Dissonant Noise

July 31, 2009 Michael No Comments

I have experienced a convergence of ideas with personal experiences so powerful this week that it seems that the universe is saying, “Well, this is the message. Speak!”

I’m going to have to discuss this in a circuitous manner since the specific parties in question are not the point. If it matters to them, they’ll figure it out. They are officially smart people and can easily do so. However, the event time line is:

  1. We meet someone and establish a business connection.
  2. We often have occasion to see this person in social as well as business settings, and they are publicly demonstrative of close acquaintance.
  3. We transact with this person several times over a period of many months to an amount in excess of $3,000 in a single year.
  4. Although this person knows that we are in a business whose stated goal is to “change the world” by demonstrating appreciation and recognition in all walks of life, they never once tell us, “Thank you for your business.” [Hint: We’re in such a business based on the fact that we subscribe to it’s philosophical code. This stuff really matters to us! Get it?]
  5. We stew and rankle over this until the next large purchase requirement arrives, then…

We do business with a stranger.

It turns out that this process is not just about us but is a psychologically predictable phenomenon. One of my favorite authors on this topic is Jim Novo, whose web analytics work is both superb and translatable into a variety of business circumstances. In his most recent newsletter he wrote the following:

The Social sword has two edges.  If you are going to use a two-way Relationship Marketing approach, you will create higher expectations with those who Engage.  If you fail to perform, or just act like an Advertiser would, then you will end up creating more damage than if you had simply ignored the two-way idea.

For Marketing, the important idea to understand is the human brain always questions actions taken, however briefly, and tries to resolve conflict.  Any unresolved conflicts tend to taint the action, they create Friction, and drive down the Potential Value of the experience.

[If you don’t subscribe to Jim yet, you should.]

And there was, you’ll excuse the pun, the rub: the public demonstration of a close relationship was constantly at odds with the manner in which we were treated when we were paying customers. Unable to resolve the dichotomy, we just removed the “being a paying customer” element to dissolve it.

I would submit to you that there are far too many people who are silently excusing their social faux pas by saying, “They’ll understand. They’re my friends.” No, they will not. They believe (or believe that you want them to believe) that they are your friends and that they therefore require at minimum the consideration that you would afford a stranger who was not motivated to accept excuses of propinquity for rudeness. When they do not receive it, they notice the dissonance and will be forced by the basic framework of the human mind to resolve it, perhaps to a conclusion you would not have wished.

In the coaching biz, they refer to this as “being in integrity.” Think of it is having all of your actions being of a piece. This is what you want your friends, colleagues, and (yes) customers to experience in their exchanges with you. This is particularly true if you intend to frame them as (oh, the oddity of the word these days!) “social.”

The requirement for appropriate respect and appreciation could not be more clear than in the letter Judith Martin (a.k.a. Miss Manners) received from a reader:


Just recently, I received a note from my cousin which began, “Bill and I would like to thank you for the graduation gift you gave to Tom.” I was beginning to wonder whether Tom had not been taught how to write.

My fears were allayed, however, when I received a canceled check endorsed to “Tom Smith.”…

She advises, “Generosity and gratitude should always travel together, and since the gratitude is absent, Miss Manners suggests you squelch the generosity.”

Thank you, Miss Manners!


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