This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
"If you canât explain it to a six-year-old, you donât understand it yourself." – Albert Einstein
We all know the person who knows it all. This person has no trouble talking your ear off with big words and scientific names. You’re blown away by this person’s knowledge. You can’t keep up with all the terminology. Unfortunately, a lot of what this person has to say is lost on you because you simply can’t follow along.
However, here’s something to think about. Does the person really know what he or she is talking about? How are you to know? All you know is you don’t know what he or she is talking about.
It’s easy to memorize and use a few big words. For certain personality types, it can also be quite fun. It makes them feel smart, even if they aren’t totally sure of what they are talking about.
In my experience, the bigger the words and more inaccessible the language the person uses, the less the person actually knows about what he or she is talking about. The better one’s ability to explain things in plain, everyday language, the better grasp of the topic that individual has. The Einstein quote above articulates this phenomenon quite well. If a person can’t explain what he or she is talking about in plain language that anyone can understand, how well does that person really understand what he or she is talking about?
More important, if you don’t understand what that person is talking about and that person can’t or won’t use plain language, what are you getting out of the discussion? Frustration? Confusion? Certainly not useful, actionable knowledge.
Next time you encounter someone using big words, don’t hesitate to ask them to explain in more plain language. If they are truly knowledgeable on the topic, they will appreciate your request and gladly do so. If they don’t, they probably don’t know the topic as well as they would claim and you’re not going to get anything out of the conversation anyway so you’ll know all you need to know to end the conversation with the confidence that you’re not losing anything by doing so.