I was doing my Christmas shopping this last weekend, and I found myself in the media player department of a large electronics store. There was a woman who was roughly my parents’ age, I’d say late forties, early fifties, trying very hard to make a good decision while buying a present for someone.
She had managed to corner a store employee, and asked him “What’s an iPod? What’s an mp3 player? What’s the difference?” The employee, who I judged to be in his early twenties, if that old, rattled off a list of technical specifications for various media players, including iPods, that probably sounded like Greek to the woman. I’m sure he knew what he was saying, but the woman looked just as confused as ever as he turned and moved on to the next (probably cooler and younger) customer.
I was standing right there, playing with a display model, so I turned to her and said “An mp3 player is the generic word for something that plays downloadable music. The iPod is Apple’s brand of mp3 player.”
“What’s the difference?” (Note: the exact same question the store employee thought he’d answered for her.)
“The iPod works well with Apple’s music store, iTunes. And iTunes has a good selection of music. Some other mp3 players do, too, but you have to check and see which players work with which music stores.”
“How do you get the music onto the player?”
“You have to hook it up to your computer. You download the music from the internet to your computer, and then download it from the computer to your player with a cable.”
“What are the gig things he was talking about?” (At this point, I had at least three shoppers standing nearby, absolutely riveted. Someone else actually asked this question.)
“Gigabytes. It’s a measurement of memory, how many songs the player can hold. The more gigs it has, the more songs it will hold.”
At this point, everyone seemed satisfied, and I went on with my shopping.
This post is not really about poor customer service at big box electronics retailers. I think we can all agree that’s a given. It’s about communication.
I work in a pretty technical field, and I pick up a completely new vocabulary word about three times a week. I have to constantly remind myself that when I’m communicating with clients, it’s more important that they understand what I’m talking about than that they’re impressed with how much I know.
People hate admitting they have no idea what you’re talking about. There’s a certain Emperor’s New Clothes thing going on there–they’re not going to tell you they have no idea what you just said. And they’re not going to be as impressed with how smart you are as they’re going to be irritated about being made to feel stupid.
I was reading a book on relationships, and it referenced Galatians 5: 22-23. I was sitting in my comfy reading chair, and the only Bible in reach was The Message version (we have a LOT of Bibles around our house, so odds are pretty good one of them is within a few steps…) Here’s what I read:
But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way.
Wow, I thought. I don’t remember ever reading this before. The meaning just jumped out at me. Descriptive, simple words like “a willingness to stick with things.” So I looked it up in the New International Version:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
I have no idea how many times I’ve read that passage without actually realizing that I had only a sketchy grasp of what “Against such things there is no law” meant. When I read the Message version of that passage, I feel excited, curious, motivated. If I’m honest, the NIV makes me feel… overwhelmed.
Don’t get me wrong–there are things I love about the NIV, and I think you need to read multiple versions of scripture to have a really full understanding.
But I think that when we write and when we speak, we need to make sure that our meaning is being clearly and simply conveyed. And when someone asks a question, we need to meet them where they are, vocabulary-wise.