Monday, March 06, 2006

Case Study Continued: Observation vs. Analysis 3

What's Necessary for Persuasion?

Following from the last post, where do employees come from?

When Last We Saw our Heroes . . .

We left my students struggling to make presentations and lacking convincing body language.

This might seem like a small point. But if you've ever been forced to sit through very bad acting, you'll understand why without appropriate, natural gestures your client will be thinking more about how bad the performance is than about what is being said.

Clearly, in a business pitch, this would be ruinous. So what's to be done with those for whom such things don't come naturally?

Why Is It So Hard to Persuade?

Words come easily when memorized. However, the reaction they create -- and the subsequent relationship that develops -- can not really be anticipated. Never bank on a client response or you'll be cornered by surprises.

Sales Are Not As Difficult As Relationships: But One Often Relies on the Other

Relationships must be played out in the moment for genuine engagement. First and foremost, this sort of interaction requires observation before analysis.

In other words, examine who's in front of you before deciding how to approach them.

Or, in effect, before you can decide on a strategy, you have to be able to really listen to your client's needs.

If this sounds obvious, why doesn't it happen more often?

Back to the Case Study: An Experiment

After an hour of watching stock moves, I asked students to describe the body language of the class members serving as the audience. The goal was to observe the way they were sitting, the angles at which they held their heads, the expressions on their faces.

The only thing not allowed: to draw conclusions. Instead, I wanted them to articulate aloud the nuances of a listener's pose in such detail that the rest of us could repeat it.

What The Students Offered

Despite the directions, no one described what he or she saw. Over the course of an hour, each seemed determined to draw conclusions without articulating the material used for evidence.

Like my students at Brown in drama and English -- or kindergarteners I've taught as well -- the participants in this workshop on pitching couldn't tell me where their conclusions came from.

More important for a business audience, like some executives we've seen, it was as though these employees-to-be had confused data with analysis.

In other words, these students assumed that there is a transparent relationship between what they see and what it means. They skipped the analysis entirely. The conclusion was pulled from experience in past encounters which might or might not have been accurate in the first place.

Kids and Grown-Ups: Different Roots But Same Results

We forgive kindergarteners for their inability to articulate why they think what they do -- after all, they are so new at considering the world around them. It seems that those who have been around a lot longer either were not taught or forgot how they process information that eventually leads to ways of thinking.

Why Does This Happen?

The participants in my workshhop had trained themselves to read gestures by taking the meaning for granted as if they had seen them before.

At best, assumptions about outcome will make it impossible to develop new results. At worst, assumptions lead to misunderstandings that will blow a deal completely.

Case Study: One Conclusion

Because our business contexts are usually similar to each other -- most of us don't do business outside familiar territory -- we assume gestures represent the same meaning across contexts. In-depth observation is usually passed over in favor of a quick read. We presume efficiency is the same as effectiveness.

In short, we stop thinking. Instead, we behave as though the present situation is the same as those we've seen before. Under these conditions, how can one ever break into new markets or develop new products?

Next post, see more on these questions, issues, and events.

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