Never assume people know what you know

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There is that whole “assume” thing out there.

The problem is we assume we don’t know much in our work that would be useful to others. Yet, as we do our work and complete projects, we learn. Over time, that learning adds up to becoming an expert in your particular work area.

Yet, what we know we assume other people know. But, they don’t.

I’ve been working on the career stuff for so long and it is so second-nature to me that I often assume people know what I know.

I was in this meeting with my team and manager in my last gig. The discussion was about Gen Y and the specific issues working with them. Now, I’m no expert in Gen Y, but I’ve done enough reading on the subject because of my career focus to know that there is a different set of expectations from the Gen Y generation coming into the work force. Just like every generation.

Yet, in the meeting, my manager expressed some frustration — what was so different about these people that we need to think through this?

And I popped off five reasons right off the top of my head. Just like that. You could have heard a pin drop in the room. Six people staring at me with a “where did you come up with that?” sort of look.

I just thought everyone knew that Gen Y has different perspectives on work. Managers and team members need to be aware of those perspectives. But they didn’t know.

Don’t assume people know what you know. Sitting quietly in a meeting or a one-on-one and letting what you know pass everyone by means you will miss opportunities.

  • The “demonstrates” that skill is an important point. We readily assume people have a skill, but then don’t see that skill in action and wonder what is wrong. Nice comment.

  • Great post. I had a similar situation. Someone wanted me to talk about Gen Y to a group of small business owners/entrepreneurs. I got there and kind of whizzed through what I had to say; it was an informal breakfast and I was sure they knew everything. But they ended up being extremely interested, having so many questions and the feedback was that it was one of the best sessions they had. Go figure!

    • Pretty amazing, isn’t it? Of course, it is one thing to be perceived an expert going into some situation and talking about it and quite another when people don’t know you know stuff about the subject. That’s where more jaw-dropping happens.

  • Scott: Insightful notion. My research background has taught me that if a needed behavior (whether work skill, thinking skill, relational skill, etc.) is not being demonstrated by a person, then that person doesn’t know how and doesn’t have the needed skill. “Surely, he understands how to manage a project?” says a manager. Not if he hasn’t demonstrated that in the past. That seems to come as a shock to many people.

    The Hersey-Blanchard model of Situational Leadership that has been around for 25 to 30 years builds on the same notion. Assuming an employee knows what you know is a time-waster, so their model checks out the knowledge base.

    It intrigues me that people readily accept the H-B model, but when the same notion is applied to other situations, it seems to come as a shock.

    People readily attribute all kinds of skills to others without checking them out. Eventually we learn that it’s dangerous in business to attribute skills without checking them out–or to attribute more complex matters–such as strategic thinking, negotiating, or conflict management–without checking out a person’s real skill background for a given competency.

    There is some fascinating research that suggests that two hierarchical levels between people makes coaching more difficult. So if you want to learn something, find a mentor that isn’t too advanced. That’s counter-intuitive.

    I have to watch myself all the time in matters concerned with anothers knowledge. It’s way too easy to draw incorrect conclusions about another’s competencies.

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