George Bernard Shaw said: “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
In issue 36, I gave my view of the critical CEO communication tools to avoid the illusion of communication:
Bang on until your eyes bleed: you cannot communicate too much.
Put your blinkers on your team: give them long-term strategic direction, but maintain focus on the short to medium term tactics and operations.
Recognise that communication is a motivational tool, and use it as such.
Clunky beats confused: it’s all about what you’re saying, not how you’re saying it. Don’t confuse form with substance.
For this return to the subject of communication, I want to address the slightly murkier area of the real objective of communication.
Communication is to achieve outcomes; whether this is done transparently or not.
The problem is that most communication isn’t like this. Instead of causing an action, it just transfers understanding: let’s inform the team of the company’s vision, share the new strategy, discuss progress with the team. Ever wondered why these things feel relatively hollow compared to closing a deal, hiring a brilliant person, launching a new product?
Transferring understanding only tells people things. I know this is the strict definition of communications, but you’re in business. You want to communicate to cause something. Business is about doing things, not about talking or transferring meaning or knowledge.
So, now that’s re-framed, everything starts to fall into place and become a lot easier to manage. Please don’t rush over this point though. It’s one of those things we’ve tended to accept without questioning, but when you ‘get’ it, things really do start to change.
First, we have our test of good communication: it causes a ‘do’. So, when we know what needs to be done – the purpose of the communication – we can work backwards to decide what needs to be said to achieve it. This is critical because if we don’t work in this way we default to communicating as we think. Unfortunately, because we’re often not completely clear on the purpose ourselves, by the time we’ve worked it through as we communicate we’ve lost our audience.
When we’ve worked out the outcome we want to be achieved via the communication and what needs to be said to achieve it, we can focus on maximising the effectiveness of how we get to the outcome. This is where we start to get into the murkier areas of what others would call manipulation.
Start by understanding where your audience is. One of the primary communication skills to accelerate outcomes is to understand another person’s point of view and how they see the world. This then enables us to know where their head is likely to be at the point of your communication, and what they therefore require to act in the way you want them to.
Use the fact that our ability to identify factors that affect our behaviour is exceptionally poor. Put bluntly, we are easy to manipulate without us knowing it. A cognitive bias is a systematic pattern of deviation from rational judgement… [which] may dictate their behaviour in the social world -
We already use similar manipulations in business as accepted norms. For example, case studies are examples of social proof or the bandwagon effect – a way of leading someone’s behaviour by pointing at the behaviour of others. Big businesses like Odeon use the decoy effect in popcorn pricing: you’d never buy the large vs. the small if the medium wasn’t so closely priced.
My purpose in this article (communication) is to get you to use your corrected definition of communications and understanding of the availability of biases as tools to achieve business outcomes faster. Here are a couple to get you thinking (quotes reference the cognitive bias list link above):
Confirmation bias is ‘the tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions’. Be bold in marketing to hard-to-persuade prospects by exploring their objections in your content. Lead on these to engage them then win them round with your product/service effectiveness arguments.
Anchoring is ‘the tendency to rely too heavily, or “anchor” on one trait or piece of information when making decisions, usually the first piece of information acquired on that subject’. Don’t present progressively radical options where you want the choice to be the second or the third. Start with the radical and see how their feelings change towards the other, now seemingly ‘conservative’ options.
The IKEA effect (no, I didn’t make this one up) is ‘the tendency for people to place a disproportionately high value on objects that they partially assembled themselves, such as furniture from IKEA, regardless of the quality of the end result’. In one of my businesses we saw a dramatic impact on sales values when we started sharing our deal calculator with clients. By getting them to input their own figures to calculate revenues, cost savings and then base the pricing on the value created, they took a level of ownership which reduced their objections.
Now is the time for you to own communication to avoid the illusion George Bernard Shaw warned against. Just don’t be afraid of achieving an outcome without the recipient being aware how well you’ve ‘managed’ the communication.