Profound wisdom from Albert Einstein: “If you can’t explain it simply, then you don’t understand it well enough.”
I was reminded of this quotation when I attempted to gain an understanding of our family’s new healthcare coverage. Luckily, I know an expert who did her best to explain it to me. I find the topic incredibly confusing, so what I heard was, Blah, blah, deductible, blah, blah, blah, out-of-pocket, blah, co-pay, blah.
I’m equally guilty of using terms in ways that don’t ensure mutual understanding. Humanergy has tried for years to find a plain-language way of describing what we do. Progress? Some. (Dare I suggest that you check out our website to see for yourself?)
We strive to speak with our clients in words a fifth grader would understand. Do we? Sometimes – and we are getting better every day!
Why is it so hard to keep communication simple, and what can you do about it?
Shortcuts are convenient. If you find yourself speaking in acronyms (the CMO needs to invigorate the CRM) or other code words, stop. Look around. Unless the only other person in the conversation is the CMO and knows exactly what CRM you’re talking about, you need to take the time to speak in terms that make sense. (Even in that case, wouldn’t it be great to practice plain language speaking?)
Ideas are complex. No doubt about it, some topics. like healthcare benefits, can boggle the mind. Take Einstein’s advice and bring your knowledge up to speed. Break that giant idea into bite-sized chunks. Relate them to something else or help people feel or see the idea. For inspiration, check out Mental Floss for 18 simple explanations of complex scientific ideas, like particle physics: Where I work, we slam together small things to break them into even smaller things until we have the smallest things possible. This is how we know what matter is made of.
You think jargon sounds intelligent. Let’s face it. We like using words like “paradox” and “paradigm.” Instead of sounding smart, you really sound pretentious or confusing. When you are tempted to say something is “robust,” consider what you really mean in unmistakeable terms. Unless you’re describing coffee, the listener may have to guess.
You are too close to the issue. Part of the problem we have with communicating simply about our organization is we are too ingrained. We live, eat and breathe this stuff every day and fall into familiar patterns of communication. The good news is Humanergy is making more progress with the help of our advisory board. They bring an external view and fresh perspective and are not shy about letting us know when we slip into “consultant-speak.”
Communication isn’t just slinging some ideas out there and watching what happens. Communication is a process for creating mutual understanding. Record yourself talking in your next meeting, and see if that’s what you’re really accomplishing. (Hey, if a particle physicist can do it, so can you.)
Need help achieving mutual understanding? Contact Humanergy.
Photo from iStockphoto.
I love this! I’ve always said, “Why use a $25 word when a nickel word works just as well?”
And, you are right…I can think of one consultant in particular (not one from Humanergy) who is nearly unintelligible…not because she doesn’t clearly articulate her words, but because she’s very much caught up in the idea that she can demonstrate her intelligence by using multi-syllabic words when a single syllable word would do.
Don’t get me wrong…I’m an absolute proponent of a highly developed vocabulary. There are certain nuances of meaning that can be conveyed by using the right word. However, as a communicator, it is imperative that we ensure what we are trying to say is said in language that is easily understood and at the level of the listener.
One of the most brilliant people I know is a chemical engineer and geneticist, but perhaps the most amazing thing about him is his uncanny ability to “go where you are” (which is a true demonstration of his intelligence).
In a conversation he constantly assesses and adapts to the person he is speaking with. It’s so fun to observe him in action and even more fun to be in a conversation with him. If you vault into the high dollar words he’ll go there with you and the communication challenges your mind and thought process.
However, in most instances, I will rely on my previous statement, and stick with my nickel words!