applies just about anywhere:

• What is it about your brand — what really differentiates you from the competition? Just One Thing.

• What’s important about all those words jammed onto that PowerPoint slide? Just One Thing.

What’s so great about your product or service and all the features and benefits you can provide? Just One Thing.

• What was the point of that great (but long) speech you gave? Just One Thing.

What are we going to remember about anything you have to say amidst all the clutter and chaos we all deal with on a daily basis?

Just. One. Thing.