Are You Communicating or Trying to Impress?


“He’s so smart. I can’t understand half of he’s talking about.” I heard that said of a speaker not long ago. I couldn’t disagree more. Good communication takes into account your target audience and tries to create a bridge between the message and the audience it’s trying to reach. Great communicators do now show off how much they know about a subject to the point of overwhelming or confusing someone else. That’s the fodder of insecure, pseudo intellectuals who want to make sure you know they are smarter than you at any chance they get. One of the challenges I face as a consultant is to help my clients to communicate clearly and effectively.

Broken Communication

The longer we are a part of an organization, a movement, an industry, the more likely we are to create and adapt to our own language, ideas, and set of standards that often miss communicate our message to those in the outside. I call it “insider language.” In Christian circles we often use theological terms to speak to non-Christians. Terms like “redemptive” and “eschatological” might win you points with your Bible study or seminary friends, but will, most often, fail to communicate with those outside the faith.

Great communicators do now show off how much they know to the point of overwhelming or confusing someone else. That’s the fodder of insecure, pseudo intellectuals who want to make sure you know they are smarter than you.

In Brazil, people use language as a way to differentiate their social status. The more formal education you have, the more unintelligible you become to those less fortunate. That’s not communicating. It’s snobbery. I’m not, however, advocating lowering our intellectual standards so we can serve the lowest common denominator, but we must be able to change our language, and not our message, for the sake of our audience.

Does  your business, ministry or church uses insider language?

  • Michael

    I serve in a campus ministry with a Christian organization. I never tell them about the organization because every time those who are not believers go to the site, they are either offended or they tell me I'm nothing like what they saw on our main site. There's definitely a disconnect with what I'm doing on the front lines and what's shown on our literature and website. I wish our leaders would consider revising the information we put out to the world. Thanks for the post. I'll pass it on to my director. Mike S

  • I think I'm just arguing semantics here, but I do believe there are incredibly smart people who just aren't good at communicating. In my line of work (instructional design), it's my job to meet with subject matter experts (SMEs) and "dumb down" or simplify the concepts they think are important. I'm a translator of sorts between the REALLY smart and the learner. Some of us are naturals at communicating, we have jobs that lend themselves towards them – it's how we learn, as well. Many of those experts don't belong in a communication role, they need to be exactly what they are – experts. Write books (that get edited), draw pictures, etc. Unfortunately, the world we live in says that if you're really good at doing something, we'll pull you out of doing it, and let you teach it. Many companies promote star performers into management roles, when that's not where they belong…:)mjd

  • Anonymous

    God has a pattern of using the foolish things to confound the wise. I'm thinking of Moses at the moment. God chose a man who couldn't speak to people to lead millions of people around a desert for 40+ years. I think here in the Western culture we (the Church) have adapted the worlds insatiable thirst for talent, looks and celebrity to the presentation and propagation of the Gospel. The commodities of persuasion, influence and sensuality are running out way ahead of the Holy Spirit in most churches today. We set up emotion laden, often sensational Sunday morning productions with very little scriptural content so I really believe people are making decisions based on their senses instead of actually what going on in their Hearts (or heads for that matter). We want results NOW for our charts and files but it's really like the old mo-town song if you think about it isn't it? … "You can't hurry love, you'll just have to wait."Recent surveys from Granger, Willow Creek and even the PEW survey indicate fatal flaws in what the Church is doing today. I don't think communication is the issue so much as what is communicated, God's Word. It NEVER returns void.

  • Bob

    I had a college teacher who use and miss used a lot long words just to make sure we all knew how smart he was. Well, I don’t think he was all that bright. He needs to read your post for sure. 

    • I bet we went to the same school and are talking about the same guy!

  • Anonymous

    I have been waiting for someone with an audience and influence to speak to this. The church is the key criminal.

    We use extensive church language so much that it turns me off.

    Thank you for sharing this today. Spot on.

    • I’m not sure I’m the person with the audience and influence, but we need to address it, nonetheless.

      • Anonymous

        Don’t sell yourself short, Maurilio. Not just the boards you sit on, but just one spark shared is enough to start a great fire.

  • Great post!  Don’t you think a lot of this DOES depend on the target?  Case in point:  Francis Schaeffer.  The vast majority didn’t understand him – too cerebral.  Yet incredibly profound and (my point here) LOST college students understood him.  I think the challenge of communication isn’t merely in getting a point across clearly, but also in engaging the listener so that they are a participant in the communication process.  It’s important for others not just to understand, but also to digest what is being said.  For that reason I can think of many great Christian thinkers and authors who challenge our use of vocabulary (for a variety of reasons – time (compare writings between Calvin or Spurgeon and those of John Maxwell or Max Lucado – equally profound at heart, but told very differently), concepts, etc.) To me, the real question is this:  who are you trying to impress?  If someone uses vocabulary as a blunt instrument for self-aggrandizement then that’s at root a character problem (as opposed to a communication problem).  Those who use vocabulary as a scalpel run the risk of only being relevant to the nuances of language as it is expressed in their own context (English is more nuanced than German, for example – broader word base).  The key is to communicate relevantly to the listener.

    But we shouldn’t confuse effective communication with having to communicate to everyone.

    EVERYONE might not be the audience.  I don’t want a doctor speaking at a medical conference to communicate with a seven-year old.  I want him to communicate to the other doctors listening in.

    Just a thought.

    • Anonymous

      I agree with your sentiment. Speaking and sharing eloquently is appropriate and I think you’re hitting the same terms as Maurilio.

      The church often uses doctor language when speaking to 7 year olds. Not always the best way to communicate life changing messages.

    • Derek, your target audience has everything to do with your form of communication. I had a Philosophy teacher who was brilliant, a genius, but he was able to distill complex ideas in a way that freshmen in college could grasp without sounding dumb.

  • Anonymous

    Not really. My pastor uses the words “suck” and “crap” more than one would think. Sometimes he forgets to use his filter in front of the congregation and that’s why we love him. 

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