Many of you know that I was actually trained as a Theoretical Physicist, but somehow found myself going to the Dark Side—Sales. But, I keep going back to my roots in physics, it sometimes helps me understand phenomena we encounter in Sales.

One of the more well known areas of physics is the Uncertainty Principle, originated by Werner Heisenberg in 1927. Basically, it dealt with the quantum mechanics and the difficulty of simultaneously measuring speed and momentum of particles. We often confuse the Uncertainty Principle with the Observer Effect—which is really what I want to talk about, but thought you’d enjoy the history of physics observations ;-)

The Observer Effect is very important. It states the very act of Observing or Measuring, impacts the thing that we are Observing or Measuring and changes its behaviors in some ways.

This is very important to physicists as they try to measure the properties and behaviors of atomic and sub atomic particles. They have to be able to account for the impact of their observations and measurements on the behaviors of the particles in order to have a good understanding of the real properties and behaviors of the particles they are trying to measure. (This work, by the way, is very important to each of us because it is the foundation to developing new materials and components used to make all the cool toys and gadgets we can’t live without, as well as a lot of the really cool stuff Elon Musk does ;-)

End of the physics lesson.

It turns out the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the Observer Effect are really important in our effectiveness as sales and marketing people.

Naturally, we’d like to think that what we do has an impact on the behaviors and actions of our customers. We’d like to think that what we do, say, and how we engage them changes their behaviors.

But there are some important subtleties to this process. It means, that what we hear or observe with the customer isn’t really what is being said. That somehow, we put our own filters, biases, experience, and behavioral bias onto what the customer is saying or doing and we may not be accurately understanding what they really mean. As a result, we may respond incorrectly or inappropriately.

The easiest way to think of it is this way, there’s a person I used to deal with that I really didn’t like or respect. He felt the same about me. (Don’t worry, it’s none of you—he wouldn’t be caught dead reading this blog.) Whenever he said something, for example, “Black,” I could only hear and see “Red.” My own biases, attitudes, and experiences were so severely impacting me, that I wasn’t really hearing him or what he was really saying–even though, I suspect, much of the time he was saying something very important. Likewise, he was doing the same thing. So while he was a very smart, capable person, we never could agree on things and move forward—and it was largely driven, not by what each of us was saying, but how each of us heard and responded to each other.

It’s a horrible example, but dramatically shows how the Observer Effect impacts our effectiveness and ability to get things done with our customers or colleagues.

Like physicists, unless we understand and account for the filters (or blinders) we apply in engaging with our customers, we can never really connect with and understand what the customer is really saying.

It goes both ways–customers and colleagues have their own Observer Effect, which colors how they hear and respond to us.

So now that we understand the impact of the Observer Effect, what do we do about it?

The simplest thing is simply to be aware of this, that we have biases, filters, and experiences that color what we hear and observe. As much as we can understand what those are, and “account for them” in the situation, we can more effectively connect and engage our customers. Likewise, understanding the biases, filters, and experiences our customers have and “accounting for them” helps improve the customer’s ability to connect with and engage us.

Tools and training on how to listen actively. How to hear what’s really being said–taking ourselves out of it helps us.

Understanding behavioral and communications styles—both those of our customers and colleagues, as well as our own, helps us understand the dynamics of the relationship, ho each of us behave and react, and to better account for the Observer Effect.

Being present and paying attention in our interactions with customers and colleagues can have a huge impact on reducing the Observer Effect. Distractions, like our devices, or the 10,000 things going on in our minds keep us from really understanding.

It turns out, dealing with the Observer Effect, in selling is pretty easy, we just have to be open, mindful, and present.