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Missy Reid

Missy Reid Communications Director

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The Life of the Cocktail Party

I’m from Kentucky, the southeast region characterized by dialect that sometimes presents confusion. Case in point: A friend of mine, after moving to town from Trenton, N.J., asked someone for a quick favor. The reply? “I don’t care to do that.” My friend thought her request had been denied. But actually, in my neck of the woods, those six little words mean “I’m happy to help.”

 

This introduction serves a purpose. I’ll get back to it shortly. But first, let’s switch gears.

 

I read an article recently published online by Wired called People Who Are Good at Cocktail Parties Are Also Better at the Internet. It summarizes research by Carnegie Mellon’s Anita Woolley, who reported that people who effectively gauge emotions in a face-to-face environment are generally able to do the same thing online by observing subtle emotional cues in text. I’d like to call these folks state-of-mind readers, but scientists have already coined it. They call this ability “theory of mind.” There’s actually a test to measure it called “Reading the Mind in the Eyes.” Incidentally, women typically score higher than men.

 

What does this mean for automotive sales? It seems this research could be used to inform personnel decisions and/or training initiatives, especially if we fully understand the complexities of communicating without the benefit of seeing someone’s face. 

 

I won’t pretend to understand all the BDC models, but it’s safe to say that a healthy number of them exist. Some of you might rotate your sales staff from the floor to the phones to online chat. Some probably have staff dedicated to specific communication channels. What this research tells me is that some people are better suited than others to speak with people without the benefit of seeing facial expressions or hearing tone of voice. There are subtleties in language that some folks are adept at picking up on, even in text-based conversations. 

 

This is critical in today’s digital marketplace that often extends beyond any typical market radius. Consider the scenario I described in the opening paragraph. This was a face-to-face conversation where parties had the benefit of observing tone and facial expressions. Yet misunderstanding still prevailed. If it’s that easy to misinterpret language in a face-to-face environment among people of different cultures, imagine how easily we can lose customers in a communication gap online. 

 

Think about how this research can benefit your team. Those with “theory of mind” abilities might help fill the gap.

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