Simplophile or Complexophile: How you say things matters.

These two words were recently added to my vocabulary by a fellow dog trainer. In a nutshell, the idea is that people have a natural tendency to make topics either simple or complex as a personality trait.

I am a complexophilephobic. My third newest word!

And I have friends who are theoretical complexophiles with applied simplophile tendencies.

How long did it take you to read those words, break them into pieces, and then process what I was trying to say? Was it intuitive and obvious or are you still puzzling them out?

Keep It Simple... 

I hope you laughed, because if I were actually trying to educate you, it would have made more sense to say "I am afraid of complex explanations" or "I have friends who like to think about challenging ideas but who use simple ideas in practical applications."

Which brings us to the point of this blog post:

All other things being equal, simplophiles are more successful educators than complexophiles.

If you cannot find a way to communicate effectively with your students, then they will disengage from the conversation, even while they look right at you. They may not disengage immediately because maybe they really want to learn! But most confused people will not ask for clarification; eventually they'll simply stop listening and smile politely instead. Obviously we want to avoid that.

Animals, including humans, can only process a limited number of new words or concepts at a time without becoming mentally saturated, so focus on teaching critical concepts, not vocabulary. Just because a person can parrot back the definition of a word doesn't mean they understand the underlying concept. I truly do not care if a novice pet person can define terms like "positive punishment" and "negative reinforcement," but I care very much if they learn how to get their dog trained in a humane manner.

Create (and use!) a Common Vocabulary

Of course, as in all things, there may be a tradeoff. As training becomes more complex, it really does matter if people share a common vocabulary so that we can communicate with each other on a very precise level. That's fine! The complexity of your communication can easily increase as your learner's capacity increases or when you are speaking with a different audience. But the students in your "Introduction to pet dog manners" class? Keep it simple and relevant.

When I wrote the book "Beyond the Backyard; Train Your Dog To Listen Anytime, Anywhere!" I went to a good deal of trouble to use words that would be familiar to the reader. For example, I alternated the words "cue" and "command" even though the word "command" makes me cringe. That was a conscious choice; I wanted to keep the book accessible to my target audience. If I ever wrote a follow up book then I would drop the word "command" altogether, because repeated exposure to the word "cue" throughout this first book would have made it familiar. My readers would be ready!

Remember, I can't get them to read a more advanced book if they gave up on the first one because they found it overwhelming!

Making it Easy: Tips for Being Understood

What can you do to simplify dog training to a level that is most easily understood by your entry level audience?

Try analogies! For example, dogs and children show similar body language and calming signals when stressed, afraid, excited, engaged, etc. Point that out and watch your students blossom with understanding and excitement – they will get it! Now they will be asking YOU for clarification of what they are seeing.

Offer sentences over words! Explaining the four quadrants of learning theory might seem like a good starting point to you, but step back for a moment and ask yourself…is that the best use of your learner's capacity to process new information? Does it really matter if the person knows that "positive" is something that we add and that "punishment" decreases behavior? If you start by explaining the four quadrants, your student will be so busy puzzling out the phrase that the part you actually cared about – why positive punishment should be avoided, is likely to be missed altogether.

How about saying, "Your dog will enjoy training more if you train with cookies instead of corrections. Dogs that enjoy training are like children who beg you to learn to read – they make it easy! If you spend your energy correcting your dog then they won't be very interested in working with you and your teaching job will be harder. Instead we'll focus on giving our dogs things that they want like cookies, toys and attention in exchange for the commands that we want them to learn.

A few sentences takes longer for you to say, but remember, if you spit out an unfamiliar word and move on to your next topic, they're still stuck on the new word and they'll miss whatever you say next. If you use a full sentence to explain a challenging concept then your audience is more likely to understand.

When you communicate as a simplophile, people will stick with you, so think about skipping the scientific words altogether. Over time they will learn your preferred words – a little bit at a time. And then one day, they will realize just how much you know and what they have learned from you.

In the meantime, strive to be understood.

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