Monday, April 27, 2009

Avoiding Condescension

I have found that very well-educated, very articulate people often speak with a tone of condescension or with a vocabulary that annoys those who hear them.

True story: I used to sell instructional technology to educators. My manager told me one day to lower the cognitive level of what I said to people in that job - that educators tend to feel threatened by those who use words they don’t understand. Likewise, I have found that many average Joe/Jane members are turned off NOT because someone is a scholar, but rather because that person can’t or doesn’t speak their language - because the tone sounds condescending or the statements can’t be understood. There is BIG difference, and it's critical that those who are trying to share concepts that are new to people in the Church recognize that difference.


Papa D said...

Fwiw, this general topic "avoiding condescension" has been very difficult this past week. There have been some really aggravating discussions on a couple of blogs, and I have had to bite my tongue hard and try to remain calm and measured and not sarcastic.

I have failed a couple of times.

SilverRain said...

I was rather like Anne of Green Gables as a child, always using overly large words. Sometimes it's hard not to, if you don't have any words that describe it better, but I've come to realize that communications is about more than choosing words, it's about what message you're sending.

Bruce in Montana said...

This is so true...especially in the accademic world.
I suppose it's cultural though..we first walk into a college classroom and are spoken to with language that we are not used to. To do well, we're expected to start emulating that language.

Even the retail market reflects it. For instance, a retail clerk is a retail clerk...unless you work in a book store....then you're a "bookseller".

Michael said...

If you don't bring the conversation to a higher level (albeit in a non-condescending way) then our communications will all default to the lowest common denominator and we will all talk like the uneducated.

How do you get them to that next level WITHOUT seeming condescending - that is the trick. Not eliminating the higher concepts but finding a way of communicating them without guile.

I believe the Lord wants us to raise the level of our conversation and to eliminate the common. We have to start somewhere.

Bruce in Montana said...

I don't know that the Lord wants us raising past common speech unless there is a purpose served.

In other words, if I can convey an idea with common speech...everyone understands. If I use the speech of academia to convey the same idea...only academics understand.

That seems to me to create condescension and serve no purpose (other than keep academics employed). :)

I'm sure many remember Psychology 101 classes. The whole semester was just terminology..learning the "speak the language". I wonder sometimes if the over-complicated language is self-serving in an attempt to make the understanding of the principles seem much more erudite?

Papa D said...

It's an interesting tension between trying to express adequately deep concepts and trying to do so in a way that will be understandable to those who are participating in the conversation. I don't have much problem with this in verbal conversations, since I can gauge reactions and alter how I am saying something at any moment. Written communication is much trickier, since often I only have one chance, misunderstandings are much easier and frequent and there isn't any way to see facial expressions, body language and other "attitude clues".

Jen said...

For me I have found the way to best communicate ANYTHING is to seek the Spirit and many times in doing this it requires restraint, sometimes A LOT. It doesn't matter how smart we are or how many big words we know and understand if we don't use them with a spirit of love and concern for those with whom we are communicating.

I have noticed some people really enjoy having discussions about things that we most likely won't know anything more about until we die and if that floats their boat great. Many people just don't care if it doesn't apply directly to their salvation and I find myself to be more in this camp. It is easy for me to get bored if a discussion is not something that will help me be a better person and come closer to God. I have found that the times I have learned the most and felt edified are in communications that involve the Spirit and have nothing to do with large words or fancy language. I also feel that sarcasm is not something that should ever be used in communications outside of very close relationships. When two people are very close and can joke around in a spirit of love, I see no problem with it, but I do have a problem with it when it is used in any other circumstance.