As a software professional trying to communicate his way through teamwork, I mostly was like a bull in a china shop. My mistake was a simple assumption which eventually made a world of difference, and this is it.
When I make an Excel sheet on the laptop and send it to you, you most likely open that file with Excel at your end. Now the engineer in me always assumed that the human interaction works the same way. And boy, did I make mistakes based on that idea.
In human interaction, the message that I want to deliver to you is formulated by my brain in the Neocortex. The Neocortex is the youngest area of our brain where language, abstract thought, imagination, and consciousness originate in most part.
I then transfer the newly-coded message to you by the medium of speaking or writing. My mistake had always been to assume that others would open and interpret that message with similar tools at their end, just like a spreadsheet.
It’s true that the Neocortex might decode the words and other communication cues we receive, but the actual meaning of the message emerges from somewhere more buried in the brain. A much older and deeper part of the brain stores all the meaning, emotion and memories those words have for us. The limbic system is responsible for how you feel about what I say.
That’s why all the reason in the world might not convince us if the new idea just doesn’t feel right.
The brain, in its evolution, is hardcoded for survival and reproduction. Those areas of the brain have a keen sense to spot danger and predict threats everywhere we go. They have deeply rooted beliefs, habits and defense mechanisms for protection. We might call them skepticism, boredom, doubt and sometimes even extreme things like a phobia.
So is it any wonder why “I told you so” is such a common notion in software projects that crashed and burned? Telling others usually don’t change their thinking or behavior but reinforces their defenses. Telling is the equivalent of sending someone an Excel and assuming they interpret it only with their Excel too.
Application of language in the neocortex runs on the operating system of the limbic brain. The app calls between systems must not violate the OS level protections.
Consider a pitch to convince someone who never heard about Scrum before.
You should use Scrum. It is a project management method that will make your development process 25% more efficient and impact positively on the stakeholder-satisfaction.
How did it make you feel? To me, there is a lukewarm sensation of “Meh. Can we get back to work asap?” Now consider this different approach.
I love rugby and feel like they have something we could learn from. Their every game begins with a stand-up meet to build spirit and co-op. And they call it the Scrum. Want to hear more?
Does it feel different? To me, there is a subtle sensation of curiosity and intrigue combined with an actionable mental image of athletes grouping together for a series of pre-game high fives.
The human version of effective communication should begin by talking to the limbic operating system first. Messages that engage emotionally and then intellectually are the ones that have the most significant chance of passing through.
So what is the idea you’d need to pitch next?