Do you know what two-letter word has a profound impact on what we know and what we think we know?

Consider this common situation: information is presented. Maybe the words are familiar. Perhaps the concept feels comfortable. Somewhere, it rings a bell.

Familiarity is a good thing, except when it’s not.

When asked if the information is known, the typical response is a nod of the head and a casual, “I know it.”

Yet when the person who just claimed to “know it” is asked (politely, of course) to explain the information to someone else, they stumble. They bumble. They generally get it wrong.

The reason is two letters: “of”

It’s the difference between: I know it and I know of it.

The reality is that much of what we claim to know, we only know of. We’ve allowed a brief exposure to information, concepts, and ideas to suffice for knowledge.

Why the difference between what we know, and what we know of

An old marketing adage explained it took 3-6 connections with an individual to form a positive impression. True a decade ago, today the number of connections is measured to be 25 or more ‘touches’!

When surrounded by a crushing volume of information, much of it seems familiar. And often, it is familiar. People keep crafting and pitching messages in an attempt to make the right connection at the right time.

The situation is compounded by the current desire for immediate action, quick fixes, and rapid results.

This hurried pace means most of us are living in a “first draft world.” Where crafting the right message is more important than dialog (hint: it’s not). And those sound bytes and headlines form impressions that make it easy to confuse awareness with understanding.

Some of this also stems from a combination of factors:

  • We harbor an innate desire to be right based on experiences in school. Actually, we seek to “not be wrong.” For most, that translates to the need to know something, and to be right.
  • We don’t want to be left behind. Not knowing something when we sense we should suggests we’re not doing our jobs; it’s easier to nod and allow knowing of to be good enough. The more it happens, the easier it gets.
  • While rushing to “do more with less,” we lack the time (or fail to make the time) to absorb, process, distill, and act on information. It’s the difference between busy and productive people.

How to break the cycle and increase knowledge

It’s okay to not know something. It’s even okay to not know something everyone else claims to know, or something that seems simple.

Simple is seldom easy.

Realizing the difference between knowing and knowing of is a strong step in the right direction. Coupled with self-awareness, it allows recognition of initial response when information is presented.

Break the cycle with a simple habit: when presented with information, simply take a deep breath and process. Ask yourself if you could explain the idea to someone else. And if the explanation would be accurate and understandable. If so, then you likely know it. If not, then you know of  it. No shame either way.

It’s a process that takes a second or two. Yet it frees us from the trap of substituting awareness for knowledge. The more we practice, the easier it gets, too.

The admission opens us up to the opportunity to engage and learn. To move a concept from familiar to known. By inviting a constructive dialog, it allows someone else to share what they know. To teach you. As a result, both come away with a better, deeper, and mutual understanding.

The next time someone shares information, before nodding your head, consider if you know it, or you know of it. The right answer makes a world of difference.

About the Author Michael Santarcangelo

The founder of Security Catalyst, Michael develops exceptional leaders and powerful communicators with the security mindset for success.

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