Cast Off the Curse of Knowledge


Have you ever felt lost while working with an expert?

For example, I recently hired an electrician to help with my basement’s wiring. Despite his best efforts to explain how many “circuits” and “volts” I would need, I was still confused. He tried using words and examples that he thought were simple enough, but they didn’t make sense to me because I was a beginner in his world. This electrician was suffering from the Curse of Knowledge.


Anatomy of a Curse

The so-called Curse of Knowledge describes the feeling of knowing something so well you literally cannot imagine not knowing it. You can't un-know or un-learn what you know, and this makes it hard to stand in the shoes of a true beginner.


And it’s not just experts who are afflicted! With rapid growth in technology and the internet, we consume knowledge and information more quickly and routinely than ever. In the workplace, the Curse of Knowledge can cause communication issues and empathy gaps between individuals. Left unchecked, these breakdowns can become a barrier to a team’s productivity, creativity and growth.

Break the Curse

The main problem with the Curse of Knowledge is that we make assumptions about what people do and do not know. Here are a few ideas to help you break free:

  • Spend time learning your audience's context and experience before you begin communicating. When we communicate, we can’t assume our audience speaks our language or has our vantage point.

  • Start with the basics and check in frequently with your audience. People are slow to admit that they may not understand something, especially to your face. Pause often with an open-ended inquiry like, “I want to make sure that we are all comfortable with what I’m explaining. What questions do you have for me so far? Which details are still fuzzy?”

  • Avoid technical terms. Using expert-specific language has the potential to come across as arrogant or belittling.

  • Use empathy to put yourself back in the mindset of a beginner. This is the absolute best thing you can do to avoid the Curse of Knowledge! While it may take more time to work through these steps, consider that communication does not happen unless you are understood.

At Small Potatoes Communications, this is what we are passionate about! We love everything about the process of communication and making sure that your voice is both heard and understood. If you need a trusted advisor or a team who can break the Curse of Knowledge for your organization, we are here for you!

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