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Six signs your communication is suffering from the Curse of Knowledge (and six ways to fix it) communication media training public speaking soft skills

Imagine you need to get your head around a difficult new topic – quantum theory, for example, or genetic engineering. Would you be better off talking to a Nobel Prize-winning genius, or a young scientist working in their lab? You might get lucky, if the wise professor is also a great communicator, but surprisingly often you’d learn more from the lowly assistant.

The reason is a cognitive bias that psychologists call the Curse of Knowledge. It’s a software glitch that causes our brains to overestimate how much other people understand. When we master an idea, we delete the memory of how it felt not to understand it. We have a blind spot when it comes to empathising with people who don’t know what we know. The Curse of Knowledge causes experts to speak over the heads of non-experts: the wiser they get, the less effective they become at explaining themselves.

Understanding and compensating for the Curse of Knowledge is a powerful way for all of us to become...

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