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  • Jolene Roehlkepartain

Simple vs. Complex Communication

Examine the messages you hear each day. Are they simplistic or overly complex? These two communication extremes often lead us either to act impulsively or to disengage.

Social-media posts excel at simplistic communication. Experts, however, can get bogged down in complexity.

“Even guilt has too many options,” writes Cathy Guisewite in 50 Things That Aren’t My Fault. “I used to eat a muffin and have calorie guilt. Now I have calorie guilt, carbohydrate guilt, fat built, sugar guilt, gluten guilt, nonorganic blueberry guilt, manufacturing-process-pollution guilt, non-biodegradable-wrapper guilt, carbon footprint guilt. Nine entire guilt categories per muffin. Multiply that over the whole food chain.”

Of course, an entire continuum exists between complexity and simplicity, but we rarely hear about these messages anymore. In fact, some have called messages in the middle of the continuum as “too centrist” or “too vanilla,” which only leads to more polarizing communication.

As someone who has worked in strategic communication for the past 35 years, this polarizing communication trend concerns me. Too many issues presented as overly simplistic or too complex lead to either ignorant action (often called an incoherent strategy) or inaction.

Neither of these choices move real issues forward.

If we want to start truly tackling the urgent issues before us, we need to pay attention to how we’re talking. The way we discuss issues affects whether we act, overreact, or disengage.

Communication matters. So does action.

Let’s be more thoughtful in both.

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