When what we do is complex and intangible we rely on our communications skills to get our message across to our clients.
They can't touch, kick or properly test drive what we do. So the largest part of what they think of us and whether think they want to hire us is driven by how well we're able to get across our message.
Only it turns out that getting our message across is a lot more difficult than we think.
Here's an example.
In their book, “Made to Stick”, Chip and Dan Heath tell the story of Elizabeth Newton and her research at Stanford in 1990.
Newton created a simple game where she assigned people to one of two roles: ‘tappers’ or ‘listeners’. Tappers received a list of 25 well-known songs, such as “Happy Birthday to You”. Each tapper was asked to pick a song and tap out the rhythm to a listener by knocking on a table. The listener’s job was to guess the song, based on the rhythm being tapped.
In the test, tappers tapped out 120 songs. And listeners only managed to guess 3 of them.
But that wasn't the point of the test. The real purpose of the test was to see how well tappers thought they'd do.
And the tappers predicted that the listeners would guess right 50% of the time.
50% vs their actual score of 2.5%. Huge difference.
Turns out the problem is what's known as “The Curse of Knowledge”.
Once the tappers knew the tune they could hear it in their head. It was obvious to them that the taps sounded like the tune. They couldn't understand how anyone wouldn't be able to pick it up.
But to the listeners it was just random taps. They rarely had a clue what it was.
The same thing applies to our communications. Once we have an idea in our head we're staggered that everyone else doesn't “hear it”. That they don't understand what we understand.
As a result, our communications far too often assume a level of knowledge and familiarity that just isn't warranted.
If we want our ideas to get across then we need to turn them from the abstract to the concrete. Something our listeners can picture for themselves. Something it's easy for them to grasp.
The Tapping Game story is a great example itself. I could have just talked about how it's easy to make assumptions and about how much other people understand. But that's an abstract concept. Illustrating it with a story brings it to life. Makes it memorable.
Or as the Heath brothers put it – it makes it “sticky”.
So how do you score on the Tapping Game? how many of your messages about your business get through?
50%, or nearer 2.5%
Worth thinking about.
Image by Brian Auer