Competitive Intelligence: How Visual and Auditory Clues Can Help You Collect Data
When conducting interviews for competitive intelligence research, don’t ignore that funny feeling inside. Sometimes your intuition encourages you to question what you’re hearing. Remember, intuitive insights tend to be a combination of all your listening skills, even if you’re not consciously aware that something’s not right.
Always note when something just doesn’t feel right and investigate a bit further. It may turn out to be nothing, but sometimes it can be quite revealing.
One of the best ways to hone your intuitive listening skills is to watch conversations and ignore what the people are actually saying. Here’s an exercise in conversation watching:
Go to a public place, such as a café or coffee shop, with a friend.
Have a regular conversation with your friend, but while doing that, pick out two or three people near you who are engaged in conversation.
Without letting your friend know what you’re doing, observe the other conversation.
Use your peripheral vision only. Don’t look at the other group or give your friend any indication that you’re observing another conversation.
Don’t listen to the words. You can listen to each speaker’s tone of voice, speech patterns, volume, laughter, sobs, or whatever, but ignore the words.
Try to figure out what the conversation is about.
Is one of the parties upset?
Is one of the parties being less than honest with the other?
Is one of the parties more engaged, based on her body language?
Is one of the parties trying to persuade the other?
Even though you’re not following the words that each person is saying, you should begin to understand a great deal about what the conversation is about and how the people in the conversation feel about one another.
Most people who perform this exercise come away from it with an entirely new perspective on listening. What they discover, more often than not, is that the silent conversation conveys more truth than do the words. In other words, nonverbal communication conveys the real message.
Trust your instincts when your alarms go off
Chances are good that at some time in your life, you ignored your instincts and lived to regret it. Maybe you trusted someone you had an uneasy feeling about or wandered into an unsafe neighborhood. Perhaps you received an e-mail message with a link that looked a little suspicious but you clicked it anyway and passed along sensitive information.
Whatever the case, to become skilled at intuitive listening, you need to start trusting your instincts a little more and trusting what other people tell you a lot less. Everyone has internal alarms that sound a warning when a situation doesn’t seem quite right. Pay attention when those alarms sound.
The human system is an incredible combination of senses and intellect that warn of danger even before you’re consciously aware of it. Finding how to listen to your internal alarms makes you more adept at figuring out the truth about others based on their unspoken communication.
To become more sensitive to your internal alarm system and start trusting it more, perform at least a couple of these exercises:
Think back to a situation in which you had an uneasy feeling about a person and ignored it, resulting in a bad decision on your part.
Try to remember a conversation you had with someone who was saying all the right things but left you with a negative but uncertain feeling. Did you respond with trust or seek out more information to confirm or refute your reservations? How did that turn out?
Think back to a time when you had an intuitive feeling about a situation that didn’t seem quite right and discovered later that you should have listened to that intuition.
Try to remember a conversation in which you had the impression that the person you were talking to didn’t believe what he was saying and you later discovered that what he said wasn’t true. Many experienced bankers could tell you that they had a funny feeling inside when they approved a bad loan, and most of them wish they had paid more attention to that funny feeling.
It’s okay to trust people, but follow Ronald Reagan’s advice: “Trust but verify.” If you have a feeling that what someone is saying isn’t true, ask questions to test whether what the person is saying remains consistent or find other sources to confirm or refute what the person told you.
How to spot a fake competitor initiative
Competitors may try to fool you into making a mistake, especially if they know that you practice competitive intelligence and keep an eye on them.
For example, suppose your company is trying to choose between two competing technologies. Both are expensive from a research and development standpoint, and you really want to make sure that you hedge your bet correctly.
All of a sudden, you begin to pick up intelligence that your largest competitor is going to go with technology B. Their sales people begin to let it slip, and even their CEO mentions the supposed superiority of technology B in a speech.
To evaluate this supposed leak of information, or something similar, here’s what you do:
Assume they’re lying.
This protects you at least until you can obtain confirmation that they’re telling the truth.
Investigate the frequency of leaks.
If you get several leaks over a short period of time, someone is probably orchestrating the leaks.
If you have a video of a corporate official delivering one of the supposed leaks, watch it, paying close attention to messages from the silent conversation.
Here are some clues to watch for:
Eye movements: Did she look up and to the right or left? Did she look down when she first talked about Technology B?
Body position: Did she lean forward when she talked about the new technology?
Word patterns: Did she pause just before she started talking about technology B? Was her speech pattern more controlled and deliberate when she talked about technology B?
Facial expressions: Did her facial expression change when she got to the point in the speech where she talked about technology B?
Openness: Did her arms or hands indicate a closed or open position?
Sitting posture: If she was sitting down, were her shoulders slumped slightly forward and was her overall posture open or closed? Was her body position assertive (leaning forward) or more negative (leaning back)?
Describe what you felt as you watched the video.
Can you honestly say that the person is being truthful and transparent?
Through this verification process, you arrive at one of two conclusions: that the speaker was being truthful or that the supposed leak was a smoke screen orchestrated to deceive. Chances are pretty good that whichever conclusion you reach, you have an 80 percent chance of being right, as long as you completed the verification process.