What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Friday, April 6, 2012

Unfamiliar Bedfellows

Written 3/21/2012

For years now since my undergraduate days and on through my graduate work as well as in life in general I have been trained and/or socialized in what is proving to be a very certain direction.  Much of this training has come from academic classes in the social sciences and research training in support there in.  I have taken all sorts of things from participant observation to archival research to (the dreaded) quantitative methods, but the approaches that have resonated with me most have been centered in, about, and around ethnographic styled encounters and methods.  I have realized something in the last few days regarding this though: ethnography and sales do not work well together!

At work, I am tasked with selling and fundraising.  Short sweet, controlled conversations with a very pointed and desired outcome.  Ethnographic styled interaction on the other hand is about sitting, listening, and engaging in subtle ways that do not control much of anything.  You are a participant, you are observing, but you are not imposing your will or your cultural paradigms, or anything else onto the situation anymore than is unavoidable. 

Its no wonder why I seem to suck at sales/fundraising!!  You are taught NOT to listen, to hear objections and to brush them off, to mostly ignore what people say (unless of course it helps lead you towards your objective).  In this "game", it doesn't matter if you actually want to empathize with people or their stories, you have to let it go.  They tell you to work on the pretense that what you are asking for is inherently in "their" best interests as well as yours and society's.  In short, to assume that you know what is best for "them" - whoever "they" are.  This is of course exactly the opposite of any participant observation/ethnographic endeavor.  Participate, observe, denote, and analyze later from the confines of seclusion and through other similar works or analysis.  How does one switch up speeds so quickly?

This has been one of my issues here at this job.  I have been tasked with switching up years of training, and in fact an entire way of life, overnight.  Its not coming easily.  Not to mention the fact that I actually care about these stories, I actually want to engage with them in dialog, learn and get to know the people on the other end.  But sales isn't about people, it is about money, and the only thing you need to learn is how to make more of it. 

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