No, I’m not talking about the next presidential election, but rather, about a charitable endeavor by General Mills. The last box of Cheerios I bought invites the purchaser to vote on one of two programs within the Susan G. Komen Foundation—the treatment assistance program or the prevention research program. General Mills will divide a $1 million donation between these two programs in proportion to the votes.
But what in the world does this have to do with communication or consensus building? In the communication diversity portion of consensus training, we learn about different temperament types. This, in turn, helps us understand others’ interests and communicate in ways that click with them. See Bridges to Consensus, Chapter 3.
The most important temperament characteristic for our purposes is one’s preference for thinking—and therefore communication—either concretely or abstractly. Of course, we are all capable of thinking in both of those two ways. The difference lies in which style really grabs us.
Someone with a preference for concrete thinking gravitates to the here and now. They are most moved by what they can feel or sense, and by the immediate effects of things on an individual’s life. These people would tend to vote in favor of the treatment assistance program, which helps individuals get treatment they need right now.
Abstract thinkers often think in terms of concepts, rather than sensations or perceptions. They engage in empirical and/or logical thought processes. They also tend to project into the future, considering how what we do now will affect things down the road. These people would tend to vote in favor of the prevention research program, reasoning that, if we find a cure, no one would need treatment assistance.
According to Dr. David Kiersey, concrete thinkers represent about 84% of the general population, while abstract thinkers comprise only about 11%. Myers-Briggs authorities put the concrete thinkers at about 75% and the abstract at 25%. In either case, concrete thinkers represent a huge majority. So, when I saw the cereal box, I thought the treatment assistance program would be the big winner, and was all set to stick my neck out and make a prediction.
But, being an abstract thinker myself, I began to speculate on whether the abstract thinkers, on the one hand, or the concrete thinkers, on the other, would be most likely to respond to what was printed on the cereal box. And it also occurred to me that the willingness to respond probably depends, not on thinking style, but rather on one of the other temperament parameters. So this could skew the vote.
In the end, I gave up the idea of making a prediction, because the cereal box did not make it clear how we could go about voting. Who would take the trouble to find out? Of those who tried, who would arrive at the correct answer? Again, the answers depended on temperament factors other than concrete versus abstract thinking, further skewing the vote. No way could I predict this election based on thinking style.
I did, however, remain curious about how to vote. The Cheerios box featured a fairly prominent web address, but without specifically directing the reader to go to that web address to vote. I entered the web address in my browser, and got a Facebook page. No obvious answers there. I saw posts about all sorts of things, many of which had nothing to do with the General Mills initiative. Some posts did refer to the initiative, expressing the same confusion I felt with words to this effect: “How do we vote? The box doesn’t make it clear.”
So the moral of this story turns out to be, not about temperament, but rather, about communication, especially when putting something in writing, because you won’t be there in person to clarify if someone gets confused. No matter what your thinking style preference, you can’t share those thoughts with others unless you express them clearly.
Read what you’ve written. Print it and read it again. And get some other people to read it and give you feedback, before you spend money designing and printing a new cereal box.