Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Sensemaking - Why You Need To Know It

Interpersonal Sensemaking: The forgotten Skill?
From the Influential Paul J. Taylor

Something has always bugged me about the way interaction skills are taught. Be it interviews, negotiations, or sales pitches, the emphasis is invariably the same. It’s tactics. Use open-ended questions. Avoid being judgmental. Get them a coffee (but have a tea with you too in case they prefer it, then drink the one they don’t take). Plan. Plan some more. Etc. Etc.

This focus isn’t wrong. Each one of those tactics is good advice. But I can’t help thinking that we’re neglecting to learn a second skill. That skill is interpersonal sensemaking. Making sense of the other person’s behaviour and its underpinning motivation is critical. How else does one determine the best thing to say? The best tactic to use?

Is it really an issue? After all, people are sensible. They’re going to try and say the right thing. Some are even practiced in active listening, a technique where the listener re-states what the speaker has said in his or her own words to confirm a common understanding. There’s no doubt that active listening is a step along the path of good sensemaking.

The case for giving more prominence to sensemaking is two-fold. The first is a simple observation. Can we assume that people intuitively know how to make sense of another any more than they intuitively know what tactic to use? The second is a more subtle point. The teaching of tactics often gives students the impression that good tactics work in all situations, regardless of timing or context.

...So, here’s my contention. Let’s stop thinking that certain tactics are good and certain tactics are bad. Let’s instead start thinking about people as sensemakers: people who are able to quickly make sense of what the other person is doing, and use tactics in a way that gains cooperation. That’s going to be quite a skill to master. Perhaps research can offer some insights into how to do this?

To make sense of somebody means we need to understand the different ways in which people communicate, and the motivations that underlie those ways.

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