Conversational Intelligence

I have heard two discussions around conversation this week, coming from very different angles, which have similar recommendations. Engage in a true dialog with the other individual. That means listen to them, and don’t go off on a monologue.

So what happens when we monologue? Biologically our body releases a higher level of reward hormones and we feel great. Our bodies crave that high and we become blind to what we’re doing to the other person, who is feeling invisible, unimportant and minimized. Meanwhile they are experiencing the same neurochemicals as physical pain.

Conversational intelligenceJudith Glaser’s upcoming book, Conversational Intelligence, focuses on getting business people, and particularly sales people, to listen to their customers and to engage them in conversation. But first we need to recognize our blind spots. Two common ones are:

  • Assuming that others see what you see, feel what you feel, and think what you think
  • Thinking you understand and remember what others say, when you really only remember what you think about what they’ve said

Harville Hendrix explains that many people become self absorbed due to emotional events in their childhood, usually from their major caregivers that trigger an anxious response. This goes deeply into their emotional memory and follows them into adulthood. Ever wonder why most people live in the WIFM (what’s in it for me) world? At meetings and conferences, they are the ones who tell you what they do, how you can help them, and jam their business card at you without finding out about you aside from your name, which they probably forget immediately. Or conversely, they want to know all about you, but don’t tell you about themselves even when you probe.

Harville Hendrix Helen LaKelly HuntHarville Hendrix and his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt have found that three factors lead to “conscious partnership” between marital partners: safety, connection and joyful aliveness. Low self esteem and interpersonal negativity (putting others down) make it hard to feel safe and connected in an intimate relationship. Gee, doesn’t that sound familiar with relationships we forge in business too?

In couples research, Harville and Helen concluded that most individuals talk in monologue with their mate. We listen, but we don’t hear. Actually I think this is a common phenomenon in everyday life in personal and business dealings. We forget that our true self is part of the bigger whole, and a great place to start is at home with your loved ones.

Tips for improving your dialog skills:

  • Pay attention and minimize the time you monopolize the conversational space
  • Share that space by asking open-ended questions that let the other person know you heard and are listening
  • Listen non-judgmentally to their answers
  • Mirror their responses to make sure you understood
  • Validate what they’re saying
  • Empathize and respond to their feelings

These are the same skills of a good researcher and competitive intelligence professional who is in the collection mode. Good dialog skills can help you in relationship building. It’s a shame that we are not taught from a young age in the US how to conduct a decent dialog. Schools teach us to be competitive and to excel rather than to be cooperative and to learn from others through conversation. Competitiveness encourages that boring monologue, WIFM tendency from an early age.

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Elicitation with Enthusiasm

I have been pondering the use of elicitation skills in competitive intelligence collection.  I have been using these techniques for many years, but not quite in the military intelligence way, which seems like using the other person in a more negative way. The techniques take advantage of human tendencies to complain, gossip, correct and inform, which certainly works. However, I like to capture the human desire to be happy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile my research assignment is to get information that clients can use to make the decision at hand, I have a relationship goal as well. By the end of the telephone call, my goal is to make the other person feel good about themselves. This was inspired by Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

A great way to make people feel good about themselves is for you to have an attitude of optimism, joy, and enthusiasm while you converse with the other person. Enthusiasm is infectious, and people like to share with you because you are making them feel happy. There are three ways I get myself in this zone:

1. Overall, I don’t take myself too seriously, so laughter comes easily in conversation. Work is a serious, less fun environment for many that I talk to. A little levity is often appreciated, but only if you sense that the other person is open to it. In my experience, most Americans are.

2. I put a smile on my face just as I am dialing to remind myself that happy is a good way to be. There is something about putting a smile on my face that puts me in a happy place. When I first make that connection with the person I am interviewing, they can feel my smile.

3. Before I dial, I get myself grounded and focused, by taking deep breathes. I want to forget about me, and to just concentrate on the person who I will be connecting with, even if this is a cold call. I want to get myself on their channel, sort of like sitting in their chair in my own mind. This also helps me be prepared for however the interview might go, since they seldom quite go as planned.

Being grounded is the one technique that has improved my success in collection more than any other. I can spend all the time in the world getting my value proposition written out and etched in my brain. But if I am not confident and grounded, the person at the other end can sense it right away, and won’t feel like connecting or sharing with me. When I am grounded and confident they will share, since I am in their zone, and the words just flow.

These practices also have another benefit: they help me get to the other person more readily, since I am more absorbed in how they are, and readily forget about myself while in conversation. My challenge is to remember to cover all the material that the client has hired me to collect, since I will often get lost in conversation as I let the other person control the flow of sharing, according to how they are comfortable.

Learn more about elicitation techniques here. Learn how you can become an elicitation expert.

