Closing the gap between knowing and doing

Mind the gap. Respected and internationally known training and educational provider, Crucial Conversations says:

“When it matters the most, we often do our worst”.

When we face interpersonal communication challenges (or any challenge, really), The gap between knowing what to do, and actually putting that knowledge into action is often profound.

How many of us have experienced this before – where the knowing exceeds the doing? We’ve been taught the right way to communicate (read a book or been through a training session) that promises to bring our game to the next level… but we just can’t execute.

In stressful and important situations science research tells us our adrenaline gland fires, our cognitive processes weaken. Forget about it, brain?! You’re not making any of it easier.

In addition, we’re often not doing our brain any favors when the time gap between learning what to do and actually being able to put it into practice is sometimes arbitrary.

I believe just recognizing this gap exists can be the first step to closing it. Additional steps:

  1. A desire to close the gap – we have to go beyond knowing it’s there, we have to want to close it.
  2. The ability to practice “doing”, to flex our communication muscles to build habit and to practice while we learn through role plays, self-reflection and self-assessment.
  3. The confidence and leanings gained from that practice.

We can teach the “knowing” all we want, but I’d argue training needs to provide more applicable and relevant opportunities for doing to help us all close the gap.

Crucial Skills » Putting Skills into Action.

The Hard Science of Teamwork – Harvard Business Review

The Hard Science of Teamwork  – Harvard Business Review.

Fascinating research from Alex Pentland at MIT provides data on how to predict the productivity, performance and perhaps creativity of a team.

Luckily, if you find your team lacking in any of the below attributes, the “how” of communication can be highly trainable:

His data shows great teams:


  • Communicate frequently. In a typical project team a dozen or so communication exchanges per working hour may turn out to be optimum; but more or less than that and team performance can decline.
  • Talk and listen in equal measure, equally among members. Lower performing teams have dominant members, teams within teams, and members who talk or listen but don’t do both.
  • Engage in frequent informal communication. The best teams spend about half their time communicating outside of formal meetings or as “asides” during team meetings, and increasing opportunities for informal communication tends to increase team performance.
  • Explore for ideas and information outside the group. The best teams periodically connect with many different outside sources and bring what they learn back to the team.

Often teams fast forward to focus on what is communicated rather than how we communicate. This data (and others) suggest we need to spend more time and energy focusing on how we communicate (and learn to adjust our non-verbal communication skills) to develop the connection, collaboration and trust necessary to produce the “what” (product) that helps your business succeed.

Understanding the science behind buzz-worthy teams is the first step.