The meeting starts in an hour. You were up late last night. Had to make sure you’ve got all the numbers to support your proposal.
You feel armed and ready. But a little nervous too.
What if your manager (or your client or the creative director or the executive committee) disagrees with your data? What if the disagreement takes the form of “I know what all the facts and figures say, but it just doesn’t feel right?”
You think to yourself: Doesn’t feel right? But I have all the facts right here! They can’t be disputed. How can anyone say “Doesn’t feel right?”
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. We’ve all been in this situation before.
For those of us whose stock and trade is analytics, it’s even more likely. We want to work in a data-driven organization. We suffer from a great temptation to persuade by leading with the numbers, by focusing on the facts.
Surely no rational person would disagree with the facts?
But they do.
What goes wrong?
The Golden Circle
Simon Sinek wants to help us with this question.
Sinek uses a simple but powerful model to explain what happens when we talk about facts and figures too early in the discussion.
Here’s what he says:
It’s the world’s simplest idea. I call it the Golden Circle. Why. How. What. This little circle explains why some leaders and some organizations are able to inspire where others aren’t.
Every single person on the planet knows what they do. Some know how they do it – whether you call it your differentiating value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP. But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. By why I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of the bed in the morning and why should anyone care?
As a result, the way we think, the way we act, the way we communicate, is from the outside in. We go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing. But the inspired leaders and the inspired organizations, regardless of their size, regardless of their industry, all think, act and communicate from the inside out.
That explains why we feel the impulse to communicate from the outside in. We want to start with “what,” to lead with the facts, because the easiest and the clearest path begins with what.
But Sinek says we cannot do business or negotiate an agreement or settle on a proposal with someone until we share common beliefs, until we agree on “why” we should work together. No one will find our facts and figures persuasive until we share these beliefs.
No one wants to be in a company that is solely a data-driven organization. They want to be in an organization that is also belief -driven.
Rooted in biology
Sinek goes on to suggest that this aspect of our nature is rooted in biology.
Here’s the best part. None of what I am telling you is my opinion. It’s all grounded in the tenets of biology, not psychology, biology.
If you look at a cross-section of the human brain looking from the top down, what you see is the human brain is actually broken into three major components that correlate perfectly with the Golden Circle.
Our newest brain, our homo-sapien brain, our neo-cortex, corresponds with the “what” level. The neo-cortex is responsible for all of our rational and analytical thought and language.
The middle two sections make up our limbic brains. And our limbic brains are responsible for all of our feelings like trust and loyalty. It’s also responsible for all human behavior, all decision-making, and it has no capacity for language.
In other words, when we communicate from the outside in, people can understand vast amounts of complicated information like features and benefits and facts and figures. It just doesn’t drive behavior.
When we communicate from the inside out, we’re talking directly to the part of the brain that controls behavior and we allow people to rationalize it with the tangible things we say and do. This is where gut decisions come from.
You know, sometimes you can give someone all the facts and figures and they’ll say “I know what all the facts and details say, but it just doesn’t feel right.” Why would we use that verb, it doesn’t “feel right?” Because the part of the brain that controls decision-making doesn’t control language.
The next time you are tempted to lead with numbers, pause for a moment.
Instead of starting with the logic of your data, start with “why we are doing this.” Then explain the how and what of getting there.
Until your audience (the executive, the committee, the client) is convinced that you share similar beliefs, no amount of data or facts will convince them.
Feelings of trust and loyalty drive decisions, not data
Remember, the limbic brain doesn’t think in terms of language. It makes decisions based on feelings, especially the feelings of trust and loyalty.
But how do you know if the other person believes what you believe?
Because you will have done your homework to understand what is important to that person, what motivates them. Preferably you will have agreed on objectives in prior conversations.
And how do you know if the other person will accept your evidence?
Because you will express your evidence in terms of your common beliefs, of how the project will help achieve the objectives important to this person. And how not doing it will hurt this person’s interest. You will be focused on support for common beliefs instead of debating the merits of your data.
You may be convinced that your organization should become more metrics-based and scientific. That your company is best served if it moves toward becoming “data-driven.”
But you and your audience have to agree on shared beliefs first. Shared beliefs will help avoid arguments about the source and accuracy of the data. The data will play an important, but supporting, role. It will point you in the right direction to accomplish your common objectives.
Therefore, instead of leading with what, lead with why. Why this project meets our objectives. Why it is consistent with our beliefs. Why this campaign will help us move forward. Why it matters.