Writing Experiment Lab

Tag: Communication (page 1 of 1)

The Curse of Knowledge

In 1990, there was an experiment done in Stanford University by Dr. Elizabeth Newton for her Ph.D. In the experiment, she assigned 2 groups of people with 2 roles: Tappers & Listeners. (Hat tip to Made to Stick)

Tappers received a list of well-known songs and were asked to pick a song and tap out the rhythm to a listener by knocking on a table. The listener’s job was to guess the song, based on the rhythm being tapped.

Out of 120 times the songs were tapped, only 3 times the listeners got it right. Tappers had predicted in the beginning that at least 50% guesses would be correct.

What actually happens here is that, when I am tapping, the song is playing in my head. Happy-birthday-to-you. But it is not being played in your heads. As a listener, you don’t have the knowledge which I already have i.e. the rhythm of the song. When I tap, I assume that you should be able to guess easily, but that doesn’t really happen.

This, my friends, is called “The Curse of Knowledge”. It happens when having prior knowledge prohibits us from delivering the message across to the other party in a manner in which is not fully understood. Through my speech, I will attempt to indulge you in the practice of trying to make your message clearer and understandable.

Most often we mistake communication as a one-sided activity. We assume that if we have done our part of imparting the knowledge, the receiving party has understood everything. For example, when an engineer tries to explain some simple technology to a layman. We have all been through there, haven’t we? Have you ever tried to make your parents understand something you find very easy? Say using Instagram or installing Dropbox or even sending voice note on WhatsApp? Wasn’t there a struggle?

Lesson 1 of Communication, therefore, is when you communicate, get to the level of the person/audience you are speaking to.

Aaron Beverly, the 1st Runner Up of World Championship of Public Speaking 2016, had a 57-word title. 57-word title! And when he came up on the stage, all he said was “Just because you say more, it doesn’t mean that people will remember what you said.” It simply means that when we are giving some information to others, giving a lot of information won’t do any good. A 1000 word speech might not make the same impact as a 100-word speech. What you speak counts, not the amount you speak.

Lesson 2 of Communication, therefore, is when you communicate, don’t assume that more information means more understanding.

I will share a very small story to illustrate Lesson 3.

When World War 2 was towards its fag end around mid-1945, after victory in Europe, the Allied leaders Truman, Churchill, Stalin, and Chiang Kai-Shek called for Japan’s unconditional surrender. When Japanese Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki was asked by reporters about the surrender, he uttered a single word, “Mokusatsu.”  Depending on context, mokusatsu has several meanings. Prime minister meant “No comment.” But, the meaning which was translated back to the Allies was “Not worthy of comment”. We all know what happened next.

Lesson 3 of Communication, therefore, is when you communicate, try to pay attention to the context.

In business, in work, in a relationship, we all suffer from the curse of knowledge. We often communicate in a way, which makes our message either diluted or exaggerated. We suffer from the knowledge imbalance like the Tappers and Listener.

Whenever next time you are talking to someone, or giving a presentation, or giving a speech in a Toastmasters Club, try to not get into the trap of ‘The Curse of Knowledge’. Rather, try to avoid it by remembering these 3 lessons of Communication which I have shared today.

One, understand your audience.

Two, don’t assume things.

Three, Context matters.

 

The above was my speech at Toastmasters Club Meeting on Jan 10, 2019. It went pretty well.

Let’s talk about Postcards

Recently, I heard a beautiful little speech from a fellow Toastmaster Sivaranjani about Postcards and Pen Pals. She talked about how, as a kid, she used to send out postcards from her family to the relatives. She went on to tell about her meeting with one of the pen friends she had made during the time when it was cool to have pen friends. The speech was reminiscent of the time without Internet which now seems like ages ago. She ended her speech with a beautiful gesture of handing out actual postcards to the members of the audience.

One of the important points she raised about Postcards was the analogy with the social media of today’s time. She said that Postcards are like Tweets: One has to deliver the message on a limited space for writing. Also, Postcards are also like the infamous Open Letters which you intend that the original recipient would read. Although, except that person, everyone else reads that.

In a rather personal plus fictional story combination book by a friend titled ‘And we remained’, a major chunk of the story is told via the email-exchanges between 4 friends. One could read this book if you want to go back to your nostalgic college days, first crush feelings and the time when sending emails to and fro used to exist. Anyways, point being, communication recently has taken a weird turn.

I have not sent or received postcards or even a letter since last 15 years or so minimum. I did use to make greeting cards during school time which I used to give away to friends and teachers before summer vacation or winter holiday breaks. But that practice diminished as I grew up. I also haven’t received/sent a proper email from/to anyone in at least last 3 years in which we could have just shared information about each other’s well being. The only letters I receive are actually cardboard containers from Amazon. I did receive few physical Greeting Cards from my wife when she was away. (I felt pretty awkward initially as I didn’t expect that people would still be dealing with Greeting Cards. But that was a wonderful gesture, so thank you R if you are reading this. Sorry that I didn’t reply back with another greeting card of my own. I am a bit tech-savvy that way.). Obviously, ego gets in the way of communication nowadays. Despite being so closely connected, we hardly talk to people. I had even written a satire piece a few days ago about replying to Whatsapp/Email has become optional. You may read that here.

Whining about this isn’t the solution. The solution would be to reopen the communication channel with old friends in some way. One can still send out postcards. One can write emails. Even a Poke on Facebook might help in rekindling the friendship, who knows! Wish someone new year in an original manner and not HNY! Of course, I am not suggesting to you that pick up the phone and call that person. Who would do that!

I got this postcard by the way after that speech:

Recommended Sites, in case you are interested:

  • People who used to use blogpost.com would remember about lettersofnote.com. If not, you can still go ahead and check this site. They publish postcards, letters, telegrams from the past. Soon, they should also start posting emails from the early days of the Internet. That would be fascinating to read.
  • I found this website which does this amazing thing even today: postcrossing.com. I am copy pasting their stats from the site below:

P.S. A picture of Postbox with address if you want to send someone a postcard from Bengaluru

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#LetterBox #indianPost #red

A post shared by Abhinav Bhatt (@abhinavbhatt) on

This, I saw at MG Road Boulevard, Bengaluru. It is a bit sad that the caption I put in the second comment on the picture there was ‘#historical’.