One of the most important elements of communication is clarity. If you are communicating to manage performance you must be able to convey clear performance expectations to your team. But not only is this simple directive more difficult than it sounds, the difficulty is often exacerbated by the depth of your knowledge of the information to be disseminated. The fact is, the more you know about a subject the harder it can be to communicate that knowledge to others.
In their book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath dubbed this problem “The Curse of Knowledge.” They explain the concept: “Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind.”
In other words when we know something well and have known it for a long time it seems like common sense rather than specialized knowledge. We unconsciously assume that others know what we know and often resort to jargon and other shortcuts in our efforts to communicate. As a result we leave our audience scratching their heads in confusion.
To get your message across it’s crucial that you meet your listeners in their territory by speaking to them in common terms; avoiding jargon, abbreviations, and acronyms; sharing background information; and encouraging feedback that will help you judge your audience’s level of understanding.
Use the following tips in launching your next project to clearly communicate your expectations for the overall project and the role of each individual member.
- Start from the beginning. State the goal of the project in concrete terms. Never assume your staff already has any knowledge of it. Answer the “why” question. Why are you initiating this project. Are you solving a problem? Creating a new product? Marketing to a new audience? Be specific in describing the end result that you envision.
- Give background information. What problem are you solving? How did it come to light? Storytelling is a powerful way to communicate a message. If possible, give human examples of how the problem impacted clients or fellow workers. If you are developing a new product share your vision of how people will use it or what it will provide that your competitor’s product does not provide.
- Use visuals as often as possible. About 65% of all people are primarily visual learners. They will understand the project’s background and share your vision more readily if you use images, charts, and diagrams through slides or the simple use of a white board and stick figures. Incorporate color whenever possible.
- Brainstorm with your team and ask open-ended questions to encourage verbal participation, which will stimulate collaboration and give you confirmation that your concept is being understood or the opportunity to clarify it if it is not.
- Utilize a project management tool, such as Basecamp or a spreadsheet with roles, target dates, and progress reports accessible to all team members in real time. A timeline that indicates specific tasks, dates, and the name of the responsible person, will give each team member a visual sense of where the project is going, how far it has progressed, and how their contribution moves it forward or holds it back.
- Make certain you are all working with the most current information by sharing all feedback you receive from team members or from higher-ups.
Don’t let the “Curse of Knowledge” hinder your communication. Everyone’s store of knowledge is different. You didn’t always know what you know. Ask questions and listen to the answers to find out where your colleagues are in respect to the subject at hand, and then give them enough information in as many forms as possible to fill in any knowledge gaps between you.