How Reading Style, Personality Types, and Unconscious Bias Impact Your Scores
A/E/C firms often overlook the fact that evaluators are nuanced, imperfect human beings—just like us."
In 2008, at the beginning of my career in A/E/C marketing, my first boss in the industry invited me over to her house after work for a casual cup of afternoon coffee. Though I had a background in writing, graphic design, and marketing, I was completely new to the world of proposals. When I signed my employment contract, I didn’t even know what ‘RFP’ stood for. But given my proficiency in InDesign—a rare skill at the time—my boss simply smiled and said, “Oh, we’ll teach you all about that stuff.” So here I found myself, at her dining room table, learning about the wide, wonderful world of procurement.
As we sipped coffee and dug into the details, the front door banged open, and in walked a very disheveled, very wet fellow carrying a pair of paneers (the saddle bags that affix to the back of a bicycle). Being Portland, Oregon, it had been pouring rain all day. At this point, it’s around 5:30 pm. As my boss and I watched, the man (her husband) trudged past us into the kitchen and emerged with the biggest glass of red wine I had ever seen. Pausing briefly to kiss his wife, he made his way back to where he had unceremoniously dumped his gear, picked up the paneers, carried them into the family room, and upended them onto the coffee table. Out came about a dozen proposals. (It turns out he was a project manager at the local transit agency and was in charge of a multi-million-dollar upcoming project.) Sighing deeply, he looked down at all of them. After a large swig of wine, he selected one, stood up, walked over to a rocking chair by the fireplace, and settled in for what promised to be a very long evening of proposal review.
This was my first introduction to a ‘selection committee member. While most marketers picture these folks as shadowy figures, systematically reviewing proposals in an office somewhere, what I witnessed that day forever altered my understanding of who reviews our proposals and the reality of when they review them.
Skimmers, Swimmers, and Deep Divers
There are three types of readers in the world: skimmers, swimmers, and deep divers. The type of content you have in front of you determines what type of reader you will be.
Just bought a new book at the airport for that long flight ahead? You’re likely to open to page one, start with the first word, and read every word thereafter. That’s the deep dive. But what if you purchased a magazine because the article on the cover caught your eye? Well, then you read that and thumb your way through the rest of the magazine, picking and choosing other content that interests you and disregarding the rest. This meandering style of reading makes you a swimmer.
Creating skimmable content isn’t just about pulling the reader’s eye to the most important information. You are also sending a subliminal signal to the reviewer that you value their time."
Now let’s say you are obligated to read something—and it is long, technically dense, and perhaps not particularly well-written. And let’s say it’s filled with well-worn phrases and cliches such as “a deep bench of multidisciplinary seasoned experts…” or “we understand that we must work diligently to ensure robust collaboration and team integration…”.
Ask yourself, do you think you’d have the enthusiasm, time, or inclination to read every word of that? Probably not. You’d be scanning your way through, trying your best to glean just enough information to feel like you can make an informed score. This type of reading makes you a skimmer. And let’s face it, the vast majority of selection committee members are skimmers—whether by choice or circumstance.