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Another Cognitive Bias That Gets In The Way

A few years ago, when my daughter was in middle school, she had some difficulties with math. Before searching the wide web for a tutor, my husband – an electrical engineer by trade and IT specialist for the last 20 years, decided that he would be able to help. After all, he always was good with numbers.

As you can imagine, it didn’t go well. After an hour of angry and crying voices behind the door, I’ve made an executive decision – tutor it is.

My brilliant husband didn’t consider that “integral”, “function” and “algorithm” – are not the words in the vocabulary of a six-grader.

He fell the victim of The Curse of Knowledge cognitive bias – the assumption that once we know something, everyone else knows it too.

And I see it happening every day in the workplace, which creates massive misunderstandings, tensions and frustration.

🔸 Leaders make unpopular decisions, assuming that employees know and understand why.

🔸 Employees are not speaking up about difficulties they encounter every day, assuming that leaders know about them.

The thing is that both sides are wrong.

On one hand, employees often don’t realize what is behind tough decisions, and on the other, sometimes leaders don’t know what is going on at the frontlines of the business.

It is no one’s fault; it is a lack of communication based on the assumption that if I am aware of something, everybody else in the organization is aware of that as well.

The Curse of Knowledge bias is unconscious; we can’t just eliminate it even if we are aware of it.

What we can do is mitigate it.

🔹 For leaders, it is crucially important to take time and explain why particular decisions were made. Their teams might have different opinions, but they more likely would commit to the actions knowing the reasons.

🔹 For employees, it is essential to speak up when things are great and when they are not so much. Leaders have long lists of different priorities, and sometimes important issues get overlooked.

Communicating what we know is a great way to build trusting and transparent working relationships, which is especially important in the new remote world.


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