Not everyone knows what you know
I'll admit this is something that has been kicking around in my head for... well... years, as something to write about but I've never really had a good place to put it. This is one of those things that I think applies to everyone who interacts with anyone else and is the cause of so much frustration in our lives.
You might think, "This is a question and answer site - this is an obvious thing that everyone knows. Why the heck are you mentioning it here?" - well... It's because I think that this is something that is obvious in some ways but not in others. While it might be obvious in the sense that if everyone knew everything, this network of sites wouldn't exist - it's less obvious in many, many ways.
Point of view failure
My kids have each done something that I think we don't always grow out of completely. Imagine a 2-year-old holding a photograph. He holds it up facing himself while you're across from him. You can only see the back of the photo. He queries, "What's this?". You can't answer the question because you can't see the image. He's assuming that you can see what he can see - that you have shared information.
We see this in question asking all of the time. Someone asks a question but doesn't give enough context for anyone to do more than guess at what the answer might be. The asker knows the situation they're in so well that they failed to set the stage so we can all share the experience and help them solve their problem. These questions often get closed for that very reason and, it can be somewhat understandable if the asker struggles to understand why their question isn't clear - it's clear to them - they don't understand what's missing.
At this point, I'll turn the example on its head because, well... if you've used any of these sites long enough, it becomes obvious to you what's needed to make a question clear so that others can answer it successfully. You know in a quick read-through what's missing and what needs to be added. Maybe you even think, "How can someone possibly think this is a good question?"
Two things need to happen here - the asker needs to think about the point of view of the people reading their question and realize that context is necessary, the readers need to help the asker understand what's needed to improve the question... and both parties need to do this without being cross with the other for not knowing what they know.
So while you - with a two-year-old - know that you can't see the image since it's facing away from you, the kid doesn't. You don't get angry at them for this - you find a way to see the image. You invite them to turn it around so that you can see it. You teach them that you can't see what they can. As we grow, we learn, "If I want someone to tell me about a photo, I need to show them the image", and so we do it reflexively. In this same way, people who successfully ask questions learn to ask them well - eventually.
Intuitive vs learned knowledge
One of my top sites is English Language Learners. It's a particularly interesting site because it's a place where I, as a native English speaker, have to be very thoughtful in answering questions. The thing is, while I can speak the language fluently, I don't necessarily understand English linguistically, so it can be easy to end up writing answers that boil down to, "I don't know, it just is.". But many English learners actually understand English better than I do. They can explain why we use seemingly synonymous words very differently, how sentence structure works, and how we order adjectives - things that I do naturally without any thought.
It's not uncommon to find yourself in a situation where you don't realize that you're relying on intuitive knowledge but it's important to realize that not everyone has your experiences and may not have that intuition. I use English grammatical structure as an example here because I think it's a relatively obvious one - if you've been saying "the big blue house" since childhood and have never thought about why we don't say "the blue big house" (assuming we're not talking about an azure prison) but people who are learning English as an adult may need the assistance of a list to tell them which order to put adjectives in so that they sound natural.
It's not uncommon to run into situations where someone keeps asking "OK, but why" - and those are likely times where we've assumed that someone had a similar intuitive knowledge pool - but they don't. We should take a moment to step back and think, "Is it possible that there's some knowledge I take for granted that someone else may not have?" and then endeavor to address that - often times, you'll eventually get to an, "Oh, I see what I was missing now!" - for both the asker and the answerer.
And, the thing is, these can be some of the most fascinating answers - ones that dig into those things that experts in something may have forgotten or never understood since they accepted facts without questioning them or digging for understanding.
Differences in expertise
As a (relatively) non-technical person who works daily on a network full of very technical people (both internally and externally), it's not uncommon that I have to ask people for more details. Someone may explain something to me and my response is often "I'm sure that made total sense but I only understood half the words you used." That doesn't mean I'm an idiot or that I'm incapable of understanding - it just means that I need a more basic explanation so that I can better understand it... and that's OK! It may take a bit more time but if you do it well, that person may learn something so that the next time, you don't have to simplify it quite so much.
Where this relates to the network and the platform is in answers, often. One thing that we're all aware of is that the content here is supposed to help people at a wide variety of skill levels. Another thing is the concept that an answer here isn't intended to only help the specific asker. As such, I encourage answerers to think about who is reading a post and consider that they may not have the same level of expertise. This doesn't mean you have to "dumb it down" but it does mean being aware of where you can either simplify what you write or link to resources to expand on concepts that may not be obvious to those who come later.
This is something I often have to remind myself about when I'm posting on Meta - particularly here on MSE. If a discussion is a reprisal of an older one or refers to situations from the past, I frequently will share links and I avoid phrases that may leave people feeling like they missed something important such as "as you likely remember". A great answer brings people along with them. If it's complex, having some help to get people up to speed who may not understand everything is important.
There are likely many more such cases that fall into this statement - I admit that it's broad - but I think the main thing that comes from this is a sense of grace ("courteous goodwill") for everyone involved.
When you recognize that not everyone knows what you know, you can take questions for more detail as exactly that - honest requests for more help and sharing of information - rather than interpreting them as someone doubting your explanation, which can leave you feeling defensive.
When you recognize that not everyone knows what you know, you can work to explain more in advance, which may save others the time of asking for more help and prevent the risk of point 1.
When you recognize that not everyone knows what you know, you can learn more yourself by taking the time to do point 2 rather than relying on intuitive knowledge.
I don't think there's a single group that couldn't benefit from this when interacting with any other group.
- As staff, we need to remember that the community members can't see discussions going on internally and don't know when something is in the works or on a backlog unless we make some sort of public statement. While we may have discussed why we're making a decision internally, this is opaque to those outside the company, so effort should be made to explain decisions with as much detail as can be given.
- Staff should also support moderators and communities by making certain that things staff know are possible are also known to moderators and communities.
- As community members, it's important to remember that staff aren't able to see everything going on everywhere and that, if something needs to be addressed, we rely on you to bring it to our attention.
- The same is true when it comes to community members and moderators - mods on many sites can't read every question and every comment. The mods rely on the community to discuss concerns on meta, flag content and sometimes take the time to explain those flags.
And these are in addition to examples in the sections above. Good communication relies upon ensuring that everyone's speaking the same language, has the same context, and understands some of the history (particularly the "why") - when you go into a situation assuming everyone knows what you know, communication will fail and someone will get left behind.