what we (actually) say

Posted on Monday.7.6.2009

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body_language

This is a re-post of Seth Godin’s blog today. It made me think about all the ways that we may communicate something without actually saying it. It’s an art to be able to listen to what a person is saying and also hear what’s going on internally. The leader learns to listen first, then hear the soul and lastly, expose the truth.

The confusion

We frequently confuse internal biochemistry (caused by habits and genetics) with external events. If we didn’t, marketing wouldn’t work nearly as well.

Our brains are busy processing chemicals that internally change our moods, but find a way to rationalize those mood changes based on events and purchases in the outside world. We often act as though money can buy joy, but of course, it works better when we’re joyful in the first place.

We don’t say, “I’m genetically pre-disposed to mild depression,” or “I haven’t exercised in a while and I spend a lot of time watching TV,” instead, we say, “I’m disappointed because I don’t make enough money and my boss is mean to me.” And yet, someone in the very same circumstances seems much happier than we are. And somehow, nothing ever happens in our career that makes everything all right forever.

We don’t say, “I’m grouchy because of hormones.” Instead, we say, “He deserved that outburst. He was being a jerk.” Of course, he was the same guy last week and you sort of liked him.

We don’t say, “When I dress and act like the people around me, I can feel safe as a member of their tribe.” Instead, we think, “I feel good when I’m with my friends.”

We don’t say, “I have a very complex relationship with money because my parents spoiled me.” Instead, we say, “Hey, the bank gave me a credit card so it’s okay to buy things that I deserve.”

We don’t say, “I eat to drown out the way I feel about my mom,” instead we say, “Hey, if it’s on a salad bar, it must be good for me. And anyway, next month is my birthday.”

The external world is remarkably consistent, and yet we blame it for what’s going on inside of us. People who think the world is going to end always manage to find a new thing that’s going to cause it to end. People itching to be bummed out all day long will certainly find an external event that give their emotion some causal cover. The thinking happens long before the event that we blame the thinking on.

Products are remarkably similar, yet we use their marketing stories as an extension of our self-image and self-esteem. Should a new phone really make you that happy?

Colleagues are almost always trying to work with us, yet it’s easy to blame them when anxiety about other events triggers time-honored patterns in our behavior.

Hang out at the mall two weeks before the prom. Can those items on the rack really pacify the raging anxieties of the teenagers waiting to buy them (or is the social triggers that do it)? Watch McKinsey doing a multimillion dollar consulting gig for a Fortune 500 company. Are they really telling the board something that couldn’t have been discovered by a few talented folks in the finance department? Or are they paying for peace of mind?

Marketers spend billions of dollars identifying common biochemical events, and then they launch products and services with stories that align with those events. As a result, we spend money on external forces in an attempt to heal internal pain. Marketers want the equation to be, “if you buy this, everything will be all right.”

I wish it were so easy.

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Posted in: leadership