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City Mayors: Mayors from Europe, The Americas, Asia and Africa

See on Scoop.itcooperative intelligence

Biographies of mayors from America, Europe, Asia and Africa

Ellen Naylor’s insight:

and much more…

In a range of profiles of mayors from Asia, Africa, Europe and The Americas, City Mayors’ editors and freelance writers examine what makes an outstanding mayor. They also ask city leaders which of their policies and actions have been particularly successful and could be emulated by other cities. This is a good intelligence source for very regional information. Take note, researchers.

See on www.citymayors.com

How to Write, Publish and Market Your Book | Social Media Examiner

See on Scoop.itHolistic Nutrition

Self publishing: Guy Kawasaki’s latest book APE (author, publisher, entrepreneur) shows you how to go from manuscript to book, without giving up control to a publisher. Of course, when you’re Guy Kawasaki with his cache and name recognition, people want to buy what he publishes since he seems to often be ahead of the pack in his thinking and research.

See on http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/how-to-write-publish-and-market-your-book/

Tips to Improve Your Collection Interviews

I recently gave a webinar for our SLA competitive intelligence division on “How to improve your collection skills through interviewing and elicitation.” I particularly enjoyed the Q&A and will share my 2 favorites which I have embellished on since I have had more time to think about them.

Phone Interviewer soloHow do you differentiate yourself from a telemarketer? Do you say what you’re doing, like a research project?

I usually don’t tell people exactly what I am up to in a cold call. It isn’t really necessary and most people don’t care. We are usually more experienced in communication than telemarketers, who try to have us not hang up on them. A telemarketer usually has the same approach and objective for every phone interview, such as to get us to buy something or to donate money to their charity. Not surprisingly, there is high turnover in telemarketing. I have been doing primary collection interviews for over 20 years. I have specific and different objectives for every telephone call. I also have multiple approaches to obtain information, but I am not asking anyone to buy my service or donate money to a charity. I don’t expect anyone to hang up on me and am polite. I have a level of confidence in the tone of my voice that telemarketers don’t have, just as soon as I say “Hello.” Remember it’s not just what you say, but how you say it that makes you a successful interviewer.

What are some tips to get the interview in the first place? Reaching people live, referrals or customized email requests leading up to a telephone call?

When it’s a cold call, it’s pretty straightforward. I call the company and ask to be transferred to the department that I think will best help me. Switchboard operators are usually quite helpful. If one is not, I will wait until lunchtime, when s/he is often replaced with someone else, or the telephone goes into auto-attendant, so I can make my best guess and get transferred through automation. Sometimes I don’t know who I should talk to and the switchboard will give me a name to connect with as she is transferring the call. It is now a referral which warms the call up a bit.

If it’s not a cold call, people increasingly expect you to email them to set up a time to talk on the phone, since they don’t appreciate having their day interrupted with unscheduled telephone calls. You have to figure out a short value proposition to get their attention, and be willing to call them to set up a time, since often enough they don’t email you back in a timely fashion. This is particularly true when querying people in technology.

However, with all the turnover in technology, the person you want to talk with to may have left the company. Meanwhile the administrator will let you know who their replacement is, ever willing to connect you immediately. You can decide to call later and look them up on LinkedIn, or you can be transferred right in to the person immediately. I always opt to be transferred immediately. By now I know enough about that person’s job and have done a little research on their company. Reading their LinkedIn profile isn’t going to help me that much, and will delay me from talking to them. These are often win loss analysis calls. They have inherited someone else’s decision, and are now responsible to make it work. They are happy to tell me all about their experience, and in these interviews I probably do about 10% of the talking. I think it’s also because they’re new with the company, and not so well connected with other employees just yet. I am a pair of willing, listening ears.

Here is the Interviewing & Elicitation presentation. Here is the YouTube that combines audio with the slides. However, the slides are a out of sync with the audio. For those who attended the webinar, I have included the YouTube link to the video of the awesome Walter Cronkite predicting the office of 2001 with pretty close accuracy, back in 1967!

Interviewing Versus Elicitation

People often ask, “What is the benefit of elicitation versus the standard interview?” Actually they have a lot in common.

Preparation in similar. You want to learn as much about that person as you can before you talk to them. Is there something about their profession that you can comment on to get the conversation flowing? Do they work in an interesting industry? Is there some industry jargon that you better know to be believed? What is their communication style? What will put them at ease to share with you early in the interview? Do you have something in common that you can build rapport with?

phone intv 2 peopleFor an interview, I list all the questions I want answered and then rephrase them in a way that makes it easier for the person to become engaged based on my research of their personality, preferred communication style and profession. This is a great exercise since mentally I start thinking about all the different ways they might respond, and in turn what other questions I might ask, that are not on my list, based on their response. I create something like a decision tree for interviewing, and you thought decision trees were just used in statistics. You can never be too prepared to talk to people, since interviews seldom go as planned, especially over the phone.

Whether you have an appointment or make a cold call, you are interrupting the person’s day, so you need to use your words wisely so as not to waste their time. With some people, a little small talk is all it takes to jump start the interview. With others, state your purpose and get to the point. Others will ask you questions to test your knowledge before they’ll share.

