Chapter 7 Synopsis

Connectors Do the Difficult Work of Keeping It Simple

A few years ago, I was being interviewed on a television talk show. The host held up a couple of my books and said, “John, I’ve read several of your books and they are all so simple.” His tone of voice, body language, and mannerisms made it clear to me and the audience that he did not mean it as a compliment!

My response was straightforward: “That’s true. The principles in my books are simple to understand. But they are not always simple to apply.” The audience applauded, and he conceded what I said was right.

I think a lot of people believe that if an individual, especially an author or speaker, bombards them with a lot of complex information or writes using big words in a style that is dense and difficult to understand, then he is somehow intelligent and credible. In the academic world, that seems to be especially true. When students can’t understand their professor, they often assume it’s because the professor is so smart and knows so much more than they do. I don’t think that’s always true. More often in such cases the teacher isn’t a good communicator. While educators often take something simple and make it complicated, communicators take something complicated and make it simple.

In his excellent book The Power of Little Words, author John Beckley, former business editor of Newsweek, observes: “The emphasis in education is rarely placed on communicating ideas simply and clearly. Instead, we’re encouraged to use more complicated words and sentence structures to show off our learning and literacy. . . . Instead of teaching us how to communicate as clearly as possible, our schooling in English teaches us how to fog things up. It even implants a fear that if we don’t make our writing complicated enough, we’ll be considered uneducated.”

I think everyone can agree that many of the issues we face in life can be complex. A professor may legitimately argue that his or her area of expertise is complicated. I won’t contest that. But as leaders and communicators, our job is to bring clarity to a subject, not complexity. It doesn’t take nearly as much skill to identify a problem as it does to find a good solution. The measure of a great teacher isn’t what he knows; it’s what his students know. Making things simple is a skill, and it’s a necessary one if you want to connect with people when you communicate.

Winston Churchill was perhaps the greatest communicator of the twentieth century. He was an excellent leader, inspiring communicator, and accomplished writer, having won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. He continually expressed the importance of keeping communication simple. He stated, “All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope,” and “Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.”

It may seem counterintuitive, but if you want to take your communication to the next level and connect with people, don’t try to impress them with your intellect or overpower them with too much information. Give them clarity and simplicity. People will relate to you, and they’ll want to invite you back to communicate with them again.

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