Leaders communication sins: the curse of knowledge bias and other pitfalls

I wonder how many times each of us has heard that communication is one of the key elements of effective leadership. It sounds such a cliché, that a leader or manager knows well. It is obvious that if the leader wants to achieve common goals, she/he must create a convincing message, express an exciting vision and stimulate a group of people to make quick decisions and act. However, how and what to communicate in order to experience the desired results and cooperate with a motivated team is certainly a unique competence.

It turns out that each of us, especially a leader, manager or expert, is exposed to strong communication stereotypes. To better understand one of these traps, let’s do a simple exercise. Recall a situation when you had to communicate something, e.g. negotiate, explain or articulate a new vision, describe a process or communicate an important point of the organization’s strategy. How did you know how much to say or write? How did you know when to stop talking or writing? And when you must have written a little more? If you are making the above judgment based on your intuition, it means that you may be communicating too little or too much. The assumptions behind the tendency to convey too little or too much details in one message or statement are called strong communication biases.

The curse of knowledge bias

The “curse” of knowledge bias is a communication bias that causes, for example, a manager to provide too little information to colleagues, superiors or clients. In one survey of 360-degree feedback from Stanford University, managers were almost ten times more likely to be criticized for not communicating than for too much. The trap in which the leader gets caught is the assumption that what manager communicates is obvious information for the recipient and he or she certainly already knows about it. On this basis, the sender strongly selects and limits information, which in turn causes many more errors in understanding the message, and consequently in the action taken after it.

The illusion of verbal clarity

The illusion of verbal clarity, i.e. over-communication, occurs when something seems complicated to us, or when we assume it will be complicated for our listeners. We assume that the more descriptions and details we provide to the offer or idea, the thing we want to share will suddenly become clearer to the recipient. In reality, however, the excessive amount of information overwhelms the recipient because cognitively there is much more time needed to process the information and decide on action.

Persuasive communication

We are not as well understood as we would like to believe. However, if we trace and look at the communication patterns of the best speakers: leaders, managers and politicians, who are effective speakers, we can see their communication linguistic structures based on persuasive communication patterns. Persuasive communication used in a moral and ethical way, changes the attitude, emotions, reactions or behaviour of the recipient. The pattern that effectively influences the way of understanding the content and motivates the recipient to perform the task is the pattern of e.g. communication starting with “why” or cause-and-effect. In addition, to avoid the illusion of verbal clarity, as well as to stop to overwhelm the recipient with excessive details or information, it is worth presenting the most simplified version of your idea, not the most complex, and focus the recipient on one aspect of the idea, and in the next message on another.

It is worth remembering that communication is an art that requires a balance or calibration between two conflicting tendencies, nevertheless to become a communication master, we need to understand that communication is a craft and like any other, it needs practicing, regular feedback, and becoming a communication master simply takes effort, patience and repetition.

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