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?

Locked in a bubble

17 July, 2019 in Project updates, Ramblings from Ramsden

Two stick fingers. The right contains arrows labelled hand figure is contained by a dotted circle with arrows labelled 'My thought and feelings' and 'My intentions'. The right hand bubble 'My behaviour' 'My impact on them' and 'Their story about me'

I’ve used this diagram for a while in training that I’ve delivered about feedback. It shows that without conscious effort to build empathy, each of us is locked in our own world, operating from a fixed perspective.

The left-hand bubble describes the stuff that we have easy access to – our thoughts, feelings and intentions. These are the motivating forces that shape what we do in the world. The right hand bubble describes the external “reality” that other people perceive. They see our behaviours, the impact it has in the world (and usually they’re most interested in the impact on them). From those observations and experiences people construct a story of your intent. But there can be a mismatch.

When I use this diagram to talk about feedback I stress that a curious mindset on both sides in feedback conversations will help. It’s too easy to think that good intentions excuse unintended negative impact on others. It’s equally easy to jump to conclusions about intent based on impact and bias. If you can get the bubbles to overlap – and break out of your own bubble you have a more complete view of the world.

It can be too easy to view behaviour as unreasonable because we haven’t worked hard enough to understand the reasons. Most people act from a rational basis. If someone is objecting to our work or rejecting our recommendations, they usually have ‘their reasons’. The trick in influence is to get these reasons out in the open. Adopting a curious mindset will help with this.

When someone objects or opposes – don’t focus on the impact the decision has on you, treat this as information that’s being shared, which will ultimately help you reach consensus. Consider the elements in the world that you might not be aware of, which introduce new “reasons” into the situation. It’s easy to think of ‘errors’ or objections as personal when we focus on the impact on us. Thinking that the objection is situational allows us to explore what conditions we could affect to create new reasons and reach agreement.

It’s easy to equate how a person acts with who they are. Some objections might be driven by personal antipathy. But jumping to this conclusion from the outset limits your potential to find an answer. Premature negative labelling makes it difficult to identify the intent behind objections. Working hard to understand intent and the situational factors at play will help you be a more effective influencer.

Practical tips:

– Build a shared understanding by breaking out of your bubble. Think about the situational factors that might be motivating and influencing others.
– Be explicit about your intent.
– Assume good intent and explore difference.