Darryl Stewart
By Darryl Stewart

Knowledge is not understanding

If you have managed people for any length of time then you have probably encountered the situation where you clearly explained to someone how to do something, yet it does not get done the way you expected.

Personally, I have heard the refrains “knowledge is not understanding” and “communication is not training” yet never understood exactly what was meant by this until I came across this video on YouTube showing what happens when you reverse the function of the handlebars on a bike.  You can explain to someone how to ride the modified bike all you want and you can listen to the assurances of people who say they will do it easily, but without months of practice, everyone fails.

It turns out that if the task is even remotely complicated, we are better off seeking confirmation through demonstration and/or “testing” our staff’s understanding through open ended questions as opposed to simply explaining. If we do this, we are much more likely to get the results we desire the first time. Here are some examples of the kind of open ended statements I’m talking about:

  • Show me how you will do this.
  • What do you do if this happens?
  • Show me an outline of that report before you spend too much time on it so I can be sure we are clear okay?

Linton Sellen covers this topic in his 7 day leadership course.  In that course, Linton makes the point that this type of questioning can be offensive to some.  He goes on to say that we can make people more open to our “prying” by using one of two tactics:

  1. Explaining what Linton calls “confirmation” to your staff

“Don’t take this personally.  I have come to understand over the years that the best way to make sure we get this done right is for me to spend some time making sure we are on the same page up-front, rather than after the fact. Confirmation is part of the training here.”

  1. Move the focus onto yourself

“I am being so anal about this because I want to make sure that I have communicated everything to you, please don’t take this personally.  I want you to succeed.”