Consider your Audience to Improve Communication


It can be frustrating when we fail at getting our point across to other people. One common source of communication breakdown is failing to account for our listener’s realm of knowledge. Psychologists refer to this as the “curse of knowledge,” and it describes how successful communication is compromised by the presence and absence of knowledge. That is, once we have knowledge of something, we can’t imagine what it’s like to not know it, and this leads to dead-end communication. Those of you who frequently discuss complex or divisive issues such as politics, money, religion or technology have likely encountered this situation. You may have all the relevant information or the most sound argument imaginable, but if you communicate those thoughts in language unintelligible to those you’re speaking to, your message may collapse. In her piece, Overcoming the Curse of Knowledge, Jesse Galef elaborates:

Communication isn’t a solo activity; it involves both you and the audience. Writing a diary entry is a great way to sort out thoughts, but if you want to be informative and persuasive to others, you need to figure out what they’ll understand and be persuaded by. A common habit is to use ourselves as a mental model – assuming that everyone else will laugh at what we find funny, agree with what we find convincing, and interpret words the way we use them. The model works to an extent – especially with people similar to us – but other times our efforts fall flat. You can present the best argument you’ve ever heard, only to have it fall on dumb – sorry, deaf – ears.


She also points out that calibrating your language to the capacity of your audience is very different from “dumbing down” your message. The idea is not to oversimplify but to adapt your speech in a way that maintains the original intent and underlying substance of your message.

Some of us are better at this than others, of course. The ability to communicate effectively is a skill that’s continually sharpened throughout life. By carefully evaluating our own realm of knowledge and being conscious of the fact that others may derive different word-meaning connections and semantic inferences, we can more successfully convey information. After all, it can often be pointless to make yourself appear smart if no one understands what you’re saying. It’s far more in your favor to always be mindful of your audience and tailor your language appropriately.


External Link: Overcoming The Curse of Knowledge

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