An Effort To Understand: A Conversation with David Murray
Speechwriter and NYT bestselling author David Murray offered attendees some insights on the qualities of a good communicator
“Communication” is not just the simple act of stringing words together to create sentences on paper. It comes in various forms—sometimes in the form of intentional silence, other times in action, and most often in spoken word. And all these forms of communication require strategy and purpose in order to be effective.
To give Ambassadors some tips and insights into the field of communications, Free the Facts hosted speechwriter and New York Times bestselling author David Murray for its second Master Class Series event. Ambassadors were provided a copy of Murray’s latest book, An Effort To Understand, a collection of essays on how we communicate in America.
An Effort To Understand draws from several key lessons that Murray learned early in his career and covers a broad range of topics from personal to political communication. Murray shared some of these lessons with Free the Facts Ambassadors during the event:
1. A Communicator Knows That Words Are Not Communication
According to Murray, there is a common misconception that communication is synonymous with words and speeches, but that’s not entirely accurate. Communication, he says, is actually based in action. Words are simply the captions for those actions.
Murray gave the example of his late father, whom he described to Ambassadors as a man that “never left his bedroom without having his shoes on.” By sharing his father’s actions instead of simply using descriptors, Murray was able to illustrate to the audience that his father was a very formal man.
This is a form of nonverbal communication we all participate in during our everyday lives, Murray said. We all tend to “show” more than we “tell.” Like Murray’s father, we express our personalities using actions more often than words.
2. A Communicator Knows That Communication Doesn’t Simply Mean Persuading Other People To Our Point of View
We’re taught the importance of persuasive writing in school at a very young age, but outside of a few circumstances, constantly trying to communicate our views through arguments is futile. Instead, Murray encouraged communicators to spend ample time listening to the person they are speaking to, because persuasion is just one aspect of communication.
“A lot of people think of communication as, ‘I’ve got an idea and I’m going to stuff it into your head.’ But it’s also listening.” Murray explained.
3. A Communicator Often Helps in Humble, Unseen Ways
By virtue of their job title, it’s a common assumption that a communicator is always supposed to write pieces, make speeches, and express their views. But a communicator can be just as impactful by knowing when to refrain from commenting.
Professional communicators assess situations holistically and recognize when their input is needed—and when it could be harmful. In moments like the latter, the best, most humble communicators will recognize when to uplift other voices instead of their own.
4. A Communicator Knows the Limits of Communication
Communication cannot fix all the world’s problems.
“I think we're always going to have disagreements,” said Murray. “We have too many different kinds of people—too many different interests.”
While it does not guarantee perfect harmony, good communication can be a vessel for understanding those diverse beliefs and interests. That is not to say that every belief—for example, hateful or violent ones—need to be heard, understood, and respected. But if communicators understand the fact that everyone has their own personal beliefs, they can start to reduce long-standing tensions and create a more effective dialogue.
We’re living in a time filled with important political movements and vast societal divides—but that is not an anomaly in our history. As we navigate our present-day national debates, it’s important to remember that the best communicators study and are informed by the past.
Free the Facts believes that conscious, informed, and intentional communication can solve our nation’s biggest problems. That can only be achieved through an open civic dialogue and a mutual understanding of the facts.
Ambassadors can join Free the Facts tomorrow evening for the final event of its Master Class Series, featuring RAND scholar and Pardee RAND Graduate School faculty member Dr. Celia Gomez.