Underestimating what others do

Walking home the other day I passed two women deep in discussion and caught part of their conversation. One woman said “once she explained it, it was just common sense really”. 

It got me thinking. Aside from the cliché that common sense is apparently not very common, I was struck by something that has bothered me professionally for years. 

A large portion of what I do at work is explain things: I make complicated stuff easy to understand. The problem with this is that once people understand the thing that was previously opaque, they no longer perceive its complexity. Nor do they recognise that the reason they now understand it is not because they suddenly just “got it” in a flash of self-generated insight, but because someone else worked hard to make it clear to them. 

It’s a peculiar bit of mind warping that goes on inside our heads at this moment of understanding. We congratulate ourselves on our cleverness at understanding and attribute it to our own brilliance. We completely overlook the person who has led us unobtrusively along the path to insight. 

Next time someone explains something to you and it seems really clear and straightforward, instead of congratulating yourself on your ability to grasp complex concepts quickly, congratulate them on their skill in communicating complex concepts simply. 

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