“The best way to increase our clarity in a topic is to commit to teaching it to others.”
I currently serve on our church board, and part of that responsibility is to read and interpret our financial statements. While I have been pretty good at doing this, I’ve noticed that several of our other board members struggle in this area. So in an effort to bring clarity, I began creating an instruction sheet to help them learn to read the financials.
The process of creating these instructions brought additional clarity to me in a couple of areas where I didn’t understand our financials as well as I thought. That’s one of the great things about committing to teach: you have to have a clear understanding of the topic before you can clearly communicate it to others.
Whether it’s creating instructions or verbally explaining a concept, teaching others is a great way to bring clarity to others, as well as ourselves.
We all possess knowledge that we’ve had for so long it seems like second nature. As a result, it’s easy to assume that what is common knowledge to us is the same of everyone else. There’s a name for this mindset. It’s called being cursed with knowledge.
While it’s good to possess extensive knowledge of a topic, the challenge comes when we attempt to explain or teach that topic to someone who doesn’t have the same level of knowledge. What is elementary information to us is newfound, and potentially confusing, information to someone just hearing it for the first time.
If we’re cursed with knowledge, we can easily find ourselves brushing over basic foundational information because we assume everyone “just knows this stuff”. This causes frustration for the learner who can’t grasp the basic concepts (because they’re not hearing the basic concepts!). It’s also frustrating for the instructor who wonders why they just aren’t getting it.
Unfortunately, I’ve been on both sides of this scenario. As a learner I find it helps to ask a lot of questions and not worry about looking ignorant. (If we’re learning something new then, by definition, we are ignorant; but we won’t stay there.) As an instructor, I’m working to be more aware of the curse of knowledge when explaining concepts to others so that I’m not needlessly frustrations someone’s efforts to learn.
It all comes down to knowing your audience. Seek to communicate with people at a level they can understand. Your audience will thank you.
“Psychology is an elaboration of the obvious” ~William James
I first heard this quote in a psychology class during college and immediately fell in love with it. Not only did I find it accurate with regard to my psychology courses, I have also found it to be an excellent reminder about effective communication.
When we’re communicating with a wide range of people, or with people who are unfamiliar with a concept we are attempting to teach, we should strive to use language that most simply conveys our message. I’m not talking about “dumbing down” our content, but rather choosing to avoid unnecessary complexities when clear simple language will suffice.
There are times when both the topic and the audience warrant complexity, like at a conference for rocket scientists or brain surgeons, for example. But many of the concepts and ideas we want to share with other people can easily and effectively be delivered with clear and simple language.
The next time you have a presentation or a speech to give where you’ll be explaining a concept to wide ranging group, consider using clear simple language that is free of jargon and industry buzz words. At the very least, you’ll be putting your audience in a better position to understand what you’re attempting to communication. And at best, you may even be able to influence their thinking.