[Image by Gerd Altmann of Pixabay]

Most of us have heard the expression “We don’t know what we don’t know.” Not only is there truth in that statement but sometimes as speakers we put too much stock in what we know and make the assumption that our listener(s) also know what we know.  But what if they don’t?

If this is new for you let’s explore this further.  According to a User Testing Blog: The Curse of Knowledge, this term refers to a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the necessary background to understand. The University of Arizona’s Digital Learning blog, author, Elyssa Naval, Senior Website Designer/Developer, points out that you can’t “unlearn” or “unknow” what you know. Once you become an expert on certain subjects, it becomes much harder to explain the basics to someone without that knowledge.

In this comprehensive article, Ms. Naval of The Digital Learning blog went on to discuss that in 1990, a Stanford University psychology graduate named Elizabeth Newton conducted a study known as Listeners and Tappers.  Each of the participants in this study was assigned a role by Ms. Newton of either being a listener or a tapper.  The tappers were asked to select popular songs which they tapped out.  The listeners had to guess the song that was being tapped. The result was that out of 120 songs, only 3 of the songs were guessed correctly by the listeners.

So what does all this mean and do we need to become even more aware?  Well, it means that the curse of knowledge always exists and yes, it is strongly recommended that we all become more aware of it. Remember that the curse of knowledge is ubiquitous. Think about phone calls, virtual contact, one-on-one interactions, team meetings, and presentations.  Using language or concepts only known by the speaker is a viable threat. The goal is to know your audience well, have a glossary available, use clear terminology and always strive to be inclusive. Each of these behaviors is essential for effective communication.

Following these guidelines is a good starting point when communicating with others and will always serve you well.  If you’d like to discuss this topic further or if you have any questions, I’m always happy to assist you or your staff.  You can reach me at 518-664-6004 or dale@profitablespeech.com

Can’t wait to hear from you soon.