Do you have the “Curse of Knowledge”?

Dr. Frankenstein

Is you communication clear and well understood or do you suffer from the curse of knowledge?

Most mornings, when I listen to an interview on the Today programme on Radio 4, I hear one of the team, like John Humphries or Sarah Montague, stop an interview in order to clarify an acronym that the interviewee has used.

I’m sure we’ve all done it many times, especially when talking about our work. For 20 years I worked in the electronics industry and once when my fiancée asked me about my early career I told her that for a time I was an FAE.

“A what?”

“A Field Application Engineer.”

“A what?”

It threw me for a second when she stopped me to ask what ‘FAE’ stood for and doubly so when I had to explain what a Field Application Engineer is. I was suffering from the “curse of Knowledge”; I’d spent so many years with people who knew what an FAE was that I used the acronym again without consideration for the knowledge and experience of the person listening.

But at least she asked…if she hadn’t I’d have lost her attention and interest whilst she thought about what the acronym meant and whether she’d look and feel dumb by asking. (Don’t feel bad for her; she’s an expert in her field and sometimes suffers the same affliction…or is she just getting her own back?…hmmmm.)

I read about the curse of knowledge in a book called “The Art of Explanation” by Lee LeFever. The idea being that when we know a subject so well we struggle to imagine what it’s like not to know it. Our depth of knowledge on a particular subject “interferes with our ability to see the world from another person’s perspective and gauge their confidence level accurately.” (LeFever.)

I’m sure you can recall a many occasions when your explanation has been met with blank stares. It can be a little frustrating when trying to help your son or daughter with their homework but when you’re trying to explain your solution to a potential customer it can turn them off and seriously impact your business.

Because of the curse of knowledge:

• The CEO of a technology company which has developed some amazing disruptive technology that could save prospects many thousands of pounds, may feel the frustration of not winning the contract because the prospect didn’t ‘get it’.
• The doctor or care provider may struggle to receive the consent needed to give the care required because their explanation wasn’t clear and didn’t reassure the relatives that this was the best option.
• The principal of a college may not get the intake of students or the support of the community she needs because they don’t see her vision or how her college can contribute to the prosperity of that community.

Are you getting your message across or are you suffering from the curse of knowledge? Are the benefits that you’re communicating clear and easily understood, not by you, but by those you’re talking to?

Review all of your communication and make sure that, if you were in their shoes and listening to, reading or watching, any of your messages, you would ‘get it’too.

Have you suffered from the curse of knowledge recently?

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