It’s natural to develop preconceptions based on a few facts, but preconceptions can interfere with your ability to understand a customer’s situation and problem. Learn how to counter these preconceptions in order to have a more accurate understanding of your customer’s situation and issues.

The Problem

Discovery conversations with prospective customers involve asking questions to better understand the customer’s situation and problem. After only a few responses, we may think “I’ve seen this before.” We then start to create our own story about the customer's experience and needs. After a few more responses, we start offering advice and proposing solutions.

Although these stories are based on our expertise and past experiences, they’re still based on minimal information. They’re preconceptions and are therefore unlikely to be accurate.

People who perceive themselves as subject matter experts are even more susceptible to this folly. Research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology explains that people who perceive themselves as experts are less likely to have an open-minded mindset when encountering situations within their area of expertise (this effect is known as earned dogmatism).

Therefore, experts are less likely to adopt a customer’s perspective or opinion if it contradicts with the expert’s preconceptions. This creates an inaccurate understanding of a customer’s problem and reduces your ability to help them meet their objectives.

A Solution

How can we avoid this trap, especially if we’re a subject matter expert? Having a sense of curiosity helps, but to move beyond our preconceptions we need to adopt a beginner’s mindset, a sense of cluelessness.

To be curious is to desire to know what’s going on, but to be clueless is to be entirely uninformed, to have no information with which to infer. Cluelessness refreshes your perspective and allows you to understand what’s actually happening with your customer, instead of what your preconceptions lead you to believe is happening.

Try to adopt a sense of cluelessness in your next customer conversation. Get comfortable asking questions and assume nothing. You will hopefully find yourself better able to collaborate on a solution because you will be listening to their problem more deeply and seeing it more clearly.

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