Tea Bog Beet Knee [The Curse Of Knowledge]


In the process of learning Spanish, I’ve had a lot of thoughts regarding the nature of communication. When we are communicating, we know what we are trying to say and so whatever we say sounds completely unambiguous. The “Made To Stick” authors talk about this concept as “The Curse Of Knowledge” and it’s extremely present in learning a new language. Sometimes, I will say the same word with slightly different vowel sounds to my teacher until I see her face finally go from a scowl of incomprehension to a look of enlightenment. The whole time, I know exactly what I’m trying to say and it makes perfect sense to me.

The same thing can happen to us when we are trying to explain something to our customers or our colleagues.  It makes perfect sense to us, but not to the person you are trying to communicate with.

If a child walked up to you and said, “Tea Bog Beet Knee”. You might look at him perplexed, or take the expression I have become very experienced at using – smile and nod. The words all sound remarkably close to the meaning but not quite right. You can even add the correct pronunciation to some of the words without adding much value: “The Bog Beet Me”. Still it’s not easy to understand.

Perhaps if you saw teeth marks on the child’s arm, and saw a dog running down the street you might put together that he was saying “the dog bit me”. But before that, as you are smiling and nodding, the child is likely to say the same sentence with greater earnestness, slower, and louder. None of which actually help in the comprehension.

Yet how often do we take the same approach and get frustrated when we get looks of confusion from the people we are trying to explain ourselves to? This problem is one of the main sources of miscommunication that we have has people. The speaker already knows all about what he is trying to say. There are no ambiguous pronouns in his sentences and there is only a single connotation in all of his words. When the listener doesn’t understand, saying the same phrase more emphatically doesn’t work.

All of us as communicators should remember that the mere fact we are expressing something verbally to our audience means they don’t know what we want them to know and as such, we would do well to remember it is our responsibility to communicate with them. Not their responsibility to guess what we are thinking. Remember, as the speaker, you are cursed with knowledge, and this is the first obstacle you have to overcome.







4 responses to “Tea Bog Beet Knee [The Curse Of Knowledge]”

  1. […] have with our customers, our colleagues, our friends, and our family. This is a close pair to the Curse Of Knowledge problem and one which we must consider.  Others are not us and do not see the world as we do. […]

  2. […] “Create fame and lay down to sleep”. After about 30 minutes of Tea Bog Beet Knee explanations, I finally understood the use of this expression in Spanish and will hopefully be more […]

  3. […] response to my post on Tea Bog Beet Knee, Matthew Ritzman, a friend of mine who I met while he was president of our Toastmaster club, wrote […]

  4. Daniel Cox Avatar

    While in Bangkok, Thailand last year, all of the locals were telling us we had to go to “The Fourteen Market.” Everyone was saying “best place, fourteen market.” Finally as the longboat we had ridden throught the canals and rivers was approaching the place everyone had told us to visit for the best and most authentic food, it dawned on me… we were going to Bangkok’s famous “floating market.”

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