TIB #31: 3 essential skills to better understand your audience

Written by Arno Jansen

Everybody can coach. And a quick look online, learns that many people are. Coaching skills and mindset are not just for aspiring coaches though. As an entrepreneur and creator, essential coaching skills help you understand your audience and customers better.

As an entrepreneur, you intent to earn money helping other people. To do that best, you need to understand their needs, wants, problems and challenges. Find a way to help them overcome obstacles and you can earn income.

Understanding someone’s needs, wants, problems and challenges is exactly what you to discover in order to help. After that, whether you are a coach, creator or entrepreneur, determines the way you help.

Three pillars of understanding

To deeply understand another person, there are three things you need to find out, I call these the “Three Pillars of Understanding”. These three pillars help you to find patterns between (sometimes seemingly unrelated) situations and help better understand where the other person is coming from.

The three pillars are: Distinction, Perspective, and Relationship.

Distinction

The ability to make distinctions between topics, struggles, wants and needs allows you to observe with relative distance. To the client, everything seems (and is) linked and related. It is up to you to find distinction between different topics, areas, problems, etc.

Separating aspects of the other person’s narrative, helps to compartmentalise their needs, wants, problems and challenges. You attempt to unravel the story, so that you can find out why the person explains things the way they do.

Why is this important? Because from the mind of your audience, everything is related and intertwined in their world. But you can’t offer a (distinct) solution or improvement if you cannot isolate distinct areas to focus your product, service on to provide an improvement or solution.

Perspective

Find out the perspective your audience has on something they experience. I find this to be one of the trickiest things, because the same situation can be experienced very differently by different people. We have to leave our perspective out of the discussion and try to observe as purely as possible to find out how the person experiences a situation.

For example: I recently saw two young boys at the beach. Both were watching the waves roll onto the shore. One ran away scared to his mom, the other one ran laughing and screaming towards the water line.

One boy was scared for the same wave that the other boy became very excited about.

In conversations with our (potential) clients, customers and audience, it is important that we listen with the intent to understand. Not with the intent to reply. Do that, and we will be much better equipped to learn from other people.

Relationship

The final pillar is to start seeing relationships between those distinctions and perspectives. When you start to see commonalities between situations, you have uncovered a deeper understanding of the person you are talking to.

This can be done both in realtime conversation, as well as in your e-mails or other forms of content.

Finding ways to relate the distinctions and/or perspectives is done through asking the right questions. Mastering this requires a lot of experience, and feels like a game of chess (to me) sometimes. But, the main three types of questions to use are:

  1. Open questions: These are questions that invite the other person to share a story. The broader the question, the wilder the direction change in the discussion can be. Open questions are great for discovery. Finding out more about the person, digging deeper into their values, reasons, etc.
  2. Closed questions: Questions with a finite amount of answers. Usually a choice, like “yes or no”. These are great questions to follow up after one or more open questions in order to find out more exact details. It forces the other person to make a choice or form an opinion. Be careful though, what choice you give people in a closed question. Questions like “would you rather pay $99 or $59 for product X” will steer people towards one particular answer. If you are having a conversation with a potential customer, these questions may give you the answers you want to hear, but may not accurately describe future behavior.

    As an alternative you can use specific open questions that indicate a specific answer, while not pushing for a choice. An example: “What would you realistically pay for X”. Still no guarantee that this is what will happen when push comes to shove though.
  3. Recap questions. These are a form closed questions in which you ask the person to confirm (or deny) your understanding of what was said. “So, if I understand you correctly, you would rather dive in the ocean than take a hot bath after running?”. Recap questions help close the feedback loop, and give you an indication whether you are on the same page or not.

Ok, now what?

While this is not a crash course in coaching, it is part of the skillset coaches (and other professionals) use to better understand people they meet. They focus all their attention on the other person. And most people enjoy talking about themselves. Do this well, and you will better connect with anybody.

I hope you can use this to better understand the people around you, not just clients, customers or audience.

Listening with the intent to understand is a very valuable skill to have and one that not many people have.

That’s it for this post. I’d love to hear your tips to better understand others. And as always: Please let me know, if this was helpful to you!

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