Say, do

Say, do - image for article by Greg Alder

What we say and what we do aren’t always the same.

Sometimes our words mask an underlying, unexpressed discomfort. We say we don’t like something, when the truth is that we don’t understand it – but can’t admit it. Many breakthrough products fail in research but succeed in the marketplace. Research groups can only evaluate based on experience. They don’t know how to assess the new product, so they reject it.

In some cultures, when we ask if something can be done, we’ll be told yes – even when answerer knows it can’t. The motive is a desire to please.

Sometimes our questions have holes in them. Holes through which liars find ways to tell a half truth, but avoid going all the way. The politician who is asked “Did you receive money from Mr X?” answers “No money passed between Mr X and me.” He knows the truth. Money passed from Mr X to the politician’s wife.

When we’re asked “Do I look fat in this?”, we want to tell the truth. We lie. We know that truth is an invitation to pain. Our motive for lying is survival.

The risk is that we can find ourselves responding to the words or actions presented – and subsequently miss the truth.

If we don’t understand how rejection masks discomfort, we’ll consider the breakthrough product a failure.

If we don’t understand the cultural reason for answering yes, we’ll be angry when the answer turns out to be a lie.

If we don’t see the hole in our question, we won’t see the hole in the answer.

As for “Do I look fat in this?”, well that’s a trick question. It’s unanswerable.

The barriers that prevent us from seeing the motives behind the words are sometimes of our own making.

We want the lie to be true, the yes to be right.

Sometimes haste prevents us from digging deeper. We don’t have time to question the motive. We believe insight could be useful, but expect it to happen magically.

Sometimes fear is the barrier. We don’t want to hear the truth.

Sometimes laziness is the barrier. We just couldn’t be bothered trying to understand the reasons why.

Sometimes our priorities prevent us from looking deeper. Owners focus on processes, policies, products and service, not on their audience. The priority is speaking, not listening.

We need to remove the barriers that prevent us seeing. We need to learn to dig deeper to identify the feelings behind the mask.

If you remember Maslow’s pyramid, you’ll recall the base physical and emotional needs that motivate all of us – the need for shelter, for food, for belonging and for a sense of self worth.

It’s our sense of self worth that makes us answer “How’s business?” with “Fine, thanks” – even when it isn’t.

Beyond these are other powerful motivators – the desire to protect those we love, the desire for respect & prestige, the fear of the future & getting old, the fears of loneliness and injury, the desire for financial freedom and for love, the need for laughter, diversion and ‘me’ time.

It’s our subconscious, not our conscious, mind that controls 90% of our actions.

It’s our conscious mind that controls our words.

We do things and think things without knowing it. We make choices that we believe we’re making based on a colour preference, say, when the real reason is something altogether different.

If we can better understand the subconscious mind and unearth the deep human truths that control our lives (and our audience’s lives), we stand a much greater chance of connecting on an emotional level. People are more open to our messages. We in turn become better communicators.

We’re tempted to decide on a course of action based on facts presented to us. The facts are true, but not useful. What’s useful is the insight that’s buried in every fact.

The traditional way we sought to understand audiences was by interrogating them – qualitative & quantitative research, clinical & field observation, surveys and street interviews.

What’s wrong with this? We have unreliable memories. We are influenced by a positive or negative experience. We’re being interrogated in an unrealistic environment which influences us to give expected answer. Our answers are subject to exaggeration.

Using these techniques, we ended up with attitude graphs, word clouds and social media metrics and conjoint analysis graphs. We learnt what people did and said – but not why.

To dig deeper, we observed and recorded behaviours. We found out what they read, what they watched and sites they visited. Then we’d examine those books and films and websites.

What did they listen to? We’d listen to it.

Where did they shop? We’d go there to watch customers shop and to talk to sales assistants.

Where did they eat? We’d eat there.

We’d visit a call centre to watch and listen to customer calls.

We’d go to the factory to watch and talk to workers.

We’d learn more about behaviour, and still not understand the why. We had a bunch of facts.

Every insight is a fact. But not every fact is an insight. Uncovering the insight that lurks inside every fact is so simple a child can do it. Look at this conversation between a mum and her kid.

“Mummy, why does that lady have a fat tummy?”

“Because she has a baby in there.”

“How did the baby get in there?”

“It’s growing in there.”

“How does it breathe? Where is its teddy bear? What does it eat? How dark is it in there? How does it get out?”

Kids ask why all the time. We adults don’t.

I use a technique in Deep Human Truth workshops that I call WWW&H. It’s simple.

Take a fact. Ask a series of Who questions. Who does that? Who do I know like that?

Ask What questions. What’s the consequence of this? What do they do instead?

Ask Why questions? Why do they do this?

And finally, ask How. How can we use this information?

Ask the questions again for every answer you get. Who, what, why, how?

You might go down three or four layers. Eventually you’ll arrive at a gem – a potent insight that separates what your audience says from what they do. An insight that gives you the basis for a deep emotional connection. An insight that demonstrates to your audience that you really understand them.

Hearing what our customers say is valuable. Not nearly as valuable as understanding why they say it. Not nearly as valuable as learning what they really feel.

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