Surely, all of us have heard of the acronym K.I.S.S. It stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. The idea behind this is that we get too tied up in the details of what we are trying to say, that we present it to people in a way that they have trouble understanding. The details don’t really matter if the person you are communicating it to does not even know what you are talking about. That is why we should try to keep our communications to people as simple as possible.
Having been trained in the medical discipline, I know words that most people have never even heard of before. I heard once that the average vet school student learns around 7,000 new words in their first year of vet school alone. Having gone through that, I can tell you that is a pretty accurate number. Not only are these new words difficult, most of them are in Latin, the universal scientific language. In vet school we were immersed in a culture where we used these difficult words all the time so they became like second nature to us.
The problem comes in your fourth year of vet school when you start communicating with actual clients for the first time. You are not talking to classmates or professors, who have a clear understanding of difficult medical terminology, we are talking to regular non-medical people who have only a basic knowledge at best of any type of medical condition.
For example, if a client brought in their horse who was suffering from a head tilt and having problems with balance, we could run tests and diagnostics on that horse. Once we isolated the problem, I could approach the owner and tell them that their horse was suffering from Equine Protoazoal Myeloencephalopathy and recommend a treatment. Most likely that owner would look at me like I was from another planet. To me, those words makes perfect sense, you just break down all the latin words into their root meanings and it tells you exactly what the words mean. Equine means horse so this disease affects horses. Protozoal means that the disease is caused by a protozoal agent which is a type of parasite. Myelo is the myelan sheath that surrounds the spinal cord. Ceph means that it is associated with the brain. Opathy means that it causes something to swell. This is obviously a condition in horses that is caused by a protoazoan parasite that causes swelling of the myelan sheath surrounding the spinal cord that can manifest itself by causing neurologic signs such as loss of motor functions, head tilt, and loss of balance. Simple right? To me maybe, but to most, it has no meaning at all.
Instead, I would approach the client and tell them that their horse is suffering from a disease call EPM and explain that it is caused by a parasite and can cause signs such as the ones they have been seeing in their horse. I would then recommend the treatment options to them. See, I am telling the client the same information, but just in a way that they can understand it. And you wondered why there are so many acronyms in the medical field.
Recently I read the following short article written by personal development expert Zig Zigler. This article made a lot of sense to me so I wanted to share it with you. In vet school, they trained us how to talk like a doctor and then at the end, they trained us how to talk like a normal person again. Seems kind of like a waste of time right? Not really. We had to first learn the knowledge and part of the way to learn it was to use it when communicating. Once that knowledge had been learned and internalized within us, it was import to learn how to communicate it with whoever you were communicating that knowledge with.
I am using the example of veterinary speak because that is what I know. This same concept is true with about any area of study. Each area of study has its own specialized words it uses and if you do not have a lot of knowledge in that area, you are not going to understand what someone who does is talking about. If you are a football coach, there is all kinds of specialized words you use. Same with mechanics. Same with musicians, businessmen, attorneys, farmers, dentists, even trash collectors. Everyone who communicates with someone outside their area of expertise has to communicate with simplified language or what they are trying to say will not be understood.
I like what Mr. Ziglar says about making your presentation so clear that a child could understand it. Many of us fall into the trap of thinking that if we use big words, people will think we are smart. Just because you know words that they don’t understand, it does not necessarily make you smarter than them. They probably know the meaning of words that you don’t understand and that doesn’t mean they are smarter than you are. There can be a sense of power one can get from knowing words that others do not and you should avoid trying to use words to gain that power. It is not flattering at all. If you are smart, people will know it whether you use big words or not. So just focus on using words that everyone will understand.
I like the quote that Mr. Ziglar gave from his friend Dr. Steve Franklin. “The great truths in life are the simple ones. You do not need three moving parts and four syllables for it to be significant.” Try to think of some of the great quotes throughout history that everyone remembers. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” That is the quote JFK is most known for. “I have a dream,” Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed. “All you need is love,” said John Lennon. All the great quotes that we remember come from very simple ideas phrased in a way a child could understand. If you want what you are saying to be understood and be remembered, you have to keep it simple.
by Zig Ziglar
When I entered the sales world, one of the first things my manager taught me was to keep my presentation so clear and uncluttered that a child could understand what I was saying. This advice has had a lasting impact on my life. I frequently remind my audiences that I speak and write at the 7th grade, 9th month level. I do this because I’ve discovered that at that level virtually everyone can clearly understand the message—even college professors! I include college professors because they’re real people, and they, too, deserve to understand.
As my friend, Dr. Steve Franklin, a college professor from Emory University who taught me this, said, “The great truths in life are the simple ones. You do not need three moving parts and four syllables for it to be significant.” He then pointed out that “there are only three pure colors—but look what Michelangelo did with them. There are only seven notes, but look at what Chopin, Beethoven and Vivaldi did with them. For that matter, look at what Elvis did with two!”
Most of us prefer things we can understand. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is short and clear with nearly 80 percent of the words only one syllable. “God is love”—three words, all of them one syllable.
Seriously, now, when you ask someone what they had for breakfast, would you really appreciate it if they responded that they had the “upper part of a hog’s hind leg, with two oval bodies encased in a shell laid by a female bird?” Or would you prefer to have the person answer, “We had ham and eggs for breakfast”?
And remember, language changes. At one time we referred to a person who spread rumors around the office as a “gossip.” Now that person is called an “information specialist.”
Personally, I prefer simple, clear, direct communications. I’m convinced that most people do. Keep your communications “simple.”