I don't often look to bathrooms, much less camping toilets for great communication, but this is an exception.
In many state-maintained campgrounds in Washington State (and elsewhere), there are "vaulted toilets" with no running water. Like an outhouse, everything ends up in underground pit that must be maintained. This presents a problem. Campers sometimes use the toilet as a trash can, which makes for a difficult situation for the people who need to remove the waste.
Inside these toilets are signs that are meant to help address this problem and I think they are remarkably effective because they explain the situation. These signs work because they answer two important questions:
1. What do you want me to do?
2. Why does that make sense?
In our everyday lives, a lot of communications focus on question #1 - "what do you want me to do?" Separate your recycling. Eat this food. Don't touch that. These can be effective, but the real effectiveness comes when the answer to question #2 becomes clear to the audience. By answering "why does this make sense?" the sign becomes an explanation - it becomes more understandable and reasonable.
Here's the toilet sign answering question #1, What do you want me to do?:
Alone, this could help, but they didn't stop there. They added an extra point that I think makes all the difference. Here's the answer to question #2, Why does that make sense?:
I believe by answering question #2, the sign makes people motivated to do the right thing. It has context and foundation. There is a valid reason you should not put trash in the toilet - it makes pain for others. Most people, given a choice, don't want to create pain for others and it's a motivating factor.
It's easy enough to go through our professional lives trying to motivate others by answering question #1. "I need you to do this." But I hope that you'll remember the toilet sign above. By remembering to answer question #2, by explaining why it makes sense, you can give people a way to see that it's understandable, reasonable and something they may want to do.
Unrelated bonus image: The camping trip above was to Middle Fork Campground in the Cascade range just outside of Seattle. On the Middle Fork trail I met the slug below. Everytime I see this photo, I think it looks like an alien.
Lee LeFever is the founder of Common Craft and author of The Art of Explanation - Making Your Ideas, Products and Services Easier to Understand. Available for pre-order now and arriving in bookstores and eReaders in mid-October.