Leave the lists to Santa. Start synthesizing your data!



Are you a “lister”?

A lister is a person who answers questions with long lists of data or facts.  Here’s a simple example.

Suppose I ask, “How is your department doing?”

Here is how a lister might respond:

·      Sales are down 10%

·      Our defect rate has increased to 3.2 per 1,000 parts

·      Employee engagement has risen slightly to 85.4%

·      We just launched a new marketing campaign

·      We’ve lost 2 share points to our competitor

·      We’ve saved $535K from our next expense management initiative

Whew!  That’s a mouthful.  More importantly, it’s a brainful!

Our brains don’t like lists. 

The conscious part of our brain can’t handle a lot of information at one time. 

Lists, like the one above, often create more confusion than clarity. Our brains get confused trying to sort the details to figure out what they are saying.

Instead of listing, try synthesizing.  

Start with a simple summary of what’s happening. Overall, what are those points telling you? 

Use your judgement and experience to make sense of the list.  There’s both good news and bad news.  It’s your job to pull that into a meaningful conclusion.  Then, once you have the conclusion, you can provide the data to support it.

Of course, it’s important to provide a full story.  If you believe that things are going well despite a few issues, say that.  Start with the headline that things are going well.  Then support it with your data. After that, you can raise the issues.  That way, your decision-maker is getting the entire picture.

It’s much easier for our brains to process one conclusion with several pieces of evidence than the evidence alone. If you start with the conclusion, your audience can focus whether your evidence supports it.  Without the conclusion, it’s just a bunch of discrete pieces of information that they have to pull together. 

Here are two examples.  Which is easier to understand?

Example A.

Our company has been facing large amounts of turnover.  The core issue is that we do not offer an attractive career opportunity to our people:

·      We have limited career advancement

·      Our compensation is below average

·      Our employees struggle with work-life balance

·      We do not offer many development opportunities

·      Roles are narrowly defined and the tasks within each are repetitive

Example B

Our company has been facing large amounts of turnover.  There are several issues:

·      We have limited career advancement

·      Our compensation is below average

·      Our employees struggle with work life balance

·      We do not offer many development opportunities

·      Roles are narrowly defined and the tasks within each are repetitive

These examples don’t provide a huge amount of information to synthesize in your head.  However, I’d bet that Option A made more sense and was easier to get through.  It’s easier to understand one issue with five examples than five separate issues.

Don’t just provide lists.  Lists are the enemy of efficient and effective decision-making.

Whether you are communicating a problem, its cause, or your recommendation, try to start with a simple summary statement.  Then, layer in the facts, data, and examples, to help support that statement.  Doing so will speed up and improve the decision-making process.

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Brad Kolar is an Executive Consultant, Speaker, and Author with Avail Advisors. Avail helps leaders simplify their problems, decisions, data, and communication.  Contact Brad at brad.kolar@availadvisors.com.

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