Fair Exchange: Bring on the facts but in the most open-minded way
by Erna George (@) Monochromatic views are difficult in marketing as there are emotional and rational elements to how decisions are made. Everyone has a certain context, agenda or background, even in the boardroom, and, unless you take an approach that allows the unseen perspective to be a possibility, you could lose before you’ve started. Many will say this is just about politics; I say this is reality, and understanding people and the contexts they have and taking these into account makes ideas and business work more effortlessly.
I recently learned that leaning only on facts may not yield a rational response, making my previous column only partly correct. Why is this?
A bald statement of facts may come across as aggressive and challenging in a direct way. Without your knowing, your simple statement of the facts may seriously dispute a stance someone else in the room has made public previously. Like it or not, people have reputations and egos, and these matter whether at a family event or in a business meeting. You need stakeholders to see and support your point of view in order to get alignment and decisions carried forward. It is possible to confront and diverge from existing perspectives in a way that brings everyone on the journey.
One way to do this is via questions. Experts or senior team members with different points of view will find a fact-based perspective that seeks inputs more compelling vs a fully insistent stance. Show the facts and state that the resulting route, and check if there are further inputs to build a comprehensive view. If the facts clearly indicate a completely different direction to the current one, position the facts and ask if you could be missing a trick or if everyone sees any opportunities in a shift.
“You catch more bees with honey”
All-in-all, showing the facts in a tone and manner that are confident and open-minded could help you win battles and wars – the old adage of “you catch more bees with honey”.
Another consideration is that, without borrowing some of the experience and different insights in the room, you could come across as ego-driven, even if this isn’t the intent. It makes facts appear more biased and personal. Marketers who come across as arrogant might be viewed as on par with non-business-thinking marketers. It’s rarely about you; it’s about how you deploy facts, findings and experience to deliver offers which are ideal for consumers.
Ask for builds or other views before requesting a decision to bring others on the journey. But don’t do this in a patronising way; you can’t ask any old question and you must actually be open to the content coming your way. The right questions to dig deeper will yield a new train of thinking that shows something your fact base may not have considered.
Then you need to be open to and prepared for the opportunity of something new. Balancing your language and tone to be confident and clear, while not being too emphatic and closed, will be vital. You can’t dither or dawdle, welcoming every possibility. Balancing being open and confidently taking a stand is an art that, when mastered, will drive a smooth pathway through the labyrinth of perspectives and opinions.
What is often frustrating is when people use facts one day and not on another; you can’t alternate and employ the approach that best suits or supports your view on a particular day. This is especially true if you’re the gatekeeper, as this could be viewed as poor judgement. Develop an approach rooted in fact that is at least fairly consistent for teams to feel confident in your style and in you.
Facts are critical but it seems that, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, facts are interpreted by ear of the listener. Not reflecting an understanding that people have individual perspectives, and want to be led via engagement on aspects of current business reality or future potential, would be an oversight.
- Use facts plus the right questions to lead thinking that takes context into account
- Be open to ‘what if’; you may be surprised that you’re not right
- Integrate this behaviour into how you operate so it’s not viewed as insincere or condescending
May the right questions bring you solutions.
After starting at Unilever in a classical marketing role, Erna George (@) explored the agency side of life, first as a partner at Fountainhead Design, followed by the manic and inspiring world of consultancy at Added Value. She has returned to client-side, leading the marketing team in the Cereals, Accompaniments & Baking Division at Pioneer Foods. Her monthly “Fair Exchange” column on MarkLives concerns business relationships and partnerships in marketing and brandland.