Avoiding the “talking down” trap

Nobody likes being spoken down to, in business or in personal life. Few things are as off-putting as having someone treat you like you are not able to understand things which are by most measures, common knowledge. It is one thing to have a physician explain a medical procedure, it is another to have a co-worker talk to you like you’re a 5 year old.

In written communications, however, many people use language which is condescending to their readers. In business communications, this can alienate both teammates and potential clients. It is also just poor form and something you should avoid at all costs. Let’s look at some ways you can avoid talking down to people, even if you aren’t aware you’re guilty of it in the first place.

1. Be aware of over-simplifying

Before you restate something in terms that are “more simple,” terms, make sure it is warranted. You want to avoid over-simplifying because this can be characterized as “dumbing down” and it insults your audience. Ask yourself if you really need to make the idea or concept more simple or are you just trying to make it more clear? These are not the same thing and if you don’t know the difference, you should consider hiring a professional writer.

2. Avoid patronizing tones and word choices

Have you ever had someone “talk down” to you? Nobody likes being patronized and while you might not mean to do it, you may be guilty of using patronizing or condescending language. Some words are triggers for this type of tone, so pay attention to your word choice. Words such as “simple,” “simply,” “easily,” “anybody can” or “should be able to” are all words and phrases which can contribute to a patronizing tone.

3. Write for the correct audience

You are less likely to “talk down” or “over-simplify” a topic if you know your audience. Before you start writing, clearly identify your target audience. Next, ask yourself what their level of knowledge is and then outline your content. By doing this you have a stronger understanding of what you can assume your audience knows as well as what you need to more clearly define or explain.

As a writer, our jobs are to clearly communicate ideas and concepts. It is a challenging job which requires us to thoroughly know our subject so that we can relay that information in a clear and concise way. In doing this we sometimes fall into the trap of patronizing our readers. These three tips can help talk to your audience without talking down to them in the process..