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2 Jul 2012

Education Bias (Pt 2): “Do You Understand?” & Information

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Education Bias

Problems With Asking, "Do You Understand?"Whenever we conclude (and expect someone to change a behavior) by asking, “Do you understand?” we are exhibiting an education bias:

The belief we can change people’s behaviors through more education.

Another symptom of education bias is that more information will make a difference, especially if it’s currently unknown. However, as Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman, managing directors at Corporate Executive Board, wrote in their article, “To Keep Your Customers, Keep It Simple” (Harvard Business Review, May 2012 edition):

The marketer’s goal is to help customers feel confident about their choice. Just providing more information doesn’t help.

In other words, we need to tap into the feeling side of an interaction, not just the thinking side. While this seems intuitive, we often sacrifice it for beliefs such as “knowledge is power” which is just a reinforcement of the idea that more information is better (i.e. more knowledge means more power). In reality, it’s how we process and implement knowledge that generates power.

Moreover, as the articles “Too Much Information” (The Economist, July 2, 2011 edition) and “You Choose – The Tyranny of Choice” (The Economist, December 18, 2010 edition) discuss: at some point more information makes us powerless. This is why Tony Hey in his article, “The Big Idea: The Next Scientific Revolution” (Harvard Business Review, November 2010 edition ), goes even further to declare the processing of information the next scientific revolution.

We can offset our education bias by remembering the two aspects of interpersonal relationships. It’s not just about “Do you understand?” or more information (thinking aspect [red]), but how people feel about their decisions or changes (feeling aspect [blue]). Change is primarily about tapping into the feeling, emotional and intuitive (blue) aspects of people and not the aspects promoted by an education bias (red).



Series Navigation<< Problems With Asking “Do You Understand?”Education Bias (Pt 3): Leadership Over Knowledge >>

2 Responses

  1. Two thoughts:
    (1) When we ask “Do you understand?” after a lesson, it is unlikely that we’ll learn much. Most will say yes to minimize further involvement, especially if they don’t understand. If we want to really know, ask good questions about the material or have each student do a one-minute paper.

    (2) Don’t provide more information than necessary to define the assignment (core information) and even that should probably be developed interactively with the students. Then have the students determine what additional information is needed, find that information, understand it, assess it, and use it! I always remember and remind students of a quote from Albert Einstein: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

    1. Mike Lehr

      You provide a good addition to the understanding of this question, John. My intention was to show how often we use it in reprimands or in securing supportive action. The implied assumption behind the question in this context is that I’ve supplied the missing information that you lacked so now that you have all the facts you must agree this is the right course of action (if you understand you must agree). Nonetheless, your thoughts also indicate that not only will a positive answer minimize further involvement but it will minimize potential disagreement and conflict from a negative response.

      I like your second thought. It encourages engagement which is a form of doing. People learn more by doing than by simply listening.

      In regards to Einstein’s quote, let’s remember it concerns concepts, not application of those concepts. Conceptually, we can easily explain a rocket launch; however, it’s not so easy explaining all the steps and details necessary to make a successful one. Too often I’ve seen this quote used to justify simple, mediocre solutions versus complex, effective ones.

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