Simplophile or Complexophile?

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?

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.

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!

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.


About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Simplophile or Complexophile?

  1. Margrit says:

    Excellent post!!!!! Thank you, Denise 🙂


  2. Pat King says:

    For what it’s worth, I substitute the word ‘behavior’ for the word command (sounds too harsh!) if I’m not using ‘cue’.


  3. bmvanese says:

    Excellent. Although not just “in the meantime” but ALL the time, ” strive to be understood”. When your students want to chat about training and complex ideas, then you can share your vocabulary.


  4. Kathleen Corum says:

    Interestingly, the effect of using big words on an audience was studied years ago. The research showed that the more syllables the higher the perceived competency of the speaker…. perhaps saying that if it sounded impressive, it didn’t matter that they couldn’t understand it, they were nevertheless IMPRESSED! I’ve noticed that in academia a lot of communications get obscured and this is probably how and why. And I’d conclude that in some circles, it is more important to create an impression than to educate. It is a sorry situation where in academia (higher education) great teaching isn’t necessarily the measure of success. I have a couple of graduate degrees which by default has qualified me to teach in higher education … without any education background. I’d like to be a good teacher, but I won’t claim to be and I haven’t done a lot of it. In elementary education, that’s not so. For grade school, training in education is usually required to teach in accredited schools.


    • dfenzi says:

      I do not not doubt it!

      I will continue with my simple ways. I like seeing the change in my students who “get” what I am saying and become excited by the substance of the topic. I suppose I could use BIG WORDS! when speaking with colleagues but even there….I’ll pass. I still really want my audience to understand what i am trying to say, easily and without a twisted brain.

      Rather sad that our society has created individuals who value appearance over clarity.


  5. ejhaskins says:

    LOL! I found the sentence with complexophiles and simplophiles much easier to read and understand. So what does that make me?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s