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  • John Macedo


Updated: Aug 14

For Construction Foreman and Project Managers, figuring out if they're terrible teachers or simply have bad labourers can be frustrating.

I an experiment made in 1990 by a Stanford University graduate student, by the name of Elizabeth Newton. She illustrated the curse of knowledge in the results of a simple task. She took a number of subjects and split them into two groups. She asked the first one to “tap” out well-known songs with their fingers, such as “happy birthday”. The purpose of the second group was to try and name the melodies.

When the “tappers” were asked to predict how many of the “tapped” songs would be recognised by listeners, they would estimate the success ration in 50%. The curse of knowledge is demonstrated here as the “tappers” are so familiar with what they were tapping they could practically hear the melody, which caused them to assume that the listeners would easily recognise the tune. Furthermore, it was actually frustrating to them not having the listener’s understanding. The actual success rate in recognising the songs where 2.5% - one time in 40, not one in 2.


“The “curse of knowledge” is a natural mental bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have a common understanding background.”

In other words: if you are TEACHING or PASSING INSTRUCTIONS you’re CURSED.

For instance, in a construction setting, a tradesman may have some difficulties and getting frustrated when teaching his labourers about their jobs as they can hardly put themselves in the position of their apprentice – this is a perfect example of how the "curse of knowledge" may play out in our everyday lives.

If a Project Manager or a Construction Foreman is constantly having trouble getting the ideas across with the Construction Labourers, maybe they're having trouble working around their own "curse".

Hey, Just hold on a sec! Spades is a Labour Hire company and we are not trying to cover our ass by saying that the communication is the client's problem. We do the best we can training our construction workers to avoid this sort of problem on site - AND - we believe every labour hire company should do the same.

OK... Let's carry on:

A brilliant carpenter might no longer remember the difficulties that a young apprentice encounters when learning a new task.

When you’re dealing with workers on site, the “curse of knowledge” is present in the mistake of explaining a task in the way that you would understand instead of how workers would understand.

So NO. your labourers are not dumb.

When passing instructions (to a construction worker or to anyone else), you need to be aware that you will always be in the position of “curse by the knowledge” of what you’re trying to achieve.

It is very important that you acknowledge your “curse” and go with your workers back and forth as many times it’s necessary to make sure nothing is left out or just assumed understood.

A suggestion is asking the following questions:

· Are you OK to do this?
· Can you explain it back with your own words?
· Do you need anything else?

Let your workers explain to you not what you said, but what their head, and build on it. Keep adding information, resolving presumptions and aligning expectations until you make sure everyone is in the same page. It may be counter intuitive in the beginning, but will definitely save you time since you improve your chances to get everything done as you want in one go. Remember: "slow is smooth, smooth is fast" - learn what we're taking about by clicking here.

Also, one must never forget to keep the respect an manners throughout the process. Getting pissed or being rough is NEVER going to help you getting your ideas across. Learn more about it here


In the end, you should avoid working with assumptions. As the instructor and/or supervisor you experience the "curse of knowledge" every time that something is so familiar to you that sounds obvious.

However, to a student, that may be not so intuitive. The key here is to keep it simple and listen. Take your time every time you're instructing someone and break down terms and definitions. This way you make it easier for students to understand. And if things go wrong, make sure you can deliver a feedback in a constructive manner. Learn here.

Considering that you already know what you’re teaching, you can easily break it down to smaller understandable chunks.

You should also engage your appendices while you train them. I know this will be tough, especially when you’re dealing with a crowd, but it’s the best way to make them understand. Remember that every time you answer a question you may be clarifying the matter to multiple others.

By asking them questions and hearing their opinions, you know how much they have understood. This also helps you refine your approach. Do you want to learn more about how exactly to communicate with construction workers and avoid your curse? Click here.

Spades is a Labour Hire company based in Sydney. We are proud of offering skilled, competent workers for fair prices - while making the hiring process as easy as possible. Learn more about our company by clicking here.

Increase you workers productivity by improving a delegation method that never goes wrong. FREE ACCESS: Click here.

Or cut to the chase and sign up to work or for working with us using our app. Learn more about it here.

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Founder and Director.
I believe together we can create a "people first"

Australian Construction Industry 

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