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Neuroscience update – The importance of recruiting for clear thinking

Fuzzy thinking creates fuzzy wording which in turn creates fuzzier thinking.

Neuroscience is rapidly changing our understanding of how human memory works. For many years it was widely believed that the human brain recorded events like a video camera and that events that had been completely forgotten could be could be retrieved and played back given the right set of circumstances.

We now know that the memory does not work in that way at all. In fact the human brain reassembles and reorders various parts of an event when retrieving a memory. It, in effect, creates a completely new memory, often including details that seem very real but which turn out later not to have taken place.

The same process takes place when the brain remembers words and orders them together either to think analytically or attempt to express thoughts. Rather than having a dictionary-like definition, words in the brain are stored as an ever-changing set of connections that constantly update their meanings.

When people are reading, writing, listening or speaking, their brains create new connections and hence new definitions for many of the words, statement or phrases that it is processing. This phenomenon manifests itself in the tendency of business discussions to devolve into dialogues around semantics rather than address the actual issues in question.

The brain’s inherent plasticity when using words greatly increases the value of business communications that are clear and precise. That clarity and precision (or lack of it) is simultaneously rewiring the word connections and definitions both in the brain of somebody who is writing and speaking as well as the person who is listening or reading.

Fuzzy wording creates fuzzy thinking

Unlike communications that are clear and precise, business communications that are fuzzy and imprecise generate connections between words that are similarly ambiguous and unclear. In other words, a feedback loop is taking place: fuzzy thinking creates fuzzy wording which in turn creates fuzzier thinking.

Many organisations tolerate, indeed encourage, the use of fuzzy and imprecise wording in the form of acronyms, buzzwords and jargon. The culture created is one where fast communication can appear to occur so that anyone who uses the key words feels as if they are an integral part of the organisation.

This has been compounded in recent years by the trend for people to express themselves using quotation marks or inverted commas in both writing and speech. This is an expression of thought in its original form phrased by the communicator without clearly defining exactly what they mean. Often the phrase is a metaphor and in most circumstances there is understanding. Caution is advised as the rules around the use of quotation marks varies with language.   All too often, we know what we mean and think that we are communicating clearly but in reality this is often not the case. As an illustration, we when we talk we think people “get it” but in reality they “switch off” when they hear something that isn’t meaningful “in their world” and so may appear to be somewhat “dumb”.

Clear thinking creates clear wording which in turn creates clearer thinking.

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What this means for recruiters

From the perspective of recruitment, it is important to understand how your communication style reflects the fuzzy thinking and imprecise wording of the industry that you recruit for and the clients that you work with. It is obviously necessary to assess your clients’ tolerance towards industry acronyms, buzzwords and jargon and imprecise wording and how ingrained it is in their culture. How much are you contributing to this by your desire to be recognised as an experience professional?

For those organisations who recruit people who communicate in a similar way, this will contribute to the amount of ambiguous thinking, which is going to impact on the communication capabilities within the overall organisation.

In the future, recruiters must put additional emphasis on a candidate’s ability to write and speak with precision and clarity. As a result, the recruitment process will tend to make the overall organisation progressively better at communicating internally and externally and so appear to be “smarter”.

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By Robin Hills, Director of Ei4Change, a company specialising in training, personal development and coaching with a focus on emotional intelligence.

Robin is an IOR accredited trainer delivering accredited Emotional Intelligence for Recruiters programmes as open courses or in-house for the Institute of Recruiters.

In June 2015, Robin is delivering a key note at NeuroBusiness2015 ( – the first conference of its kind in the UK looking how research from neuroscience can be applied in business.

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