The Curse Of Knowledge

Why the word "Dysfunctional" is detrimental to client success

“The Curse of Knowledge”

I pondered this phrase in-depth after hearing New York Times Best-selling author Donald Miller use it to describe why businesses often fail to get their marketing message across effectively. The phrase so accurately describes a common occurrence within the health & wellness industry.

Magical Wizard Illustration

Practitioners dedicate enormous time and energy towards mastering a specific area of expertise. This is of course a good thing. However, “the curse of knowledge” comes into effect when the practitioner fails to alter his or her “expert” linguistic dialog when interacting with clients. Take for example the word dysfunctional…

Why the word ‘Dysfunctional’
is detrimental to client success

When did the word dysfunctional become a part of the movement industry lexicon? Is it a product of heuristics at its finest, or is there more to it?

The reality is the word dysfunctional is used often by practitioners when describing undesirable movement patterns, and can also be found in numerous industry textbooks.

Traditional textbooks are often definitive, using black & white examples and analogies. For example, there is “ideal” movement and “dysfunctional” movement, which seems pretty straight forward and harmless. Nonetheless, in regards to movement – the phrase dysfunctional is insider language, not common vernacular. And that’s precisely where the “curse of knowledge” causes so much trouble.

While it may seem innocent enough, rest assured the word dysfunctional can manifest into enormous psychological and social stressors for clients. The term itself plays host to a smorgasbord of negative labels and dis-empowering interpretations, all of which are subject to the individuals’ perception.

By listing a handful of synonyms, we can observe the possible harmful labels clients’ may link to the word dysfunctional:

  • broken
  • debilitated
  • maladjusted
  • sick
  • wounded

An Updated, Language-Conscious Paradigm

How does one avoid the “curse of knowledge”? The practice is simple enough, but requires a high level of conscious competence when verbally communicating with clients. Using language clients’ can fully understand is paramount.

Imagine the variation of internal dialog if a client heard the phrase ‘age-related movement’ instead of ‘dysfunctional movement.’ Can substituting just one word really make that big of a difference? Ponder some of the positive (or at the very least neutral) associations that are synonymous with ‘age-related’ and you’ll have your answer:

  • common
  • habitual
  • typical
  • customary

With just one word or phrase slightly re-framed, we can literally alter the course of direction and assigned meaning a client may give towards his or her entire movement experience. Simply stated, to avoid the negative effects associated with the curse of  knowledge, we’ve got to begin speaking differently to our clients, explaining movement in safe & simple terms in language they fully comprehend.

Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.
William Butler Yeats


Written by:
Kevin Murray
Movement Masterminds – CEO
Function First – Education Director