When your entire knowledge gets judged because you didn’t know that one random fact

Let's say you know a lot about a topic.

Suddenly a piece of trivia about that topic comes up in conversation.

It's something you don't know.

People see this, and they assume you know nothing about the entire topic just because you didn't know that one random fact.

Frustrating, right?

It can also go the other way. You might hear someone mention a buzzword and assume they have a vast pool of knowledge, when the truth might be that they read a paragraph on Wikipedia yesterday.

So why does this happen?

It happens because the brain likes shortcuts, so it's easy to assume the part you see represents the whole story.

Now why would this matter to you?

It matters because this pattern of assumptions can have consequences that go far beyond looking silly in some random conversation.

There are two types of situations where the effects can be particularly bad:

  1. When you're learning
  2. When you're in an interview or other important meeting

Let's look at both of those.

Problem 1: Assumptions can wreck you when you're learning

When people confidently throw around the latest buzzwords, you might see that surface and assume these people have vast pools of knowledge about the subjects. Often this is not the case. Since you have no way of knowing that, it's easy to feel like you have to know everything about every buzzword before you can get started. This discourages a lot of people from learning JavaScript. It can also lead to impostor syndrome.

What to do:

First, remember that everyone knows different amounts about different things, and it's impossible to know everything.

Don't let a fear of looking foolish stop you from asking questions. In fact, the smartest people aren't afraid to ask the "stupid" questions.

Also, when you hear people throwing around buzzwords, don't assume you need the entire combined knowledge of all of them just to get started. Instead, take it a step at a time, and focus on learning what makes sense for your goals.

Problem 2: Assumptions can mislabel you in an interview or other important meeting

Miss one small thing or phrase something in a way you didn't mean, and your audience might assume you know nothing.

To use an embarrassing personal example, I once phrased a question in a way that made a hiring manager think I didn't know what jQuery was even though I had been using it for years.

What to do:

The good thing about these sorts of situations is that you generally have an idea of the topics you'll be discussing, so you have time to prepare. The best thing to do is to prepare some talking points that will show your best skills in a way that ties them into what's relevant to your audience.

Key takeaways

It's natural to assume things about other people's knowledge and how it relates to your own. The important things to remember are:

  • Don't get discouraged from learning.
  • Keep asking questions.
  • When there's something important like an interview, prepare a baseline of topics to cover so your audience will at least get an accurate, positive overview of what you know and how it's relevant to them.

I hope this has been helpful!