James and Peter listening to an engineer

Understanding people better so that we can make more informed decisions

I was going to title this article, “you don’t know what you’re missing, start listening”. The theme being, by listening, finding out about the other person, we can enjoy life, learn so much more. And indeed that is my point. But it’s been made before. And I think to keep you reading, I’ve got some new ideas to share on problems in this area. Let me start with a story. A cleaner, known to many of us at a local sports club, happened to be chatting to my friend. She “unloaded” only because my friend took the time to stop and ask her about her family, and life. She told my friend that the food in the club was good but said, “I do special food. I did special food in my restaurant.” She proceeded to explain how she ran a successful business abroad, before she had to give it up and flee to England to escape her partner who was violent. Nobody else ever knew this. Or of her talent. Why not? Nobody had ever asked. Do you ever ask people or like me do you sometimes, conversely, come away from a conversation and kick yourself thinking: I missed an opportunity? In other words, just take time to listen and empathise. In most cases people never really find out about this lady at our sports club. I suggest we have opportunities to inspect, respect and appreciate. Understanding people better so that we can make more informed decisions. Listen, find out about people, it’s enjoyable, informative and opens opportunities.


I suggest if you can focus your conversations on the person you are talking to it’s a win-win. You get more from the experiences. People “like” you, share more, and…it’s fun! Go into meetings and conversations thinking it’s about “them” or “you”, not “me”. Specifically, why?

  • Everyone wants to talk about themselves
  • You find out all kinds of things
  • People like you for it
  • In business you find out more
  • In social situations, the people who don’t reciprocate, you can avoid!

Understanding people better helps me make more informed decisions. But does this normally happen? If you pass people walking past you talking in the street, or overhear people in a restaurant or at networking event, how often is a person actively probing another about what they do? I’d suggest it is normally an information dump. The word “passion” pops up frequently. If it translates into a really happy enthusiastic, charismatic person, that’s great.

See, Hear, Engage and Feel

Thinking about how you communicate and others do with you is surely essential for work, and any situation for  wider happiness. A useful way to plan ahead and recall what happens is the acronym SHEF: see, hear, engage and feel. This is not just amateur psychology or applying a smattering of NLP – neuro linguistic programming – which is cognitive appreciation of how people understand the world. Why it works for me:

  1. Because having to recall what you see, hear and feel in a meeting forces you to notice.
  2. You stop talking and start watching, hearing and better understanding your client.
  3. You give yourself a chance to engage unlike constantly talking.
  4. You need to pose appropriate, meaningful, good questions to make the process work.

More on this in my article an engaging model for marketing here.

Asking Questions

Rudyard Kipling put it best,

I KEEP six honest serving-men

(They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.

the full poem is here

And on the same theme, The 5 Whys: is a technique used in the Analyse phase of the Six Sigma DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control) methodology. … By repeatedly asking the question “Why” (five is a good rule of thumb), you can peel away the layers of symptoms which can lead to the root cause of a problem. Or just keep it very simple in any given situation. Until you are satisfied with an answer, just keep asking “why”!! There are various templates for this, I like the simplest one – see here Where you keep working backwards to find the root cause. Or across a whole project you can use this. You can adopt this approach in conversation and achieve a lot. Clearly taken to excess it is pretty irritating!


I was intrigued recently watching BBC 2 Horizon on How You Really Make Decisions. It featured the work of Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics laureate Daniel Kahneman, who wrote the book Fast and Slow Thinking. Both are well worth seeing and reading. What they contend in fact prove is that we have two modes of thinking: 1″ is fast, instinctive and emotional; “System 2” is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. He showed it is more difficult than one might imagine to stop relying and using our fast thinking. Decisions are what make us who we are. And better decisions can only be good. We can’t go against our biological make-up but we can understand, it’s easy to fall into a trap of thinking about me, and seeing the world through our prejudices.  Understanding people better so that we can make more informed decisions. Listen, find out about people, it’s enjoyable, informative and opens opportunities.

Peter Eales BA Hons Chartered Marketer FCIM FIDM
Founder Director Dorset Business Angels
MD o i solutions limited

Posted in Blog.