Humans use brain hacks to make their world more efficient. What that means is that we don’t see reality as it is, but as it signifies what is useful or relevant to us. Dr Donald Hoffman, a professor in the Department of Cognitive Sciences at the University of California, Irvine has a great Ted Talk on this. (LINK if you want to watch the whole thing.)
While human beings have been “civilized” for a few centuries, we have been on the planet far longer, and a lot of how our brains work today is still based on thousands of years of evolutionary brain programming. Danger signals, defense mechanisms, thinking shortcuts are all elements that gave us an evolutionary advantage, and hence are still very much wired at the core of our thinking. One of those is our deliberate distortion of how we see things.
For example, if you checked this email on your mobile device, you likely clicked an icon to access your email account, like Gmail or Yahoo. When your eye transmitted what it was seeing, your brain changed reality to meaning. It didn’t interpret the icon as what it actually is, a portal shuffling electrons and bits of data back and worth. Your brain didn’t even interpret the phone in your hand as the mechanical and electronic reality of what it actually is. Instead, your brain sees the Gmail app icon as what it represents, access to the messages in your email. There would be no practical application to “seeing” the reality of the icon or the phone. The useful part of those is what they do, not what they are. Same for Cro Magnon walking around. A stick is just a stick and limited in its practical application. The brain’s recognition that a stick of a certain size and shape can make an excellent spear for hunting or fighting is what creates meaning and usefulness to the data the brain is receiving.
In other words, we need to be very conscious of what the meanings and interpretations are of what we say and do to prospects. I recently saw this on a joint call with one of my clients. His simple word choice of asking them if they were “struggling” with something got a visible defensive reaction. Debriefing after the call, I suggested better language, like asking what they were “frustrated” with. Why? Because the word struggling creates a different meaning
Imagine you got a call from your kid’s teacher. Here are two options of what they might say:
1) Your daughter is struggling with her math homework.
2) Your daughter is frustrated with her math homework.
Spot the difference? Struggling implies fault, whereas frustrated is somewhat more neutral, implying there is an issue, but not blaming your daughter, nor the math homework.
That might seem subtle, but if you look over your sales talk tracks, and your presentation materials, how many of those things will you find? How recent is the language in your talk tracks and materials? The word “corona” or “virus” might not have had that much meaning 3 years ago, right? In 2020, the company that brews Corona beer had to issue a press release that their beer had nothing to do with the global pandemic. Language changes over time. So do many other queues.
The human brain does NOT consider all the information, logically and sequentially and then make a deliberate decision. It takes shortcuts, leverages hacks to sort through the volume of information it is being bombarded with. Especially in a sales call/cold call scenario.