Book Reviews

#1728. The Art of Explanation: Making Your Ideas, Products and Services Easier to Understand. (2013). Lefever, Lee. Hoboken: Wiley & Sons Inc. 226 pp. $27.95. ISBN: 978-1-118-37458-0

Lauren Humphrey, University of Bridgeport, LHumphrey@bridgeport.edu

The Art of Explanation invites you to examine carefully a familiar practice.  The author, Lee Lefever (2013), begins with an analogy about running in order to emphasize the value of studying what might be considered a familiar concept.  The analogy takes the form of an anecdote about someone who decides to begin a running habit. This runner takes for granted that he knows how to run, after all he’s known how to run since he was a child!  However, a more experienced runner who has analyzed running disabuses him of this notion.  This experienced runner dissects running into its composite parts by discussing technique and form.  Thus a simple concept—running—is revealed to have several components that one can study and improve upon.  This revelation is the crux of The Art of Explanation.  Since explanation is an essential skill of advising, The Art of Explanation is a worthwhile read for advisors who wish to critically examine the microskill of explanation.

Barnett, Roach, and Smith (2006) describe microskills as behavior that “builds rapport and makes advisees aware that their advisors care about them.”  According to Lefever (2013), explanation relies upon empathy.  Therefore, explanation fits the classification of microskill at least in part because of this.  As Lefever (2013) points out, the most effective explainers account for their audiences’ various perspectives and prior knowledge.  Since advisors are often tasked with explaining complex institutional processes and policies to advisees, explanation is a microskill well worth honing.

What is an explanation?  Lefever (2013) devotes a sixteen page chapter to expounding upon what explanation is and isn’t.  He shares several dictionary definitions of explanation, an anecdote from academic research in the fields of psychology and philosophy, and a sample explanation video created by his company, Common Craft.  Each chapter unfolds similarly.  That is, Lefever (2013) demonstrates several explanation techniques to explain the elements of explanation.  Thus, explanation is revealed to have several components that one can study and improve upon and the reader’s baseline definition of explanation is expanded upon with each subsequent chapter.

The aforementioned Common Craft videos included throughout the book are accessible via a smart device, such as a phone or tablet, by scanning the provided Quick Response (QR) Code.  While the Common Craft videos are instructive, their inclusion contribute to a sense of self-promotion.  In fact, much of the book can be read as proof of concept.  Likewise, while the intended audience is described as anyone wishing to explain his or her products and services better, the content seems directed primarily at business people—Common Craft’s prospective customers.  For example, the companies that they’ve worked with in the past include Google, Dropbox, and Ford.  Several of the real world examples used in The Art of Explanation come directly from those projects.

Nevertheless, I recommend this book to advisors who wish to reflect and/or improve upon their communication skills.  Lefever (2013) has built a career on distilling complex concepts into easy-to-understand explanations, and The Art of Explanation, itself, demonstrates this skill.  Indeed, this deep dive into one aspect of communication—explanation—is thoughtfully laid out and easy to read.  Though not one of my top 10 resources, The Art of Explanation earns its place among other tomes addressing communication skills on my bookshelf. 

References

Barnett, S., Roach, S., & Smith, M. (2006). Microskills: Advisor Behaviors that Improve Communication with Advisees. NACADA Journal, 26(11), 6-12.

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