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The Curse Of Knowledge In Leadership – A Significant Barrier In Communication

Written by: Lars Friedrich, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Why do leaders need to know and understand a cognitive bias called 'The Curse Of Knowledge' / 'The Curse Of Expertise' to enhance good communication?

Once we know something, it changes the lens through which we view the world, making it difficult to imagine what it's like not to know that thing. Too often, we as designated leaders also forget that it's even 'possible' not to know and assume that what's in our heads must also be in the heads of others, having been given the same information!

The Curse Of Knowledge

This cognitive bias is called 'The Curse Of Knowledge'or 'The Curse Of Expertise,' which can be a significant barrier to communication, leading, and directing, and is likely experienced by anyone who has ever worked in a leadership position – whether leading a team, a company, or an organisation. And when in such a position, opportunities for misunderstanding and failed communication are everywhere, as there is a constant stream of information coming your way to be processed and channelled. So you'll often think, 'How can they just not get & understand this? They must have as much information as I do!'.

The Importance Of Hierarchy

Interestingly though, hierarchy is essential to 'The Curse Of Knowledge,' and when you as a leader have real or perceived authority over someone else, it worsens.Researchers* have found that those with higher levels of self-perceived power or authority in an interaction:

  • Had a lower inclination to adopt another person's visual perspective.

  • Were less likely to consider that others did not possess their privileged knowledge and anchored too heavily on their vantage point.

  • And were less accurate in determining the emotional expressions of others, suggesting a power-induced impediment to empathy.

Breaking The Cycle

In knowing this, the next time you want to throw your hands up in the air and assume that the people you're leading and working with are just unreachable, keep this concept in mind, as any power dynamics can make us worse at communicating and worse at being aware of it!

An essential variable to break this cycle is that a feeling of responsibility increases empathy and reduces 'The Curse Of Knowledge'.

Because when we as leaders feel responsible for helping the people we're in charge of, directing, training, or serving, finding a path forward and viewing ourselves as working with them to unravel obstacles and challenges rather than assigning blame will improve our capacity for good communication!

A Touch Of Zen

Additionally, after I was able to identify my leadership shortcomings and put the finger on my ongoing 'Curse Of Knowledge' / 'Curse Of Expertise' while communicating with others, I approached it with a 'Touch Of Zen' by applying the concept of 'Shoshin' (初心).

A Japanese term that translates to a 'beginner's mind' for open-minded and good communication, as I'm willing to accept input from everybody I talk to with the liberty to agree to disagree.

Final Note

Deepak Chopra said a fundamental thing about knowledge:

'Knowledge is not rooted in facts; it is rooted in curiosity.

One inspired teacher can alter a student for life by instilling curiosity.'

Transfer the word teacher to leader and student to employee, team member, department, company, or organisation, and always share your knowledge by enhancing curiosity.

Yours, and of those you're entrusted to lead!

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


Lars Friedrich, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Lars Friedrich is an expert in personal & professional leadership transformations refined with a touch of Zen. As a former Officer & Special Forces Operator, executive in international & intercultural corporate positions and founder of his boutique business, he has vast accumulated experience, expertise & knowledge in leadership, resilience, endurance, commitment, persistence & dedication. Furthermore, Lars Friedrich trained in traditional Japanese Martial Arts for 42 years and frequently travels to Japan for his ongoing tuition, which amplifies his experience. With family ties & homes in Australia, Finland & Germany, he is proudly serving & guiding male & female leaders via shared knowledge & passion.





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