Customer Experience encompasses a multitude of sub-disciplines
and covers substantial ground in the world of business.   However, one specific aspect of Customer
Experience that interests me in particular and is something I’ve been attuned
to for years is the art of communication.  
Those working within an organization where there is more than one
employee, which naturally applies to just about everyone except for those one-person
operations, will appreciate the ideas expressed here. Even those running solo independent
businesses will also appreciate the opportunity this presents to them in terms
of honest self-reflection.
During my time at Boston University where I was studying
adult learning theory and instructional design, a professor introduced me to
the work of George M. Prince who was the co-creator Synectics.  Synectics is a creative problem-solving
process as well as the name of the company co-founded by George Prince.  The process of creativity was so interesting
to me that I took a summer course with George and got to know him personally
and thereafter invited him to bring some of his ideas around communication into
the organization I was working for at the time.  It proved both educational yet surprisingly disrupting
to the 20 or so employees that were invited to take part in a Synectics creativity
session.
Sessions were recorded and what was discovered is that certain
things will reduce the probability of a successful outcome, and the language we
use to communicate is one of the more significant.  A discovery of this led to what is known as
the Discount-Revenge cycle.  This is a
relatively invisible yet dynamic process that has a great influence on people
working together for a common purpose.  Essentially it goes something like this.
In a group setting at work with the common goal of coming up
with some new ideas that will solve a customer experience problem, George hands
a dry erase marker to Susan and says “Here, Susan why don’t you take notes so
we can capture everything.”  Ideas start out
slowly but eventually start getting generated and Bill enthusiastically jumps
up and says “I think we should run a lost-business study to see why some
customers are choosing to leave us” and then Mary chimes in very quickly and says
“That’s too slow and isn’t going to help us get to the root cause very quickly.”  The conversation continues as suggestions are
made yet Bill is noticeably quiet until Mary suggests “Maybe we should add a
question to our relationship survey to see how likely a customer is to do
repeat business with us.”  Bill jumps
right back with “But we already ask them how likely they are to recommend us
and if they are aren’t then they sure as heck aren’t likely to but from us again
if that’s the case.”  Susan has been
noticeably quiet in her role as scribe and has offered no suggestions at all
during the meeting.
What we see happening here is a classic example of the
discount-revenge cycle.  This is precisely
what George Prince and his colleagues studied and were able to prove through repeated
recording of sessions like this and from brain research which is that people
are extremely sensitive to the slightest threat to meaningfulness.  Anything that is perceived as a discount will
tend to generate a response in the form of either revenge (a come-back, or one-better)
or a complete withdrawal. 
In this example, Bill perceives Mary’s response to his
suggestion as a discount of his idea and awaits his chance for revenge by
further discounting Mary’s later suggestion. 
The two of them appear to have an inclination to keep the
discount-revenge cycle going whereas Susan just quietly withdrew from
participation in the dialog entirely after having been asked to be the scribe—something
she likely perceived as a discount, albeit a slight one. 
According to the work of George Prince, any sort of slight
or negative attention or lack of acknowledgment is enough to set the discount-revenge
cycle in motion. Given the unlimited opportunities for such unintended
discounts in the everyday operations of businesses and other organizations, the
extent of defensiveness and lack of commitment by employees is hardly
surprising.
What can we do individually help foster better communication
in situations like the one described above? 
Here are four fairly simple ground rules or best-practices—one’s that
should be discussed and agreed to at the start of any meeting where problem
solving and or creativity are required.
  1. All ideas need to be acknowledged and people need to feel
    validated.  Acknowledgment does not necessarily
    mean you agree with an idea. Until proper dialog and discussion has taken
    place, all ideas should remain on the table. No idea should ever be rejected
    out of hand, because to do so discounts the individual that offered it and
    starts the cycle of discount-revenge.
  2. Avoid using the word “but.”   But, literally negates what someone has just
    said or offered. “But we tried that before and it didn’t work,” is such a
    classic response that is sure to generate revenge or withdrawal by others.  Try saying “Yes, that’s something we did try
    before with little result, but maybe we can approach it differently this time.”

     See the difference?  In the latter you are acknowledging the idea
    and validating the individual and leaving the door open to new options and
    ideas to actually make something work.
  3. Take ownership.  Avoid
    accusatory language that typically starts with the word “you.” A professor
    friend of mine recently told me that his graduate student said to him “You
    dinged me on my grade.”
      This of
    course discounted the professor, made him feel like the perpetrator that did
    something unfair to the student.  Nothing
    could have been further from the truth. 
    In reality the student actually reduced his own grade himself by not
    completing a specific assignment on time and by not participating in
    class. 
  4. With any suggestion or idea, start by coming up with three
    positive reasons why it might be OK or a good idea.  Trust me, this can be a 100% effective
    practice.  Forcing out three good aspects
    to any idea is sure to create enthusiasm and perhaps even a bit of levity.  After that, instead of just coming up with three
    negative aspects of the idea, couch them in terms of problems that, if overcome,
    could help make that idea a viable idea or solution.  Now you’re using language that’s constructive
    and relationship-building instead of destructive and damaging to relationships. 
For more about the work of George Prince and the creative
problem-solving process, consider among the following books he wrote on the subject.

·        
The Practice of
Creativity
, George M. Prince,
1970, New York: 
Collier Books, Div.
of Macmillan Publishing, Co. Inc.

·        
Your Life is a Series of Meetings – Get a Good Life, George M. Prince with Kathleen Logan-Prince, 2002
1st Books Library, www.1stbooks.com

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