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Why explanations may fail

Try to imagine what a wide range of opportunities in the field of personal and professional relationships will open before you when you learn to clearly explain. How much easier it will be to live if you express your thoughts to the boss, accountant, team member or parents in a more accessible form. Then they can put themselves in your place, accept your ideas and agree with your point of view. This is the purpose of the book. I want to help you and everyone around you learn to explain, because we are in dire need of it.

Empty looks – you’ve seen this before. Usually this is observed after 10 minutes, during which you tried to infect your enthusiasm audience (no matter, small or large), talking about some idea. But from the facial expressions of the audience it became clear: they did not understand anything. When this happens, the only way to move forward is to leave people behind.

I have been in similar situations. As a consultant, I was proud to be able to explain any technology, but failures also occurred. My enthusiasm made me speak faster and miss important points. Sometimes it seemed to me that people perceive my thoughts well, but soon by their faces I found out that they did not understand anything.

Every day in organizations, at home, at school, we meet the empty looks of people and disappointed explanatory specialists. We always try to find the best way to convey our thoughts, but sometimes failures happen. The problem can be solved, but first of all, we must understand its causes, which will become the basis for its resolution.

All about Confidence

Empty glances are a symptom of a failed explanation. But why did you fail? What is the reason: in confidence or in its absence? More often than not, empty glances mean the disbelief of the listeners that they are able to understand, or at least become interested in the idea that you are explaining. And if trust is lost, it is difficult to restore it in the same lesson. The audience gives up and focuses on trying to “cope”, rather than fully understanding the issue. Such a situation is disappointing for all participants, it is even more than you can imagine.

Reason for Failure – Assumptions

When working with one person, an unsuccessful attempt to explain is immediately striking. But if you are dealing with a group or an entire class, it is more difficult to recognize failure. Firstly, there are too many people in front of you, which makes it difficult to assess their involvement. But the main problem is that you do not know at what level each participant owns the material. For example, if you are going to talk about type 2 diabetes to a large number of people, some of whom have never heard of such a disease, then this is an almost hopeless task. What is well known to one may turn out to be completely new to another.

Faced with this problem, you should roughly estimate the average level of ownership of the material in the group, but your assessment may not be true. This discrepancy is the most common reason that your explanations fail.

If we had a simple way of assessing the level of proficiency in each subject of our listener, this book might not be needed. But for now, we rely on the assumption of the level of knowledge of people about whom we do not know anything. Our assessment is not always accurate, so we have to use other methods.

Why are our estimates wrong?

To establish the roots of this phenomenon, you need to look at your decisions through the prism of the curse of knowledge (described by Chip and Dan Hit in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Created to stick: why some ideas survive and others die). It is based on the following idea: when we know a subject well, it’s difficult for us to imagine that we don’t need to know it. As already noted, this is a problem of the ability to put ourselves in the place of another.

We are “cursed” for knowing too much. The following is an excerpt from an article written by the authors of the book on the curse of knowledge for Harvard Business Review:

In 1990, Elizabeth Newton, a graduate student at the Department of Psychology at Stanford University, demonstrated the curse of knowledge with a simple game in which people could play one of two roles: “performer” or “listener”. All the performers were asked to tap on the table the rhythm of some famous song, for example, Happy Birthday. The task of the audience was to guess it.

Listeners were offered the rhythms of 120 songs. Most of them correctly guessed only three, that is, the success rate was 2.5%. Another trick was that before the start of the experiment, Newton asked the performers to predict the probability of the correct result. They suggested that it would be 50%. In fact, the performers managed to correctly convey to the listeners a melody in only one case out of forty, although they assumed that they could do it with every second song.

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