Prediction vs. Explanation

This may be too deep for a quick blog entry, but this is such an important concept I really want to share it with you while it’s fresh in my mind…

I have been doing a lot of thinking about how the timing of our words impacts their effectiveness. The same words spoken at different times can have dramatically different effects – even if they are used to refer to the exact same incidents. Here’s an example:

Imagine a time when, as a child, you were teased by friends or classmates. Upon hearing of this, how did your parents respond? No doubt they tried to console you with words such as, “Don’t worry about them. They’re just jealous.” or “Don’t let it bother you. They don’t know how special you are.”

Did these words have the desired effect? Not likely. Most people would just dismiss them as feeble attempts by our parents to explain away what had happened.

Now imagine the same scenario, with one exception. Imagine our parents prepared us in advance for this type of ridicule. Imagine they sat us down and told us how special we were and that we shouldn’t be surprised if our peers ever became jealous and made fun of us. In other words, they’re predicting something that is likely to happen and assigning meaning to the event in advance.

Now imagine how you’d respond to these ideas in this situation. Chances are, you’d be much more likely to accept them in the event you’re ever ridiculed. Why? Because they were delivered as predictions and not explanations. Huge difference.

Once we’ve been blindsided and hurt by the actions of others, any attempts to diminish the pain is seen as mere explanation or justification. But when others prepare us for such possibilities, we give more weight to the same advice because it was given in advance as opposed to after-the-fact.

This strategy can be used in virtually all areas of our lives. If we suspect things may not always go smoothly with someone, we can go a long way toward minimizing any trouble by preparing that person in advance. Words such as, “If I ever hurt your feelings, please know it won’t be intentional.” Or, “If I don’t get back with you, I will have probably been tied up in a meeting.” These words spoken in advance are “predictions” and are much more credible when trouble arises than the same words delivered later as mere “explanations.”

Hopefully this makes sense. If not, I’m pretty sure you’ll cut me some slack. Why? Because I used this very technique at the beginning of this entry. I said,

“This may be too deep for a quick blog entry, but this is such an important concept I really want to share it with you while it’s fresh in my mind…”

Spoken as a prediction, these words come across as evidence of excitement and urgency and are likely to have more impact. Spoken as an explanation, they would have come across more as an “excuse” and fall flat.

Prediction vs. explanation. The difference in delivery is subtle. The difference in impact is often anything but.

Originally published July 24, 2005