Supercommunicators and Hotspots

25 Mar 2024

Charles Duhigg faced a dilemma. By all public accounts, he was considered a great communicator: a New York Times columnist, a bestselling book author, and a Harvard MBA. Yet, he found his daily interactions with his family and at work to be trying and at times unsuccessful. Confounded, he surveyed the field of research for the best communication practices today. His latest book, Supercommunicators catalogs his findings.

Multiple Conversations at Once

Central to the book is what Duhigg calls the Matching Principle:

Whenever we speak, we’re actually participating in one of three conversations: practical (What’s this really about?), emotional (How do we feel?), and social (Who are we?). If you don’t know what kind of conversation you’re having, you’re unlikely to connect.

Stated more formally: a participant in communication may be using one of three mindsets at any time: practical, emotional, or social. For optimal communication, it’s best for all participants to be using the same mindset. Two participants are matching when they are using the same mindset.

Take for example, and exchange in a stereotypical scenario: a couple’s driving spat.

Slow down! You’re giving me whiplash!

Yeah, I know, the seatblet sticks. 
If you tug on it, it'll tighten and hold you closer to the seat.

Here we can infer the Passenger is in an emotional mindset: expressing anxiety about the way the Driver is driving, likely expecting empathy from the Driver. Instead of addressing the emotional mindset of the Passenger, the Driver offers a solution—in a practical mindset. We can guess how the rest of this story may go…

The Hotspot Lens

Duhigg’s categorization of conversations is almost identical to that of the Hotspots Lens: functional (also referred to as practical), emotional, and social are the three types of hotspots we look for in Jobs to be Done analysis. The Hotspots lens is not just a subsidiary lens; it is the go-to lens for starting a Jobs to Be Done analysis.

Beyond similarities in categorizations, we can see how the prescribed matching technique is used by skilled interviewers in real-time during an interview. Hotspots turn out to be productive anchors because they are usually easy to detect even when the interviewer doesn’t grasp the domain or the context. All it takes is to sense the energy in the subject’s voice. Just listen for exclamation points! However, even when a hotspot is captured, the interviewer may not be able to guess the type of hotspot. A qualifying question helps the interviewer correctly identify the type of hotspot.

Imagine, for example, if the Passenger was the subject in an interview:

Subject:  (Passenger in the original example)
I said: "Slow down! You’re giving me whiplash!"

Wow. Were you really worried you'd get a whiplash? Or…[pause]

Gosh no! I was just scared of how fast we were going.

Of course, this makes sense because the Jobs to be Done Interview itself is a form of interactive conversation, and as such, subject to the same Matching Principle. By matching, the interviewer helps the subject open up more and be more honest, thus improving the capture of their story. Skilled interviewers learn to match in the same frame as the subject used in describing their hotspot, for example:

FunctionalIt’s amazing how seatbelt technology hasn’t improved in years.

EmotionalI feel you—I am always a bit anxious when in the passenger seat.

SocialI might’ve expected a kid to whir their wheels, but a grown adult?

Mindsets ≡ Hotspots?

The fact that two distinct, independently researched domains of study have resulted in identical categorizations is significant and worthy of further study as we develop lenses further. For one, it would be nice to understand if there is an underlying causality for this correlation. Another: if these three frames are so central, should we integrate frames more closely to Job Definitions?

Hotspots lens
Job Definition lens
Charles Duhigg, Supercommunicators

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