You know what happens when you assume ...

Jul 01, 2007

When two people are knowledgeable in the same field, misunderstandings arise if one assumes the other already knows something, according to a University of Chicago study. Sound like a familiar problem? Doctors are common offenders—they often communicate hurriedly with each other and create confusion when they assume colleagues already know about new treatments or recently discovered illnesses.

In the study, paired participants had either a low level or a high level of shared knowledge, and they were asked to get their partners to identify unusual shapes. Those who had studied the shapes together beforehand were more likely to cause confusion by simply naming the shapes, making their partners twice as likely to ask for clarification. Those with less shared knowledge took time to describe the shapes.

So, the next time you're talking to a colleague—or even your spouse—remember the dangers of short, ambiguous communication. Make sure your listener understands any potentially unfamiliar concepts or language—even if it takes just a little longer.