About four years ago, I wrote a popular blog on an obscure medical book called the Checklist Manifesto. Since then, that book has become quite popular and the principles outlined by the author for hospitals have benefited managers and individuals in many industries. Hopefully, you’ve used it yourself!
Since reading this book, I’ve often wondered why people are naturally drawn to the concept of a checklist. Whether I’m talking with a seasoned executive or my 7-year old, it just seems right to create and follow a list. I never get an argument on this topic—it’s always, “…of course we’d need to create and follow a checklist, that only makes sense.”
Well, I need not wonder any more. Best-selling author Maria Konnikova recently wrote a fascinating article in the New Yorker magazine that reveals the science behind the ubiquitous success of the list.
It’s a long and very detailed article (that surprisingly does not contain any lists), but here are a few of the points I found most interesting:
"Your mind seeks organization. “Lists tap into our preferred way of receiving and organizing information at a subconscious level; from an information-processing standpoint, they often hit our attentional sweet spot.
When we process information, we do so spatially. For instance, it’s hard to memorize through brute force the groceries we need to buy. It’s easier to remember everything if we write it down in bulleted, or numbered points.”
Your mind wants to categorize. Lists also appeal to our general tendency to categorize things—in fact, it’s hard for us not to categorize something the moment we see it—since they chunk information into short, distinct components….
Because we can process information more easily when it’s in a list than when it’s clustered and undifferentiated, like in standard paragraphs, a list feels more intuitive. In other words, lists simply feel better.”
Your mind wants to know how long this will take. “The more we know about something—including precisely how much time it will consume—the greater the chance we will commit to it. The process is self-reinforcing: we recall with pleasure that we were able to complete the task instead of leaving it undone and that satisfaction, in turn, makes us more likely to click on lists again.
The social psychologist Robert Zajonc, who made his name studying the connection between emotion and cognition, argued that the positive feeling of completion in and of itself is enough to inform future decisions. Preferences, goes his famous coinage, need no inferences.”
Konnikova’s insight has a number of applications in the real estate industry. Here are a few that come to mind quickly:
Recruiting. During an interview, help the candidate categorize the dissatisfaction they feel in their current job/career by creating a list. Prioritizing the list will help them feel and remember the dissatisfaction.
Coaching. You have important concepts that you want your agents to understand during a coaching session. Present the information in a list. It will be easier to remember and refer back to later.
Training. As the Checklist Manifesto taught us, if you want someone to consistently do something, create a checklist. This will be good for your brain and the person you’re trying to train.
Communicating with clients. Teach your agents to use lists in their communication with clients—especially marketing pieces. As people skim information, their eyes are naturally drawn to lists.
Follow-up emails. When you’re finished with a meeting and write a follow-up email to those who attended, use lists to summarize. Here is what we discussed (bullet list). Here are the action items (2nd bullet list).
There are many more applications (another hint; done’ make your lists too long), but you get the idea.
The psychology of digesting information is key to your success as a communicator. If you think about it, getting people around you to hear, digest, and act upon the information you’re communicating is the main part of your “job description” as a leader. Make sure you become proficient at using this tool.
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