everyone_communicates__02537A preschool-aged boy was eating an apple in the backseat of the car. “Daddy,” he said, “why is my apple turning brown?”

The boy’s father explained, “Because after you ate the skin off, the meat of the apple came in contact with the air, which caused it to oxidize, thus changing its molecular structure and turning it into a different color.”

There was a long silence, and then the boy asked, “Daddy, are you talking to me?”

A lot of people feel that way when a speaker or leader conveys complex ideas without making the effort to make them clear and simple. I know I’ve sometimes felt that way as a listener. When this occurs, it means the communicator doesn’t understand that shooting above people’s heads doesn’t mean you have superior ammunition— it means you’re a lousy shot.

My first college degree was in theology. While studying for that degree, I was neither taught nor encouraged to speak to an audience in simple terms. In my senior year, I was awarded first prize in a speech contest. My subject wasn’t especially audience friendly, and neither was the style of my delivery. I spoke in long sentences and used many big words. My professors were impressed. And so was I . . . until I took my first pastorate in a rural community in southern Indiana. I soon realized that parsing Greek verbs and delving into complex theology was not of great interest to anyone in the congregation.

The people I spoke to on a weekly basis were like the man listening to a U.S. Navy ordnance officer explaining in great detail how guided missiles work. After the talk, the man congratulated the officer on his brilliant presentation, saying, “Before hearing the lecture I was thoroughly confused about how these missiles work.”

“And now?” the officer asked.

“Thanks to you,” the man replied, “I’m still just as confused, but on a much deeper level.”

Once I realized that my “brilliant” talks weren’t helping anybody, I started working to change my style. It took effort, but as I’ve mentioned, I went from being a speaker who wanted to impress others to one who wanted to impact them. The main change came in going from complicated to simple. As my sentences got smaller, my congregation got larger. In time, I realized that one of the greatest compliments I could receive was, “Pastor, I understood everything you said, and it made sense.”

The direct and simple approach is usually best in all forms of communication. Janet George wrote to me that after accepting a different position at work, she began training the lady who would take over her old job.

“I showed her the form I had created for communicating with the field offices,” says Janet.

“It sounds like it was written on an elementary reading level,” the lady commented in a contemptuous tone. “I will be rewriting it to a more adult-sounding communication.”

Janet didn’t see her for many months, but when she did, the lady confided that her new form had been too hard for the field to understand and she had gone back to the old form.

Greater complexity is never the answer in communication—if your desire is to connect.

Maxwell, J. C. (2010). Everyone communicates, few connect: what the most effective people do differently. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.