The Curse of Knowledge in Communication

People, Perception, and the Curse of Knowledge

One of the most difficult things to combat when you are leading, presenting, or even simply having a conversation with someone new, is yourself — specifically your knowledge and experience. That’s the curse of knowledge. According to Wikipedia, “the curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand.” 

In other words, it’s easy to forget that others don’t know what you know. The problem is that assuming that others share the same knowledge as you puts them at an unfair advantage when communicating with you. 

If you’re a top executive or senior leader, you need to remember that you have years of expertise tucked into that head of yours. What often happens when professionals have been immersed in their data or craft for a long time is that they aren’t able to present their ideas or data in a way that others can understand. You get the underlying meaning, but chances are that anyone who is not working closely with you will not.

Don’t let the curse of knowledge make your communications too abstract for your audiences. Take the time to think about the people you lead, or who you need to persuade or inspire, and ask yourself:

  • How can I tailor my communications to meet them where they are? 
  • How do I distill what I know down to what they need to understand me?

The first rule of communication is to know your audience. Once you’ve considered them, your job is to communicate in a way that ensures your message is not only heard, but understood.

Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash
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