The knowledge gap (or, how to deal with difficult people)


What we actually know is often a lot different from what we think we know.

If you want the limits of your actual knowledge tested, try to explain the mechanics of gravity pain, or fire to a curious 5 year old. You’ll quickly realise just how little you can take back to first principals because of large gaps in your knowledge.

Or maybe that’s just my weak spot.

(BTW – If you’re a physicist who just read that list and said “pfffff, those are easy to explain”, try doing the same with love, death and happiness :-))

Using this ignorance is the basis for the Feynman Technique for learning something.

Conversely, we have a lot of knowledge store up that we’re not aware of and don’t have ready access to – which seems a shame since it can often help us out.

A great example of this is in the best way to deal with difficult people.

Having unavoidable encounters with people who wind us up and get our goat is one of the more unpleasant realities of life.

It can feel like we don’t know how to work with these people in a productive and considered way, but that’s often not the case.

We’re often acutely aware of all the ways in which we find the other person painful to deal with. It’s just that we haven’t stored that information in a format which is useful to us or which we can action easily.

If you want to have a better relationship with a difficult person, then write a 10 bullet point guide for someone else on how to deal with them. The pithier and more “Buzzfeed” your list, the better.

“Have a productive encounter with X using these 10 simple tricks”

Like explaining gravity to a child, it will force you to go back to first principles with respect to the behaviour which you find difficult. Once you have isolated the behaviour, it’s easy to think creatively about the best ways to mitigate it.

For example:

If their own disorganisation means that they get stressed over time pressure, then one of your tips might be to always be early with delivery or appointments. Or, if you’re going to be late, give plenty of warning and suggest an alternate plan which they can easily agree to.

In both cases, it’s the externalisation of our knowledge which helps us to see the gap between what we think we know and what we actually know.

So if you’re going into a tricky situation, try to write down just what exactly what you know. It will give you a good idea of the gap between what you think you know and what you actually know. But more importantly, it will let you know if your knowledge is in credit or debit.