Those who “dumb it down” need to smarten up

People responsible for advising or guiding others need to be careful how they view others, and of their communication style

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Only idiots “dumb it down” while skilled communicators match the communication to meet the needs of the listener.

Only idiots would ever characterise needing to vary the delivery of a message as “dumbing it down.”

Those who need to “dumb it down” need to smarten up.

In education, management, coaching and parenting, people are responsible for helping others understand what needs to be done.

Mature and insightful people understand that when guiding others, if the message is not understood, the problem lies with the sender not the receiver. That is, mature people who understand others well quickly realise that they need to tailor their communications in order for it to be effective. This adaptation requires the humility of seeing things from the perspective of the other. This is a fundamental tenet of empathy. Those who tout “walking a mile in their shoes” need first to look away from the self to actually see the other and, from there, dismiss any judgement from their gaze.

When so-called responsible educators, managers, parents and coaches characterise a need to adapt or change a message so that it can be understood as “dumbing it down” then all they are doing is saying they are not confident or skilled enough to do so. In this instance the ‘dummy’ is the person who cannot change. The idiot is the person so presumptuous as to assume the other is “dumb”.

Anyone in a mentoring role who requires others to fit into their version of how they view the world, is modelling a constricted and inflexible approach. This undermines both the mentor and the message.

Authentic educators, managers and leaders understand the need to “see through the eyes of others”, and flex accordingly. To be able to engage requires insight, adaptability and humility – bereft in those who think accommodating others means the others are “dumb”.

Lazy communicators think that if others do not understand them, those listeners are not smart enough to do so. I have seen people escalate their voices and start to shout at others when they are not understood. However, what they shout is identical to what they had said earlier more quietly. Since the receiver is not hearing impaired, the issue here is what is being said – and the evident need for the communicator to learn a set of new skills.

Anger does not force people to understand.

You cannot bludgeon people with words in the hope that this will magically deepen their understanding. It will however deepen the level of distance between the parties and assuredly, over time, lead to disrespect, wariness and distrust.

effective communication styles
Source: Canva

It is interesting to note instances in which the words “dumb it down” have been used:

A teacher who finds it “easy to teach the top class but has to ‘dumb it down’ for the mainstream classes”. Yes, it is easy to teach those who do not need you, and to label those who may be able to benefit from some insightful effort as “dumb.” It is idiotic to use the label when you are too lazy to make such effort.

A manager who “loves leadership meetings”, but hates having to “dumb it down” for the regular staff. Yes, there is no kudos in having the humility to speak to those whom you deem beneath you with respect. It is idiotic to be a manager with such an attitude.

A coach who when teaching a new skill to a 15-year-old has to “dumb it down” because “the process has 4 steps that are sequential.” Yes, it is easy if you have a particular skill to arrogantly construe a young person who wants to learn as dumb, because they will never be quite as good in the future as you were in the past. It is idiotic to be a coach with an attitude that destroys a young person’s self-confidence.

A parent who after saying no to a 16-year-old who wants to go out with friends – “Do I need to dumb it down…?” and then add, “What is it about the word NO you do not understand?” The 16-year-old incidentally had assured the parents they would take extra precautions due to coronavirus concerns and would limit their time to only what was necessary.

Yes, it is best practice to set limits that include an element of belittling because this is good for teenagers – right? Ummm… no. It is idiotic to use put downs as a method by which to enforce a limit when a simple, “I’m sorry – not this time. But let’s plan for when you can meet them” would still set the limit.

In summary, there is no place for the words “dumb it down.” Those who use this expression simply display that they are lazy, judgmental and arrogant. Put simply for those who need to hear it: if you need to “dumb it down” – then smarten up.

READ ALSO: Building resilience in students

Mohan Dhall
Mohan Dhall
Academic leader, M2K Education and Advisory and CEO of Australian Tutoring Association and Global Tutoring Association.

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