Tom Levers

Sales and Methods of Understanding

LightBulb“Methods of Understanding” will get what you need done in your business.

No matter if it is working to build a “Company Culture”, or becoming a sales “Rain Maker”, or “Marketing Positioner” of the next Widget… you will get further if you apply the toolkit of how individuals use “Methods to Understand”.

You may know Sales Methodologies, but the “Rain Maker” applies Systems of Understanding. Most natural “Rain Makers” unknowingly identify how others are using these various types of Understanding Methods, they just identify these throughout all aspects of their lives… without even knowing they are using them. By identifying what individuals use when they try to understand can enlighten the situation. 

WARNING! This is not for everyone. Some people are so locked into their individual method that if you are a “hammer” everything looks like a “nail”! The “Rain Maker”, the “Corporate Motivator”, and the  “Customer Requirement Aggregator” ” all must identify which “Methods of Understanding” is being used and how to adapt to it. 

We all instinctively lean toward some of these approaches rather than others, but the key to applying these principles  is to internalize the different constructs so we can better communicate. The different types are:

  • Attribution – we need to attribute cause, that supports our ego.
  • Constructivism – we use constructs as perceptual categories.
  • Framing – mental combinations that affect perception.
  • Schema – structure to organize and interpret the world.
  • Personal Constructs – constructs represent understanding.
  • Symbolic Interaction  – we derive meaning around symbols.
  • Objectification –  we simplify complex things into concrete images.
  • Story Models – We piece together complex situations into stories to build understanding.

Lets first cover the first four in this article and try to identify after reading how you and others are using them in your professional and personal life.

 

Attribution

We all have a need to explain the world, both to ourselves and to other people, attributing cause to the events around us. This gives us a greater sense of control. When explaining behaviour, it can affect the standing of people within a group (especially ourselves).

FaceWhen another person has erred, we will often use internal attribution, saying it is due to internal factors. When we have erred, we will more likely use external attribution, attributing causes to situational factors rather than blaming ourselves. We will take credit, due to the good business skills that were applied. And vice versa. We will attribute the successes of competitive rivals to external ‘advantages’. 

When a football team wins, supporters say ‘we won’. But when the team loses, the supporters say ‘they lost’. Our attributions are also significantly driven by our emotional and motivational drives. Blaming other people and avoiding personal recrimination is a very real self-serving attributions. We will also make attributions to defend what we perceive as attacks. We will point to injustice in an unfair world. 

In practice, we often tend to go through a two-step process, where we start with an automatic internal attribution, followed by a slower consideration of whether an external attribution is more appropriate. Key to this is, if we are hurrying or are distracted, we may not get to this second step. This makes internal attribution more likely than external attribution.
Example of Use: I have no support and no budget there for I cannot do a good job.

Using it: Beware of being a complainer (i.e. making internal attributions about the situation). Also beware of making excuses (external attributions) that lead you to repeat mistakes and leads to Cognitive Dissonance in others when they are making internal attributions about you.

Defending: Watch out for people making untrue attributions.

Constructivism

We try to make sense of the world by making use of constructs, which are perceptual categories that we use when evaluating things.

People who have many different and abstract constructs have greater flexibility in understanding the world and are cognitively complex, whilst others are cognitively simple. Cognitively complex people are better able to accept both complex and inconsistent messages. They also have a greater need to understand things and will question deeply anything that is new to them. However, once persuaded, they stay persuaded and are less likely to change their minds as their new constructs will support the argument.

Example: Some people have a construct about being fat that says fat people are lazy and greedy. Others may perceive it as a medical condition. 

Using it: Help cognitively complex people to build new constructs that support your argument. Do not bother with this detail for the cognitively simple.

Defending: Do not let others take charge when building new constructs.

Framing

A frame is the combination of beliefs, values, attitudes, mental models, and so on which we use to perceive a situation. We effectively look through this frame in the way we would look through tinted spectacles. The frame significantly effects how we infer meaning and hence understand the situation.

Example: I see a holiday in the hills as an opportunity for outdoor exercise. My friend sees is as a chance for a quiet read. My son sees it as a long period of boredom.

Using it: Change elements of a person’s frame (reframing) and hence how they view the world). This is a powerful persuasive technique. 

Being able to see things through many frames yourself gives you a broader perspective and able to understand more of how others think.

Defending: When people ask you to look at something from another viewpoint, be aware that there are many viewpoints, many of which are valid and legitimate. 

ShoesSchema

A schema is a mental structure

Schemas are also self-sustaining, and will persist even in the face of disconfirming evidence. This is because if something does not match the schema, such as evidence against it, it is ignored. Some schema are easier to change than others, and some people are more open about changing any of their schemas than other people. Schemas are also known as mental models, concepts, mental representations and knowledge structures(although definitions are different–for example some define mental models as modeling cause-effect only).

Schemas affect what we notice, how we interpret things and how we make decisions and act. They act like filters, accentuating and downplaying various elements. We use them to classify things, such as when we ‘pigeon-hole’ people. They also help us forecast, predicting what will happen. We even remember and recall things via schemas, using them to ‘encode’ memories.

Schemas have inferences and appear very often in the attribution of cause. The multiple necessary cause schema is one where we require at least two causes before a ‘fit’ to the schema is declared. Schemas are often shared within cultures, allowing short-cut communications. Every word is, in effect, a schema, as when you read it you receive a package of additional inferred information.

We tend to have favourite schema which we use often. When interpreting the world, we will try to use these first, going on to others if they do not sufficiently fit. 

Example: Some people dislike police because they have a schema of police as people who perceive everyone as guilty until proven innocent. Other people feel safe around police as their schemas are more about police as brave protectors. 

Using it: Find people’s schemas around the area of interest, then either create trust by utilizing their schema or reframe to change their schema.

Defending: Become more self-aware, knowing your own schemas and why there are useful for you. When people try to change them, you can then more rationally understand whether your or their schemas are better.

This is a lot to absorbs,  so look for these in your every day business or personal life and check back for the second part of this Article after I try this myself!

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2 Responses

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  1. John Mayes said, on October 10, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for your post, I found it useful.

    If you haven’t already do so you might find it interesting to have a poke around my web site which contains a great deal of practical information about the theory behind and the process of determining personal constructs. The site map is a useful way of getting quickly to subjects of interest.

    Thanks

    John

  2. tomlevers said, on October 11, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    John,

    Your site looks great… “Cognitive Maps” are a great way to get started on any serious project!

    Tom


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