Smiling woman listening

First Round Review provides fascinating guidance on how to communicate effectively by understanding how your listener understands the world.  For example, any opportunity can be characterized as moving toward a goal or away from a problem.

This meta model is about motivational direction, specifically whether a person is predisposed to focus on goals to be achieved or problems to avoid. Here’s how individuals who classify as “toward” or “away” can be identified:

  • “Toward” people are motivated to achieve and attain goals. They have trouble recognizing problems, and are adept at managing priorities. They frequently use words such as “gain,” “obtain,” “attain,” “get,” and “achieve.”

  • “Away from” people are motivated to solve problems. They focus on what may be going wrong. They frequently use words such as “avoid,” “steer clear of,” “get rid of,” “exclude” and “not have.”

Halim coached a CFO who was frustrated with his CEO. “He told me that he went to the CEO and told him, ‘We need to cut 10% of our burn or we’ll need to lay off some of our staff.’ He couldn’t understand why he wasn’t getting through to his CEO,” says Halim. “I told him to do me a favor and go back to him and tell him you have to cut 10% of the burn but instead of telling him the negative consequence of not doing so, tell him what the company gets. Which is what? ‘Two more months of runway,’ he said. Great, say that.”

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The CFO told Halim that that’s what he had said originally. “Not exactly. The CFO spoke of budget cuts and layoffs, not of the months of runway gained,” Halim says. “The CFO changed his statement and the CEO who had said no to the cuts, considered them when the CFO reframed his statement. The reality remained, except the CFO spoke initially of moving away from a full budget instead of toward more runway. When he spoke as a ‘like kind’ of the CEO, he used ‘toward’ language, which resonated. CEOs don’t tend to be ‘away from’ people. They move toward the future.”

Of course, pure dichotomies rarely exist. “Studies have found that 40% of people are ‘toward,’ 40% are ‘away from’ and 20% are equally both. In fact, some of the most influential leaders are those who not only can identify if they are talking to ‘toward’ and ‘away from’ people, but can appeal to both,” says Halim. “In her TED TalkNancy Duarte unconsciously decodes this meta model at play when analyzing some of the great speeches of iconic figures like Steve Jobs, or Martin Luther King Jr., who famously said, ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’ King talks both about going away from racism and segregation and more toward a more enlightened future of equality. He appeals to both types of people listening to him.”

For each meta model, there is typically a question that can help determine which type of person someone may be. “To decode ‘toward’ versus ‘away from’ people, ask the following: Why is that [criteria] so important? Ask it up to three times to get to the heart of whether a person is moving toward that criteria or away from it,” says Halim.

In addition to the toward/away from model, there are three other models for understanding how to reach your audience.  This article is exceptional in the way it helps someone communicate effectively.  I strongly recommeing reading  the full story at The Science of Speaking is the Art of Being Heard