Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Assumption Effect - Never Assume Anything

This morning my wife and I had an interesting conversation.

We were half way through it when we both realised that we were each talking about a completely different issue. No wonder the conversation was not going very far.

In recent months I have been involved with two organisations where the same thing has happened. Senior managers assumed the people they wanted to reach knew what they were talking about. In both cases the intended audiences knew little if anything about the subject.

Both organisations exhibited self referential communications: a symptom which runs along the lines of I know what I mean therefore everyone else must know what I mean.

As communicators it is very easy assume because we have invested time and effort in producing key messages, designing brochures, distributing media releases etc, that people - apart from us - know what we are on about.

There must be some high sounding term in the science of communications to describe this effect. I'm not sure what it is so I simply describe it as the assumption effect and it has probably been the root cause of countless failed PR and marketing campaigns.

Never assume the people you want to reach know what you are talking about until they demonstrate that knowledge. That sounds simple but I wonder how many times your personal or organisational communications have been de-railed by making false assumptions at the outset.

That's why it always pay to market research your audiences, and if the data or observation are not there, never assume they either know or care about what you want to communicate.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

It makes an ASS out of U and ME right?

PepGiraffe said...

I'd love to hear some clear examples.

Anonymous said...

I'm reading "Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together" and loved this line: "shared meaning creates shared action."

Bob Crawshaw said...

I love that comment "shared meaning creates shared action." How many times do we see a faulty misunderstanding of a situation delay or confuse action.

Bob Crawshaw said...

Hi PepGiraffe

I'm currently working on a continental-scale environmental project involving partnerships between government and four leading not for profits. I'm helping out with the PR.

The three year project has had an interesting history. The first two years have been frustrating because each partner and the government agency involved has had different ideas about the nature and scope of what needs to be done.

Up to this point each had assumed something completely different from the others. The result is communications to the public - whose support will be absolutely critical - has been delayed until very recently when a shared meaning and common assumptions was finally reached.

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