In this post we discuss the challenge of effective communication in exercise and rehab.
Have you ever struggled to understand what your trainer or rehab professional is talking about?
If you have it’s not surprising and there’s a good reason for it.
They’re probably communicating in sound bites.
For a perfect example of a sound bite listen to a football manager speak after a game. It will usually go something like this…
‘It was a game of two halves. We had no width on the field. The ball over the top was hurting us time and time again. They’ve got pace to burn and we couldn’t live with them. They played us off the park. We just weren’t at the races.’
Notice that whilst the words by themselves make sense, in order to understand the meaning of the sentences, you have to know something about football.
Communicating in sound bites doesn’t create understanding for the listener.
This is especially true if the listener has no knowledge of the subject.
I had first hand experience of this last week whilst listening to a podcast on cyber security. Here’s something I know nothing about I thought, let me take a listen.
The experience was like visiting a foreign country. Made worse by the fact they appeared to be speaking English.
The words in the order they used them had no meaning to me. I became lost in a maze of impenetrable acronyms and phrases.
Their mistake was to presume I had a base level of knowledge in the subject. When in reality I struggle to find the power switch on most computers.
It was frustrating and mildly irritating. Especially the jokes. Oh boy, computer science jokes…
It got me thinking, what does the exercise industry sound like to consumers?
Muscles with latin names like pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi. Other things like fascia, ACLs, lactic acid, DOMs and plyometrics.
Nouns are one thing, but how about these sound bites?
“This activates the core.”
“Your glutes aren’t firing.”
“This is a metabolic conditioning exercise.”
“Your VMO is inhibited.”
“We’re training proprioception.”
“This is a functional exercise.”
What do any of them mean? Ask and I suspect you’ll get a different answer from each practitioner that uses them.
As Richard Feynman once said, it’s the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.
If you can’t explain it to a child, you don’t understand it.
It’s very easy to use complicated language, it’s much harder to convey meaning in simple terms however. In fact it’s impossible if you don’t understand the subject yourself.
My 6 year old has stumped me many times with questions on everything from gravity to baking soda. I tell her I don’t know and go read before I can explain in language she will understand.
Admitting you don’t know something as a professional can be difficult.
Giving a bullshit answer is far worse and risks losing the client’s trust however.
Training and rehab covers such a broad variety of subjects, it’s unrealistic to presume anybody has all the answers. In a single session I might field questions from any one of the following:
Each one of these subjects contains enough information for a lifetime of study. I know enough about each one to carry out my work effectively, but I wouldn’t call myself an expert in any of them.
If I don’t know the answer to a particular question, I’ll admit that and go find out.
If you’re working with somebody who answers questions in sound bites, keep asking the question until you understand the answer.
You’ll be doing them a favour as well. I would much rather know that my explanations aren’t landing than have my clients confused.
Doubt and confusion ultimately contribute to poor outcomes. This will serve neither of you in the long run.