Blinded by Your Curse of Knowledge?

Top advisors in professional and financial services must own their knowledge on complex subjects. Or be swept away by a smarter competitor. Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours of experience in a given field to produce an expert.

Let’s say you’ve mastered accounting, banking, business management, insurance law, or real estate, now you specialized in niche. Add to this, your extensive product knowledge. This “Curse of Knowledge,” a concept created by Chip and Dan Heath in Made to Stick, can become outright fatal when selling to prospects.

Blank Stares

Every professional in the services business occasionally feels the chill of blank stares around the conference table. You completely and clearly explained your concept. You presented your subject matter well. But did everyone get it? If you left even one behind who didn’t see your pearls of wisdom rolling across the table, you jeopardize the sale.

I’ve been there, despite pride in my ability to explain a complex subject in simple language. My passion for my products and services, and knowledge of my field, often caused me to speak fast. I assumed prospects understood. Not so. Later, I learned the valuable lesson of how to effectively use my knowledge.

Those blank stares means prospects feel lost in the jargon, schemes, or abstractions embedded in complexity. The prospect shuts down, thinking the subject is just too complicated.

In grade school, remember the struggle to understand basic chemistry. Were you the only one who didn’t get it? In embarrassment you stare out the window with crossed fingers that the teacher won’t call on you. So it is with prospects. Watch as you explain nonqualified deferred comps plans, the IRS interpretation of a recent audit, or the case law on 1035 exchanges.

Art of Explanation

Lee Lefever in his book The Art of Explanation coaches readers to focus on few key elements. Begin with agreement on key issues, and then move to context, the ever-important big picture. Our enthusiasm and self-confidence in our own knowledge lands us smack dab in the sticky weeds of detail before we’ve observed the landscape. First, set the foundation.

When you begin with agreement, you build prospect confidence. When you make a big picture statement that relates to most people, you build prospect confidence. For instance, you could say, “We all know taxes are going up, but why pay more of your hard-earned income to the government?”

You’ve created context to move the points agreed upon to a specific place. The audience feels open to receive your “knowledge” once a foundation is laid for the explanation about to be made. With this approach, you’ve let the good people around the conference table know why your ideas and words will matter to them.

Tell a Story

Lefever next recommends following agreement and context with a story. Storytelling pumps the heart of human understanding. Stories weave the big ideas into a narrative, creating an experience. When well-told, stories create a change in perspective under the powerful influence of emotions accompanying change. “Recently, we helped a new client who was so tired of paying additional taxes, he vocalized outrage. We knew alternatives. Here’s how the situation unfolded . . .”

Next we need connections. Connections in a story or narrative are made by sharing information through analogies and metaphors. You connect new ideas to something people already understand that sits on an existing rung on their mental ladder.

“Our client could see that deferring a portion of his compensation in a nonqualified plan, which worked like his 401(k) plan, would allow him to defer dollars until a later date when he’d fall into a much lower tax bracket.” He already knew how his 401(k) worked, so the new knowledge became fused with his familiar knowledge.

Why to How

The next step in Lefever process: Move to descriptions. Descriptions are direct, illustrative examples that focus on how versus why. Until this point, we built the why, now it’s time to lay out details, specifics, items that fill in the framework. For example, “With his new nonqualified plan, our client deferred an unlimited amount of his compensation, which reduced his current taxes, and freed him to fund college for his youngest son.”

Guided by the sequenced structure above, you’re ready to share a conclusion. Wrap-up the package with a concise summary of what was learned. Then, provide a next step for prospect action. “No longer will you feel the burn of higher taxes. Remember, now you can defer an unlimited amount of your compensation, and educate your youngest son. Let’s meet with your CPA, gather the necessary financials, and we’ll everything in place by next week.”

Please think these elements as stepping stones in an explanatory processagreement-context-story-connections-descriptions-conclusionwith each step moving the good people around the conference table from little knowledge (the why) to more knowledge (the how).

In this high-octane age of always-on-always-connected, your prospects may already suffer from infomania, numbed minds, and a zealous thirst for Red Bull. Resist inflicting the curse of your knowledge on their overworked brains. Make their day. Structure. Explain. Simplify.

See you on the upside,

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