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He Said, She Heard

A friend of mine bought a puppy and named him Zebedee. As Zeb grew he became harder and harder to manage, so my friend went to dog obedience school. There he got a revelation.

He learned his words ("Zeb, you naughty dog, if you do that one more time I'm going to have to spank you") were simply noise to the canine mind. Dogs, he learned, communicate nonverbally. They signal dominance by being "top dog"—literally! The "alpha male" stands over the underlings of the pack, and all canines seem to understand this message.

So my friend was taught to play alpha male. He would roll Zeb on his back, hold the dog's head in both hands, and look him in the eye. Zeb got the message, and so did my friend. To communicate with Zeb you have to speak canine.

There's a principle here for all communicators: we must adjust to our audience if we hope for them to adjust to our message. We have to speak a language they understand. Missionaries call it "contextualization." And translators use "dynamic equivalence." ...

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