It Doesn’t Matter What You Know

How smart are you? How much do you know? How well do you write? How well do you speak?

None of it matters.

What matters is how well your message is understood by others. In other words, your success depends not on you—but on those with whom you hope to communicate.

Effective communication is more than just what you have to say or how you say it. Communication consists of a dialogue between two (or more) people. Notice that the word communication begins with the prefix “co”, which means together, or two. If you are hoping to have your message received and understood, then you must find a way to involve your listener (or reader). In face-to-face communication, you can adjust your delivery based on the continuous feedback you may receive from a variety of non-verbal cues—such as someone looking at his watch or another fiddling with her car keys. But, you may ask, isn’t written communication different? Once you commit something to paper, how can you get feedback? How can you adjust your presentation to account for someone who is rushed or unsophisticated?

While your success depends on other people, there are several key ideas that can help you become a more effective communicator.


Do you know anyone who is an especially good communicator? A doctor? A sibling? Chances are that that person is also a very good listener. By listening first, they are able to learn what it is that you need to hear—perhaps recognizing what you don’t even know yourself. How can a doctor write a prescription without first making a diagnosis? How can the mathematician answer a problem if she doesn’t first know what the problem is? How can David Tidmarsh—the 2004 National Spelling Bee champion—spell a word without first listening to know what he needs to spell?

The more complicated the situation, the more crucial the listening becomes.


Listening is a good place to begin, but listening without understanding is like going to see a foreign film without subtitles. You are present for all of the action, but you may not understand anything. So the prerequisite for listening is to be able to understand what is going to be said. If I ask you the same questions that your doctor would ask you, I wouldn’t understand the significance of your answers. Hasn’t that happened to you before? Your doctor’s nurse asks you some questions, and when the doctor comes in the room, he asks the very same questions. But, because of his knowledge and experience, the same answers to the same questions have a different meaning to him than they did to his nurse. You cannot listen effectively without the ability to understand.


Okay. So how do I understand? Now we are getting close. Understanding arises from learning, and we learn when we are curious. In the context of effective communication, it means that you must never stop learning about your area of expertise—so that you have something of value to say—and you must never stop learning about those whom you desire to communicate with—so that you can understand what they need and want. When you are writing, you understand your audience by learning about them.

And Underneath It All…

Believe it or not, fundamental to all of these is humility. Not the false humility of being submissive or meek—but true humility, which allows you to focus on those around you rather than yourself. Otherwise, what good does it do if you hear someone else’s concerns but you dismiss them because you don’t share their fears? How can you understand another if your thoughts are focused on yourself? How can you learn if your lack of humility tells you that the way you already do things is the right way for everyone?

When humility is at the core of how you approach people and problems, when you are ready to say something—because you have listened and learned—you will have confidence in the appropriateness of what you have to say.

What Matters

To communicate effectively, your understanding is more important than your expertise. To understand requires humility and curiosity. If you want to be an effective communicator, work on developing an interest in other people and other areas of professional interest. You will find that as you grow in your ability to listen and understand others, you will be understood more. You will be a more effective communicator.



It Doesn’t Matter What You Know

Income Investor Perspectives

Exploring ideas of interest to the income investor

December 18, 2014

©2004, 2014 Patrick F. Luby. All rights reserved. Used with permission.