HR often gets accused of “HR speak” or using jargon to talk to employees and subsequently failing to get our idea across or make our point. Well here are two steps to improving communication with employees and managers.
The Curse of Knowledge
A blog post called “Give Better Directions by Forgetting That you know Them” pointed out that the reason people give bad directions is that they know how to get some place and subsequently give the directions assuming the person receiving them has the same knowledge the giver does. Thus we explain how we would get there and not how they should get there. This called the Curse of Knowledge. It is tough to set aside what you know. If you have ever had someone try to fix your computer problem by “talking you through it” you understand what I am talking about.
Well the same thing Curse of Knowledge applies in HR. We explain a policy, a benefit, a decision or we write a memo or policy, using the language we know. We assume the reader or listener has our same knowledge basis. By the way this is probably not a conscious decision, we just do it. So if people cannot follow directions what makes us think they can follow the new benefit program we just explained to them?
Theory of Mind
The blog writer Joshua Rivera says that the best way to counteract the Curse of Knowledge is to develop your “Theory of Mind”, which means you put yourself in another’s cognitive shoes. (Actually that sentence seems to demonstrate the entire concept of Curse of Knowledge with the use of “cognitive shoes.”) What “Theory of Mind” means is to see what you are trying to explain from the other person’s point of view. Don’t assume they have the same knowledge base as you do. Ask the question “How would I want this explained to me if I knew nothing about this subject?”
As Rivera says “…when writing … simply to force yourself to check every term to see if it is jargon” or “..tell people what they can ignore, as well as what they need to know.”
Seeing the world through your audience’s eyes will go a long way to improving your message to them.
By the way I am not saying that it is necessary to get rid of all jargon. It all depends on your audience. HR jargon is a short cut in language if it is appropriate to your audience. If I am talking to an audience of HR managers I am comfortable in using HR specific terms for they understand those terms. If I am talking to a general audience then that understanding may be missing and subsequently my message may be missed as well.
So think of that audience. Sit in their chair and listen to what you have to say. You may change your message.