The Curse of “Common Knowledge”: Communicating for Clarity and Inclusivity

Yulan Lin

October 28 • 3:55 pm

Once we’ve learned something, we often forget what it was like to not know, and how hard it was to learn. This “curse of knowledge” can impact the way we interact with our colleagues and our mentees. For our colleagues we consider “technical,” if their experience doesn’t overlap with us, there are often things that we find second nature that they have never experienced. This can lead to frustration, miscommunication, and sometimes equating competence with knowing potentially obscure definitions.

Using “magical language” can harm our communication with teams who don’t write code or live in the same day-to-day environment that we do, leading to frustration and lost time. In addition, making assumptions about definitions and prior knowledge of everyone we interact with marginalizes those from underrepresented groups, because they’re more likely to have come through a “non-traditional” path, and have different expertise and gaps in their knowledge than what one might expect.

I’ll talk through “magic” things about code and programming that we often forget, and how it impacts those we interact with: whether it’s the colleagues on our team, partners in other organizations, or interns and mentees. I’ll present real-life stories from my own experience, and strategies I’ve used in the past to ensure that everyone is on the same page. I’ll also make fun of myself, and present ways that I’ve used to ask questions that intimidate me - questions I think I really should know the answer to.