When it makes sense to treat others like seven-year-olds

Writing for LinkedIn, I was having a little fun and came up with my Theory of Seven.

It goes something like this: if you want to get large groups of people to listen to you, imagine you are communicating with seven-year-olds.

The story struck a nerve. It’s been shared over 5,000 times, and hundreds of people took the time to comment.

Vinh Le wrote, “My role model is a kid: curious of mind, always learning, genuine, direct.”

Tom O’Donnell shared that, “I have applied this philosophy for quite some time. I have always looked for off the wall analogies to communicate changes in policies or to drive home the importance of a new process. The more crazy the analogy the more likely it is to stick with the receiver.”

Christina Mason confessed, “Agree! As I looked through the comments, I found that I only read the short ones…I fit the “Seven” mold.”

Ronnie Gibberson observed, “Everything I have been reading on how you market yourself and your business points to this same strategy. You have less and less time to make your pitch or you will lose the audience.”

And one of my favorites…

“Simplicity is beauty. Simplify the process of each stage and follow up,” from Siwen Lu.

Don’t take this the wrong way.

I’m not suggesting you talk down at people, but rather that you invest a lot more energy in being interesting, clear and simple.

When you are dealing one-on-one with other adults, you should treat them with respect and intelligence. You should always respond intelligently to intelligent questions.

But when communicating with groups – in advertisements, vision statements, privacy policies, instruction manuals, and countless other circumstances – you need to keep your messages simple and repeatable.

If you read my original article, you know that Theory of Seven grew out of my experiences working all week with entrepreneurs and corporations, and then spending weekends coaching seven-year-old skiers. Week after week, I get to compare how each group communicates, and what works best with each.

Gaining and keeping the attention of seven-year-olds is easy. It just requires creativity and a focus on what really matters; you can’t lecture them for hours on end.

Communicating with customers or employees is not much different. Sometimes companies make the mistake of thinking they have all the time (and words) in the world to talk at people. Nothing could be further from the truth.