Elicitation is a conversational interview, a planned conversation. People remember the beginning and the end of a conversation more than what is spoken in the middle. If you are asking a series of questions they might wonder why you are asking those questions, and how they should answer. How is the interviewer going to use the information I share? Hmm, I wonder how much I should share? What’s in it for me to share this information?

So you start and end your elicitation conversation with some inconsequential questions about the weather, last night’s football score or ask what brings them to the trade show. Other than this small talk, you don’t ask questions. For some this takes practice. For me it comes naturally, since it’s human nature. When John Nolan taught us a workshop on elicitation in 1995, I remember thinking that I had been using some of these techniques and didn’t know this was elicitation.

Elicitation builds off human tendencies that most people have: a desire for recognition, showing off, curiosity, gossip, complaining, correcting you. Most people can’t keep a secret. There are numerous techniques, and I will illustrate a couple.

One of my favorites is flattery. Some people have a strong ego while others get so little recognition that stroking their ego really works.  Simple flattery often coaxes a person into a conversation that otherwise would not have taken place. Everybody, whether prominent, or very low on the totem pole, reacts to flattery as long as it’s genuine. A common way to use flattery is, “I’ve heard you’re the best…an expert…”

Another favorite is coming across as naïve. People just can’t resist enlightening you. Naïve doesn’t mean stupid. It just means that you don’t quite understand something.  For example when I spoke to a trades person about his instrument, I wanted to learn why he liked this particular competitor’s model. I simply said, “I am not as familiar with this company as I only know the market leader’s instrument which you replaced with this competitor’s model.” That’s all it took, and he told me what he liked about the competitor’s model, and why he didn’t replace it with the market leader’s.

This above call didn’t go as planned. According to my client’s database, this trades person was using one of their instruments. However, that was an error, and he was using a competitor’s model. I didn’t hesitate to find out more information about the competition.

I bet many of you who conduct primary research or interviews use elicitation techniques and don’t even realize it. If you want to learn more about this, you can read John Nolan’s book, Confidential. I gave a webinar for SLA’s Competitive Intelligence division. Check out the Slideshare deck.

Why Business Researchers Should Be Skeptical

cynthia leskyCynthia Lesky, CEO of Theshold Information, gave a great webinar entitled, “Business Research in the Age of Truthiness” to the Competitive Intelligence division of the SLA.

Cynthia extrapolates truthiness from Stephen Colbert, “Truthiness is what you want the facts to be as opposed to what the facts are.” Those reporting news want to build and keep a loyal following, so they take advantage of confirmation bias, which is a tendency for people to look for and believe information that confirms their prejudices.

Cynthia recommends three ways to improve your research skills in today’s hyper-mediated truth-challenged world:

  1.  Have a skeptical mindset as you are researching and reading articles.
  2.  Develop a strong source literacy skill. Learn which are more trustworthy. Gain industry expertise and learn to trust your intuition when something doesn’t look right.
  3. Put together a rich report at the conclusion of your research which provides as direct a response as possible to your client’s questions. Point out reporting errors and inconsistencies you discovered in your research, and new questions your research uncovered that were not answered.

Press ReleasesYou should be skeptical about the accuracy of the information you find through digital media and traditional media sources, since so much of it comes from press releases and is regurgitated more or less at face value by general news aggregators, industry aggregators and often enough by API, the source of many articles we read in newspapers these days. This information is used by bloggers, Tweeters and other digital media authors who may embellish on the press release, and sometimes do additional research to include facts that the original press release left out, or maybe not.

According to Jim O’Shea, former Senior Editor of the Star Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, most reporting today is churnalism. The story is not being reported: it’s being repeated. Newspaper staffs have been drastically cut and many papers have ceased operations or have moved to digital formatting. In The Death and Life of American Journalism, Robert McChesney and John Nichols report that as of 2008, there were .90 PR people to 100,000 versus .25 journalists, a ratio of more than three-to-one, better equipped and financed.

Remember press releases are carefully crafted to further the interests of the originating organization, whether a company, government organization, trade association or other special interest group. News aggregators, industry aggregators, newspapers, bloggers and social media writers share one thing in common: they write for a targeted (think truthiness) readership and want to increase the number of eyeballs who look at their publication. So they include data that supports their agenda within an article, especially the headline, even if it might distort the facts. The right headline helps them get found on the Internet.

Here is a blatant example of how bias distorts facts. API and Life Goes Strong, (NBC Digital Networks and Procter & Gamble Productions network of websites targeting baby boomers and promoting P&G products), conducted a poll of older workers. They both reported from the same set of results, but notice that the headlines have a different spin.

  • Poll Exposes Age Discrimination in Today’s Workforce (LifeGoesStrong.com)
  • Working Boomers Say Age is a Plus at Office (API)

So who is telling the truth? A skeptical, informed person recognizes that news contains some bias, distortion and misinformation. You also know you can’t rely on a single news source, and if the same news is repeated by many sources, it’s good idea to find the original source, so you can check its veracity and the content that JDLR (just don’t look right).

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