Using Plain Language Shows You Value Others

Few things suck the life out of a conversation more than when a person uses a bunch of jargon to describe something. When you have to use context clues to figure out every other word, it starts to feel like your brain is falling behind and that can be very annoying. It’s not always intentional, but here are some ways it comes across:

  1. The purpose of me saying this is for me to hear me say it
  2. I’m not actually thinking about who I am talking to
  3. I’m a smarty pants

I think we’ve all heard Albert Einstein on the subject, or someone saying something very similar:

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

As someone who likes to talk too much, and who learns by talking, I am sometimes guilty of talking myself into a place where I am no longer sure of what I am saying. At that point, to save embarrassment, I try to conclude as quickly as possible without sounding like a fool. But if I’m talking to people who actually know the subject matter, then I’ve already sounded like a fool. If we were more honest, I think we’d hear statements like, “well I completely lost my train of thought there,” or “the more I talk about it, the more I realize I really don’t know that much about it.”

But alas, we all fear being exposed as a fraud. Where I have argued that you are actually your best at your worst, I think we could all use a healthy dose of humility when it comes to any subject, especially controversial ones, realizing there are plenty of honest people out there who we completely disagree with, but hold valid opinions all the same.

The Up-Goer 5 Text Editor

I want to share a tool with you. It is one of the best tools I’ve found for improving one’s understanding of a subject. It’s called the Up-Goer 5 Text Editor. It really highlights what this blog is about because it restricts you to a set of 1,000 common words that are very easy to understand. Below are some fantastic examples of explanations made from the text editor. You may recognize this one:

Just a small town girl

Living in a world without many people

She took the train that leaves at the start of the next day going any place

Just a city boy

Came to be and raised in the lower part of the bad city with many mean people

He took the train that leaves at the start of the next day going any place

A person who yells their feeling to music in a room that you can’t see well in

A smell of a grown-up drink and stuff you put on to smell nice that didn’t take much money to get

For a smile they can share the night

It goes on and on and on and on*

Here is an example of how these words can still be beautiful and poetic:

He said she was beautiful, and he meant it. She was the kind of woman he never knew he was searching for. Her skin was dark from years spent under the sun, but soft like a child’s, and her hair was the color of coffee. It was her eyes, though, that did it; clear and green and always laughing. Her eyes held the answers to all of life, he thought. He knew the moment he saw her that she would be his.*

Here is the most straightforward plea for environmental conservation I have ever read:

When a man loves a woman very, very much, they have a child together. Over time, their children have children. Eventually, they run out of food, water, and room for all of these people. To stop this from happening, we have to take what we have and find a way to use it again. If we don’t, we could end all life when we run out of food, water, and room.*

Finally, here is the perfect wrap up – how to use simple words … written in simple words!

How to tell people about ideas they are not sure about yet.

Sometimes things are hard to understand and everything seems dark. It could be that the idea is very new and weird. Other times the idea was thought up by a very bright person which makes it harder for people like you and me to ‘get’ it. Sometimes though (and this is the worst) its just because no-one thought to explain it in the right way.

Strange ideas can often be broken down into something that is actually very simple. Sometimes it is enough to understand a little bit but not be sure of every part. Sometimes all you need is a bit of an idea to make you go out and find the rest of it.

I say, try it. Try to understand and try to explain. Then we can all know what’s going on and no-one has to be afraid of the dark.*

Hopefully, this is evidence in and of itself of why we should all try to communicate like this.c

The Purpose of a Conversation

Using plain language shows we value each other enough to impart actual understanding. We don’t always know it, but sometimes we speak to prove we understand something, not to help someone else understand it. When we talk soul to soul, we drop the act of trying to be something we’re not and strip away everything but the purpose of the conversation: to enjoy one another’s diversity, and thoughts, to solve problems, to coordinate our lives, and I would add, to marvel together at our common problem of not knowing as much as we wish we did.

Try it out by writing one sentence to explain something you know a lot about, and see how difficult it is to describe.

Have fun and comment it here if you want. Now when someone asks you about the subject, you can surprise them with honesty. Instead of telling you “I’m a full-stack software engineer for a construction accounting software company,” I would say, “I make it so people who build stuff can look at their money and keep track of it on their computer or phone.” I like the sound of that.

*[credit for quotations belongs to various anonymous contributors on splasho.com]

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2 thoughts on “Using Plain Language Shows You Value Others

  1. I think this is a problem with smart people. Most people do not want to hear big words and because people live in bubbles we tend to forget to code switch when talking to others with less intellectual interests.

    1. Absolutely. Even just different interests can make friendly conversation frustrating. You have to value something, a business objective or a person’s worth, to care about crafting understanding. Nothing wrong with academic language though, to keep things concise and specific for those in the target audience.

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