Tuned to certain frequencies

22 July, 2019 in Ramblings from Ramsden

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?

Influence, persuasion and cognitive bias

19 July, 2019 in Ramblings from Ramsden

A categorised list of cognitive biases from the wikipedias list

The cognitive bias codex is a brilliant resource to dig into the biases that shape the way we see the world. These biases can stand in-between us and the world, and filter the options we perceive in every moment. I recommend looking over the codex and spending a day on wikipedia researching each of the effects. Today I thought I’d throw out some provocations that might unlock strategies to increase our influence and effectiveness when communicating IA.

Constructing your argument
Given that we discard specifics to form generalities – how might you architect your message to reduce the number of individual decisions you ask someone to agree with? What are the most important primary categories or classes of thing that your stakeholders need to be able to identify and understand? Where is the risk in oversimplification?

Making memorable messages
Given that our memories are liable to a host of weaknesses – how might you construct your recommendations so that the major points stick? How might you vary the way you communicate to construct different types of experiences (and memories)? How might you exploit peak-end rule to make make your message memorable?

Occam had a point (not two)
Most people favour simple looking options and complete information over complex ambiguous options. I think that’s the goal of IA. But sometimes IAs fetishise the complexity of the problem and spend energy communicating that, rather than the simplicity of the solution. Where is the investment of energy in your communications?

Engineering commitment
If we tend to avoid irreversible decisions, how do we encourage the long-term investment and commitment that IA often requires? Could we incrementally exploit investments of time and energy to create longer term commitments?

Don’t disregard dissonance
If we project our current understanding of the world into the future, how will you convince people of the need or existence of a fundamental shift in the status quo? Liking something or someone helps us imagine a greater range of possibilities for them – can we exploit rapport and preference to aid divergent thinking? How can we exploit stereotypes, generalities or prior histories to establish or build credibility and influence?

We more easily notice things that we’ve been primed to see. How might spending more time considering cognitive bias help you recognise obstacles or opportunities in the future.

This is a handful of the questions that occurred to me today as I worked around the circle. I think you can use this process as a creative prompt the next time you need to shape a presentation or a set of recommendations? Like oblique strategies or IA inspiration cards the list of biases provides ready made questions to consider how could you build on existing biases and behaviours to make your message more effective?

References and resources:

Wikipedia list of cognitive biases – this list is the basis of the codex and comes with handy short descriptions for each bias.

Buster Benson’s Medium article collects the biases into easier to remember and understand categories.

You can buy the codex print from Design Hacks.

The Blob of risk, reward, uncertainty and control

18 July, 2019 in Ramblings from Ramsden

I’ve already written about trust and influence using two triangles, today I’m using a cross.

A cross describing four axes: Control and Uncertainty and Risk and reward. A blob depicts the "levels" of attention a person might place on each

The blob describes your estimate of how important each facet is to the people you’re asking to make a decision.

Every time we try to influence, persuade and convince someone to follow an IA recommendation we’re trying to initiate a decision. Most of us are passionate about IA and love the detail of the challenge. We fall in love with the beauty of the solution once we find it. We fixate on those details. But it’s sometimes useful to step back from the detail. What happens if we treat gaining agreement for our recommendations like any other decisions? Can we apply a generic model of decision-making to getting agreement for IA decisions? What happens when use the (perceived) risk, reward, uncertainty and control that’s wrapped up in the decisions that we’re inviting? Are we more effective when considering how the person we’re hoping to influence relates to each of these aspect?

I can’t think of a decision or IA recommendation that I’ve made that couldn’t be framed in relation to risk and reward or control and uncertainty. Why would I steam in with a detailed appraisal of the technical aspects of my recommendation? Instead I can approach recommendations through these four characteristics of decisions.

I know that some people I interact with are all about reward. What are the potential gains? For others, I need to be careful with how I talk about risk. Sometimes re-framing delaying a decision as the riskiest option is the only way I can get agreement from risk-averse stakeholders. Some people crave control – others want to avoid constraints as they risk unpicking decisions in the future. Some people want to avoid uncertainty. For other people, unless you address uncertainty and ambiguity they might believe you’re only partially aware of the true situation.

Asking ourselves questions about the people we’re trying to influence is the easiest way to plan our approach. You can model where you think their attention is by using the cross. Describe the relative importance of each element to create a personalised risk, reward, uncertainty and control blob for each person you want to influence. What would happen if this was the lens through which you introduced your recommendation – rather than focusing on the IA detail?

When you’re in a project, or emerging from a project with a set of recommendations, you’re surrounded by the work. You’ve been living in the IA, so it’s easy to adopt this perspective when you try to invite others into your world to agree with your recommendations. But most of the people we try to influence and convince aren’t embedded in our world. Non-IAs are surrounded by their own worries and hopes – their own facts and passions. How might you build a bridge from their world into yours, so that they can more easily adopt a perspective of agreement?

Practical tips:

Use the axes and construct a blob of risk, reward, uncertainty and control. How might you adopt the language of the most dominant concern to more quickly build rapport and relevance with the person you’re hoping to influence?