Jul 25, 2008

Sometimes, being good just isn't enough

I am comforting my wife who is lamenting the loss of Will on "So You Think You Can Dance." The general sentiment is that Will was the best dancer of the lot, and many (including the judges, I believe) expected him to win the competition.

Yet tonight, he was kicked off the show. His talent, his grace, and his good looks did not save him.

Personally, I think it's a shame because I thought he was much better than Mark. But that's just me. Evidently, I was the minority. Plus, I didn't vote.

The results of the show are a mirror of what occurs in a number of situations in real life:
  • the most competent person is not necessarily the one that gets the promotion;
  • the one with the toughest job doesn't have the highest salary;
  • the one with the most talent doesn't have the most recognition.
It's just part of life. But when it happens to us, we become angry, we become upset, we blame other people, we carry a grudge, and so on. The result hurts us and affects the people around us also. The solution? A change of attitude. Instead of blaming and getting upset, focus on what you can control.

At one my son's recent soccer games, we were saddled with an incompetent referee. He made many bad calls and, surprise, surprise, the calls went against my son's team. At some point, the parents became loud and began yelling and cursing at the referee. He had to interrupt the game to let us know: "If you keep yelling, I will stop the game."

We had no control over what was happening on the field. We had to make a choice: if we kept complaining, the kids' game would be stopped and the coach would be fined. If we shut up, the situation would probably not change but the kids would be able to play their game and the coach would be off the hook. We shut up.

To some, such an attitude is a sign of weakness. To some, we should have continued to voice our disapproval because "the ref was wrong."

This response shows that the wrong criteria are used to evaluate the parents' reaction. The right criteria is: what is best for the kids?

You may have heard this before: you can be happy or you can be right. Too often, our ego gets in the way and we try to be right just for the sake of being right. Sometimes, it's worth the battle but sometimes it's just a waste of energy.

In business, the person who gets the promotion is judged on criteria tat may have nothing to do with their current job. The person who has the highest salary is probably bringing more value to the company, even if the job may not seem as hard. The person with the most talent probably doesn't have the best marketing vehicle.

In "So You Think You Can Dance" the votes didn't go toward the most talented dancer, probably because the criteria used to vote was something other than "best dancer," however you define it.

Some people have decided to stop watching the show because they disagree with the voting. Meh. I'll still watch it when I can, because I enjoy dancing and I think the kids on the show dance very well.

Plus, I gotta see it this is going to end up being a train wreck.

Jul 18, 2008

How strong is social pressure?

Guy Kawasaki's recent post, How to Change Someone's Mind, triggered a long-forgotten experience I had in college. Kawasaki mentions Robert Cialdini's book "Influence". One of the six components of influence is what Cialdini calls "Social Proof". Social proof is when you act in certain way because others around you are doing the same thing.

This reminded me of an experiment in social pressure that I conducted in college. It was a simple experiment to see how others' reactions affected our own reactions, especially when we knew they were wrong. The experiment wasn't original, but I don't remember who did the original research on the subject.

The setup: We had fifteen cardboard sheets which had three geometrical shapes on them. We corralled a team of seven participants and one test subject.

The experiment: We gathered the team and the subject in a room and sat them in a semi-circle. The subject was at one of the extremities of the semi-circle. We showed all of them one of the cardboards and asked them: "Which of the shapes is smallest?" We started with the team members and the subject was always the last to answer.

The twist: For ten of the fifteen cardboards, the team was instructed to give the wrong answer. Sometimes the difference between the smallest object and the answer given was subtle. But other times the difference was so large as to be absurd. For example, we had a small triangle, a medium one and a large one. You could easily fit four small triangles in the largest one. Yet, the team was instructed to say that the largest one was the smallest one.

The result: to our surprise, of all the subjects we tested, only one went against the crowd every time. We saw such looks of bewilderment on the subjects' faces that we had to work very hard not to laugh. I remember one subject staring wide-eyed as the other people said that the largest triangle was in fact the smallest one. He even interrupted the process to verify his understanding: "You want to know which is the smallest one, right?"

We stopped finding the experiment as funny when one of our subjects agreed with the team on all fifteen answers. After the subject left the room, we felt the energy being sucked out of the room; none of us could believe it and we felt bad.

How have you seen social pressure affect performance and behaviour in your workplace?

Jul 17, 2008

More telemarketing

Today I received another call from telemarketers. Yes, I know I can get on a no call list, but as long as it gives me material to write about...

This call was different. I realized, from the start, that it was a sales call but I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.

She did a lot of things right:
  • She asked me "How are you?" Seems innocuous enough, but it can turn out to be a very important question. That question triggers the consistency and commitment response that Robert Cialdini explains in his book on influence. Simply put, if you ask someone how they feel, and the answer "fine" or "good," that alone increases your chances of closing a sale;
  • She pronounced my name correctly.
  • I gave her two minutes to make her case. After that time, she told me "It's been two minutes, may I go on?" Nice.
  • When I told her why I wasn't going to buy, she actually shut up and let me speak for about two minutes. The last time I had such a discussion with a telemarketer, the woman at the other end constantly tried to interrupt me to let me know how wrong I was.
At the end, she asked me if I was satisfied with the way she handled the call and I had to say yes. It was, in fact, an enjoyable call because even if I disagreed with her, she worked professionally and she treated me with respect.

Jul 14, 2008

You want my money? Get my name right! Click!

Tonight, we received yet another call from telemarketers who don't seem to know the difference between a "p" and a "b". I let the person speak for about 2 minutes as she proceeded to call me Mr. Duberval at least four times. When she asked me "Mr. Duberval, can we count on your contribution?" I replied "No," since she evidently was not referring to me. Click.

Herein lies two of my pet peeves about telemarketing:
  1. Pronounce my name correctly: my name isn't that hard to pronounce, especially in French. Yet, it regularly gets butchered by telemarketers. I've been called Mr. Duberval, Mr. Duverbal, and others. My favourite, though, remains Mr. Duverpal which translates to "Mr. Light Green" in English. If you're going to ask me for money, at least take the time to pronounce my name properly. If you don't know how to pronounce it, ask me, I'll gladly help out. Then, I may be more inclined to listen to you, and I might even buy.
  2. Get my name right: my wife and I don't have the same last name. In many countries, wives still take on their husband's last name but in Quebec, they keep their maiden names. Our home phone line is registered to my wife's name. Nothing says "telemarketer" quite as well as someone who hears my voice on the phone and says: "Hello, Mr. Wife, how are you today?" My answer: "There is no Mr. Wife here, sorry." Click.
  3. Act like you care about me: one of my biggest annoyances is a subscription company that calls me every other month or so, to make me an offer. The problem is, I'm already registered. When that happens, it makes me feel like a number. What am I saying? It makes me feel like less than a number: at least a number can be weeded out to avoid duplication. I must admit that the only reason I still subscribe is that I like their product. Otherwise, I would click them also.
Telemarketing loses its effectiveness if you cannot touch the client emotionally. You can do that much faster if you can make the potential client seem important. And you make a client feel important by getting his or her name right.

Otherwise, you may just be clicking your way to oblivion.