• Steve Huffman

Communicating Depth: Know Your Context

One of the areas in which I am always fascinated is communication and how to improve my own communication style and the communication style of the teams I work with. This fascination leads me to listen to great communicators throughout history to find the nuances that make them the best communicators, as well as trying learn from different, maybe odd, sources. One of the more obscure sources I ran across recently is Malcom Gladwell in his popular podcast Revisionist History. Malcom takes on some obscure reporting and makes it incredibly relevant to various topics throughout history and while listening to Episode 6 of Season 2 (linked here) something captured me about communicating “depth”.

Have you ever heard feedback from someone that sounded something like “I wish the teaching were deeper”?

If you have ever communicated in front of large numbers of people for any time, you may hear feedback that relates to the depth of your teaching. Teaching today, especially in the modern church, demands in-depth relevant facts. If you skim across the surface on a topic you can be perceived as shallow and not being “deep enough”. I’m fascinated when I hear feedback regarding depth because I believe there are nuances in the words we use that indicate depth or shallowness, but I also found something in Gladwell’s podcast that can be helpful.

Gladwell interviewed Bobby Braddock who had written “more sad songs than almost anyone else” in country music. What Gladwell found is that through the words of the sad songs that Bobby wrote the depth was incredible. Song lyrics were communicating emotional nuances and deep stories. Comparing those words to pop music today Gladwell found that country songs in general provide a more rich and in depth context of the topics they are singing about. Comparatively current pop music lyrics tend to be shallow and flashy. Deep story lines are generally not shared in pop culture music. What Gladwell surmised is that country musicians came from the regions that they were singing about and that the more in depth the song lyrics the more context and history the song writer had in the region they were singing about. They were signing to an audience that they knew well – that they did life with.

Gladwell did some digging and found the same depth in hard core rap lyrics out of LA, the Bronx and other very specific regions. You can communicate more deeply and intricately when you are communicating in a context that you are incredibly familiar with.

If you are hearing feedback that your weekly messages are lacking in depth, or someone just wishes you would “go deeper” you should ask yourself how well you know your audience. Are you trying to communicate to too large of an audience which can be perceived as shallow, or are you communicating to a group of people that you know so much about that you can’t help but share stories and depth that touches the heart?