The Four Barriers to Connection – The Double Curse of Knowledge


By Tasha M. Troy

John Maxwell says that “connecting is the ability to identify with people and relate to them in a way that increases your influence with them.”IMG_7296

If this is the case, it really makes sense for us to learn how to connect better in order to have greater influence with the people around us. Today I’m wrapping up a short series on the four barriers to connection.


The Barrier:

The fourth and final barrier is called the double curse of knowledge. Barrier number three was about when you are wrong; barrier number four is about when you are right.

Many times we are so familiar with our topic that everything seems obvious to us, but to people less familiar, there might be large gaps of understanding when we try to explain our ideas or our position.

In the book Real Influence, authors Mark Goulston and John Ullmen describe this barrier as “it isn’t just about them not getting you. It’s also about you not getting them” (p. 31).

They say “the best influencers… understand that the double curse of knowledge is in play in all of their interactions. These people realize that it’s all too easy to overestimate their own clarity when they’re communicating, and they are aware that they’re not always getting the full message when other people are trying to get through. It’s this knowledge that saves them from appearing arrogant and condescending when people just don’t get it.”

A Personal Story:

A few years ago, had a student who was extremely resistant to feedback, or even doing the assignments as they were assigned. For six months, the faculty struggled to connect with the student and to convince him to cooperate by doing the assignments as required.

Finally, during the last couple months of the program, I had him as my student in a writing class. Each week he was required to submit a short assignment on a specific topic, but week after week he submitted something completely different.

Finally it got to the point where he was in danger of failing not only my class but the entire eight month program.  I sat down with him to convince him to complete his assignments so that he could pass the class.  During our conversation, it came out that he was trying to prepare an article for publication, and he would really rather have feedback and editing on that particular article rather than on the assignments that he was required to complete.

Once I understood his perspective, what his priorities were, I was able to propose a solution that he found acceptable. After our meeting, he completed all of his assignments as expected and was able to complete the program successfully.

The Solution:

The solution to the double curse of knowledge is to keep aware of your audience, to do comprehension checks regularly, and to not make assumptions about their background knowledge.

In his book Everyone Communicates Few Connect, John Maxwell describes five connecting principles and five connecting practices.   One of the connecting practices is that connectors do the difficult work of keeping it simple. John Maxwell gives five ways connectors can do this:

  • Talk to people, not above them
  • Get to the point
  • Say it over and over and over and over again
  • Say it clearLy
  • Say less

By using these five strategies, you can be more certain that your audience, whether it’s one person or many, is getting the message you intend to convey. In fact, I would venture that the larger your audience, the more important each of the strategies becomes.


Take It Deeper

If you would like to go deeper on this topic, I hold free exploratory coaching sessions on Fridays.  You can register online at Troy Communications or email me to schedule an appointment at TMTroy@TroyCommunications.Net



“The Four Traps that Disconnect You” from Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen.  Read my review of Real Influence

The first barrier: The Fight or Flight Response

The second barrier: The Habit Handicap

The third barrier: Error Blindness



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