Wednesday, April 4, 2012

You know what I mean?

Jersey Shore star Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, MTV
We tend to be overconfident. As people, as brands, and as products.

Sometimes this manifests in the expected ways of chest-thumping, ego-traps, and braggadocio, but every now and then our overconfidence acts in more subtle ways.

We don't listen because we think we already know. We don't take other people's perspectives because we think we're right. Sometimes it's more complicated, we assume other people understand us - especially close friends, romantic partners, customers, or users-- even when we don't do a good job explaining.  

As a result, a joke might flop-- or worse offend a close friend, because we assume our friends fully understand our intentions to be humorous. Or in the business world, a product falls flat, because we assume our users understand our intentions to meet their needs.

My point: in general we think our 'people' get us better than they do. We're overconfident in predicting how well other people understand us, and how well we understand them.

This is a perfect example of how the close-relationship literature is relevant to businesses who believe they're "in relationship" with customers. Especially brands who try to fluidly translate what they 'Listen' to into content or product developers/ designers who synthesize what people say into experiences. 

From one of my clever college psychology profs in a press release about a particular experiment he conducted on overconfidence and the "illusion of insight" we have with our well-known acquaintances:
"Although speakers expected their spouse to understand them better than strangers, accuracy rates for spouses and strangers were statistically identical. This result is striking because speakers were more confident that they were understood by their spouse."
In other words, think about the last time you said "you know what I mean" to your partner... He/she probably didn't!

A common exercise in couples therapy is to have a spouse go into "listening mode" and repeat back what he heard his partner say in real-time. Often he 'repeats' something quite different than his partner thinks she articulated. Imagine the analog in business. Try spontaneously repeating back what your customers/ users are saying.

Make sure you actually understand, and don't just have an illusion of understanding or insight. A lot of the changes made to our communications and products are based on the *presumed* knowledge about our acquaintances.

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