Last week I wrote about how considering cognitive bias can sharpen our communication skills. I thought that I’d start this week by talking about the same thing.

A stick figure stood next to a radio transmitter

Each of us is tuned to a certain frequency in our interactions and conversations. In most teams, we play a specific role – whether this is explicit or implicit. We pay most attention to the responsibilities associated with that role. When I’m in a meeting I’m usually on the lookout for IA-related issues. I think the same is true for lots of aspects of work. We’re all primed and sensitised to certain information or a particular framing. We can pay attention to these biases to increase our effectiveness.

In situations where we’re trying to explain IA or a set of recommendations, we’re oriented towards the recommendations. We know them inside and out, we’re primed to focus on the detailed aspects of the recommendation. For our clients, partners and stakeholders, their frame of reference is likely to be different. They have a bank of other situational factors vying for their attention. Their reality and attention is constructed by a different frame of reference.

In influencing we can sometimes see objections as blockers. We can jump to the conclusion that the person sharing the objection as an obstacle to overcome. But objections are signals. When someone shares an objection we can use this signal to tune into their world. Asking exploratory questions around objections helps us to understand the motivation or other forces behind it. Asking questions can unlock agreement or provide the information we need to re-form our recommendations into a format they can agree with.

Their reality and attention is constructed by a different frame of reference.

Listen carefully to the language (emphasis, metaphors, images, jargon) that the other person says. Listen for the first thing they say. If you suspect there’s an objection lurking, that is unspoken but might stand in the way of commitment, test that hypothesis.

Practical points:

– What cognitive biases might sit behind barriers to influence?
– What signals can you perceive (spoken and unspoken) that provide clues to the orientation of the other party? How might you orient your proposal to be closer to their frame of reference?