Ever wonder why others tell you you’re awful at giving directions? It really isn’t your fault: psychology tells us that giving directions is actually pretty darn hard. Here’s how to fix that.
Photo by k.steudel.
As Tom Stafford over at BBC Future says, the reason for this lies in a psychological concept called the “Curse of Knowledge:” once you know something, like how to get to your house from the freeway, it becomes much more difficult to imagine how that looks to someone experiencing it for the first time.
The best way to counteract this is by developing what psychologists refer to as your “Theory of Mind”, which is simply the act of putting yourself in another’s cognitive shoes.
The good news is that your Theory of Mind isn’t completely automatic — you can use deliberate strategies to help you think about what other people know. A good one when writing is simply to force yourself to check every term to see if it is jargon–-something you’ve learnt the meaning of but not all your readers will know. Another strategy is to tell people what they can ignore, as well as what they need to know. This works well with directions (and results in instructions like “keep going until you see the red door. There’s a pink door, but that’s not it”).
Exercising your Theory of Mind is something you can regularly do in order to improve your ability to explain things like directions to others. Are there any other techniques that you use to make sure others don’t get lost when giving directions?
Why Is It So Hard to Give Good Directions? [BBC Future]