The curse of knowledge bias in leaders and other communication pitfalls

The curse of knowledge bias in leaders and other communication pitfalls

June 2, 2024 IPI 0

I wonder how many times each of us has heard that communication is one of the key elements of effective leadership. Seemingly a cliché that a leader or manager knows well. It’s obvious, in order to achieve common goals a leader needs to create a compelling message, express an exciting vision and stimulate a group of people to make quick decisions and take action. However, how and what specifically to communicate in order to actually experience the desired results and to work with a motivated team is certainly a competence far from trivial.

It turns out that each of us, especially a leader, manager or expert, succumbs to strong communication stereotypes. To better understand one such pitfall let’s do a simple exercise. Recall a situation when you had to communicate something, e.g.: negotiate, clarify or articulate a new vision, describe a process or communicate an important point in the organization’s strategy. How did you know how much to say or write? How did you know when to stop talking or writing? And when did you need to write a little more? If you are making the above assessment based on your own intuition, it means that you may be communicating too little or too much. The assumptions behind the tendency to communicate too little information or too much detailed information in one message or statement are called strong communication biases.

The curse of knowledge bias

“The curse” of knowledge bias is a communication bias that causes, for example, a manager to give too little information to co-workers, supervisors or customers. In one review of 360-degree assessments conducted by Stanford University, managers were almost ten times more likely to be criticized for not communicating than for communicating too much. The trap a leader gets caught in is the assumption that what I am communicating is obvious information to the recipient, and surely he or she already knows it. On this basis, the sender heavily selects and limits the information, resulting in many more errors in the understanding of the message and, consequently, in the action taken after it.

Illusion of verbal clarity

The illusion of verbal clarity i.e., over-communication occurs when something seems complicated to us, or when we assume it will be complicated to our listeners. We then assume that the more descriptions we give and the more detail we convey an offer or idea, what we want to share will suddenly become clearer to the recipient. In reality, however, an excessive amount of information overwhelms the recipient because cognitively he or she needs more time to process it and decide on an action.

Persuasive communication

We are not as well understood as we would like to believe. However, if we trace and look at the communication patterns of the best speakers: leaders, managers, politicians who are truly effective speakers we can see linguistic structures in their communication based on persuasive communication patterns. Persuasive communication affects the change of attitude, emotion, reaction or behavior of the recipient in a moral and ethical way. A pattern that effectively influences the way the content is understood and motivates the recipient to perform a task is a pattern of, for example, communication that begins with “why” or cause and effect: position – reason. In addition, to avoid the illusion of verbal clarity, as well as to stop inundating the recipient with excessive details or information, it is advisable to present the most simplified version of your idea, rather than the most complex, and to focus on one aspect of the idea, and in the next communication on the next. Once the recipient understands this simple version, he or she will be better able to deal with the slightly greater complexity of the topic.

It is worth remembering that communication is an art that requires a balance or calibration between two clashing tendencies, however, to become a master of communication, we need to understand that communication is a craft and like any other needs practice and feedback, and becoming a master of communication simply requires effort, patience and repetition.

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