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#519: Know the Difference Between Anecdotes vs Evidence

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, March 10, 2011
Updated: Friday, March 11, 2011
There are times when it is hard to convince a client of what I see as facts when I present results of my due diligence, research or findings of investigation of their organization or markets. I think I am a good communicator so don't think it is my presentation skills or style. Why isn't this straightforward?

Let's assume for a moment that your presentation skills are effective. There are certain ways that we process information and make decisions that can make it hard for us to see what others consider the "right" information and make the "right" decisions.

There is an adage that says "it is impossible for logic to displace conclusions arrived at by emotion." Sometimes people arrive at a conclusion based on a feeling and no amount of evidence to the contrary will change their mind. Consider the polls that show a nontrivial percentage of US adults believe that Presidential Barack Obama is a "secret Muslim," despite no evidence to support that conclusion. Likewise, your clients may be believing something so strongly that it will be hard for you to convince them otherwise, no matter how much proof you show them.

It might help to have a better understanding of this phenomenon, both for your consulting work as well as to help you better understand how your own information processing/decision making may be compromised. A Scientific American article How Anecdotal Evidence Can Undermine Scientific Results explains the evolutionary preference of false positives (believing a correlation between two independent items where none exists) and the danger of false negatives.

Tip: Talk to your client before your engagement, or at least before you present your findings, about how information will be presented, what constitutes compelling evidence for or against a particular conclusion, and how decisions will be made about actions to take. Recognizing that the use of your findings and recommendations are the province of the client, this approach will minimize your possible frustration at how your results are interpreted.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  communication  customer understanding 

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