Did you know that 100% of the people in my office like snow peas and at any point during the day you’re likely to hear the sound of loud crunching and see the tell-tale sign of strings and stalks on someone’s desk? Luckily, there’s only one of me in the office and the only being likely to be disturbed by the noise or mess is our cat!
As we know, statistics don’t tell the whole story, nor do cherry-picked stories, which is why we need a combination of both empirical and anecdotal evidence when trying to get a fuller understanding of a person or organisation.
The EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE, of course, is the quantifiable, measurable data while the ANECDOTAL INFORMATION, as the name suggests, helps us to understand more deeply, the issue, need, situation, the person, their team and their perspective via anecdotes and stories, examples and demonstrations.
In our first blog of this mini-series on ‘getting to know the people around you’ we considered the power and quantifiable benefits of delving deeper than the surface to understand our clients and team, professionally and personally. The second considered the types of questions, obvious and less obvious, we can ask to glean that information.
This blog is a little shorter and sharper, considering some specific examples of the kinds of information that would be useful to know about our internal and external stakeholders.
So let’s get into it….or as they say in Letterkenny, “pitter patter, let’s get at ‘er”:
- In the case of a client organisation, the empirical evidence we need may include their market cap, staff numbers, structure, position in their market, share price history, current technologies and processes among many other numerical facts fairly easily found with a quick google search. The anecdotal has more to do with the company’s culture, the way it treats its people and customers some of which can be found via the reviews you find online.
The questions you ask here typically aren’t challenging and allow the other person to talk freely, settle into the conversation with you, speak fluently from their wealth of knowledge and give you a feel for their language, tone and style that will inform your response.
Make sure however, to also ask something about them personally. Their work history, skills and passions can be found on LinkedIn of course, but it’s when we’re there in the office with them, that we can probe more deeply and get a stronger feel for the human being in front of us, what they care about professionally and personally, what their values are, what they’re focused on and what obstacles they face.
Don’t be afraid to ask the why, why not and what if questions. Feel free to ask for examples, specific scenarios, how things have played out in the past, what could be problematic in the future. Your job is to dig deeper than others and help them think through, out loud, the issues as they understand them. To the degree you can help them articulate their concerns and can explore the shades of grey – the concerns behind the concerns – you do them a service in helping them clarify their objectives and needs.
- The equivalent empirical information if we’re meeting someone internally – a colleague, manager or direct report – might be related to their targets, KPIs , current performance against those targets, budgets, financial plans, projections, FTE, cost structure, constraints, relationships, collaborations and projects across the business. Depending on the transparency of the organisation, this knowledge might be easily available or more opaque, requiring a level of investigation among peers as appropriate.
The opportunity for anecdotal information is much greater in this case. You’re seeing and hearing much more about their working lives on a daily basis and have a sense of the stresses they face and resources or supports at their disposal. That doesn’t mean, however, that you understand their personal point of view or cares, their external pressures or career aspirations. In short, the content and context of their internal world, is missing. Much of this, of course, is none of our business and entirely inappropriate to probe, but gently asking a few more thoughtful or personal questions than we might normally, to the degree that they appear willing to answer, can open up a trust and rapport, a sense of personal engagement and interest, that can support both of you in future collaborations.
In short, while the specifics of each scenario and relationship are different, the principle remains the same. Find out everything you can in terms of the facts and be willing to listen a little more deeply and thoughtfully than you might otherwise to the person on the day, because in there lies the kernel of opportunity for both.