Why didn't you know that?

How am I to know what you know?

I’ve had a few conversations recently along the lines of:

Someone else: “How do we do…”

Me: “Well that’s obvious…”

Someone else: “How did you know that?”

Me: “Doesn’t everyone know that?”

Someone else: “No, why didn’t you tell me?”

Me: I would have done if I’d known that you didn’t know…”

This is normally followed by a bit of embarrassment on both sides. I’m embarrassed because I made a false assumption about someone and made them feel dumb. They’re embarrassed because they aren’t sure whether they should have known and feel a bit dim. British people aren’t very comfortable with embarrassment.

This has always struck me as one of life’s great mysteries. How am I supposed to know what you know, and what you don’t know?

We spend hours and hours in meetings making sure that everyone is at the same level of understand. We endlessly recap which, by definition, is a waste of time for someone in the meeting and often for many people in the meeting.

If we assume that everyone knows we end up with a situation near the end of the meeting where it turns out that someone didn’t understand, but didn’t speak up to say they didn’t understand.

Knowing what the other person knows is essential to good communication, but how do we do achieve that?

I have no answers, as far as I am concerned it is a great mystery.

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