The curse of knowledge is a hindsight bias, likened to an intellectual form of monolingualism. By using insider colloquialism, an orator is perceived as insensitively obtuse and alienating towards their audience.

Well, that’s that! Good job, me! Hope you learned a lot and have a great day!

Oh, was I not making sense? Sorry… Sometimes when we’re overly comfortable with the meaning of something, it’s easy to forget who we’re speaking to. In that first paragraph above, would you say that I’m speaking to you, or just speaking to myself?

Coincidentally, I see agents doing the same thing all the time – assuming their prospective customers know everything that they know about the real estate market, how the process works, etc.

In marketing, there’s a phrase known as the “curse of knowledge.” This is the unconscious assumption that because we know something, other people must know it too. This can lead to major issues in your:

  • Marketing
  • Client communication
  • Listing presentations
  • Buyer offers

Considering that lack of communication is the #1 complaint people have when working with a real estate agent, it’s important that we take a look at some symptoms of the curse, how it relates to you, and what exactly you can do to break it.


A Study of the Curse

In 1990, a Stanford graduate student named Elizabeth Newton conducted an experiment consisting of 120 “tappers” and “listeners.” The tappers would use a pencil to tap out a song on a desk (something common like “Happy Birthday” or “Row Your Boat”) and the listener would attempt to guess the song.

The tappers, thinking they were doing a great job, assumed they would get about a 50% guess rate. It was more like one in forty. To the listeners, the tapping just sounded like tapping, but once they were told what the song was, the answer seemed to have been obvious.

Once we hear something, we can’t unhear it. So, ask yourself, are there ever times when you might be tapping nonsense to a lead or a client, when what you should really be doing is clearly explaining?


Symptoms of the Curse

There are three main symptoms of the Curse of Knowledge: Jargon, non-explainers, and complex language.

Jargon is when you use shorthand or terms which people outside of the real estate business aren’t familiar with. You and I know what “home equity” is. We say it all the time. But we forget that many people would call this “the difference between the value and the money owed.”

Abbreviations are also dangerous here. When you’re talking about posting someone’s home on the MLS, they might have no idea what that is and why they’re paying you a commission to do that for them.

Non-explainers are responses to questions that aren’t exactly answers. I see people do this all the time without realizing it. If a buyer asks, “How do you get paid?” and your response is, “I negotiate the deal and then take a commission,” that’s not an answer. You failed to explain what exactly it is you do, who is paying you, and when during this process you’ll be expecting money.

These kinds of non-responses contribute to confusion and doubt. By letting the buyer know that in most situations they won’t even be footing the bill, you increase the odds of them working with you.

Complex language is not always using big words or dense phrasing. Sometimes, complex language is simply language that doesn’t convey your point. What if I was trying to attract views to this article by going with a bolder title, such as, The Curse of Real Estate?

Is it a much more intense title? Yeah… It’s also off-putting and extremely unclear. Am I saying that real estate is cursed? Not only is that a bad look, but it’s also something which could hurt my brand.

Avoiding complex language is essential to being an effective knowledge broker, especially in your online marketing. One of the best ways to attract new clients is through informational videos, but if your videos are long and complicated, they’re actually doing you more damage than good.


How Can We Improve?

In their marketing book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, brothers Chip and Dan Heath discuss overcoming the curse of knowledge using their 6 Principles of Sticky Ideas, using the acronym SUCCESs.

  • Simplicity
  • Unexpectedness
  • Concreteness
  • Credibility
  • Emotions
  • Stories

These six principles are not a step-by-step process. Each one blends into the others and overlaps. If you’re telling a story, the best way to make it emotional is by giving unexpected twists. An example of this would be case studies, some of which carry concrete statistics so surprising they could fill your potential clients with hope or excitement.

When it comes to being simple, it’s important to strike a balance. Just because your audience doesn’t work in real estate and know the information you do, doesn’t mean they’re not intelligent. Keep it basic but also thorough. Keep your videos short, sweet, and focused on one concrete point.

Note that simple doesn’t mean boring. Have you ever been listening to a speaker who was giving great information, but you found yourself struggling to pay attention? If no one hears what you’re saying, it doesn’t matter how well you said it.

Being unexpected takes a dose of personality. People want to work with someone because they trust them. So, your credibility come not only from what you know, but who you are. Tell some stories about yourself. For a great example of this, check out my interview with Marc Hernandez.


Commit to Better Communication

I hope that this has helped give you some perspective. Keep in mind that knowledge is only a curse when we’re unaware of how we’re using it. When we stay conscious of the way we communicate, knowledge is one of the greatest gifts we can offer.