By Sharon Drew Morgen

Why does it seem so hard to change a habit or a behavior? Why do we drag our feet when buying a replacement appliance or car? Why do our teams go through disruption when going through a merger? Why do we resist changing our diets or adding exercise to our day when we know it’s good for us?

The oft-repeated myth claims people hate change, that change is hard. But that’s not true. People like the results of change; they just fear the process, the disruption and disorientation that change seems to cause. But the problem isn’t the change; it’s the way we’re approaching it.

The very skills we use to instigate change cause the resistance, struggle, failure to change, and conflict that occur when we initiate doing anything outside of our habituated norm. With a different skill set we can not only avoid resistance altogether, but change in a way that’s pain free, creative and expansive. In fact, change can be a pleasure.

In this article I’ll briefly discuss the topics necessary to consider painless change, and link to five 30-minute podcasts I taped a while ago with Nathan Ives of Strategy Driven Magazine. Since I recorded these podcasts, I’ve since developed a How of Change program that actually teaches how to isolate the exact elements in the brain to consciously generate new neural pathways to stimulate easy change. As always, I’m here to discuss.

WHAT IS CHANGE?

Change means doing/thinking something different than our status quo – our internal system that has been accepted, habituated, standardized, and normalized through time – potentially replacing it with something unknown, untried, and therefore risky.

And therein lie the problem: because our change methods don’t take systems into account, anything we do to effect change potentially causes a destabilizing effect and puts our system at risk. This fact alone causes disruption, pain and confusion. We’re trying to push an as-yet unaccepted element into a fully/long-functioning stable system that hasn’t agreed to alter itself, and it’s defending itself.

To do anything different, we need approval and a route forward from our unconscious system; to change congruently, we must consciously facilitate our normalized, unconscious internal structure to design new and acceptable rules for any additions.

Once the ‘new’ is acceptable, seen to be nonthreatening, recognized as having the same rules, norms, values as the status quo, it will be easily adopted. Note: regardless of the efficacy of the new, or the problems inherent in the status quo, change is not acceptable until the status quo, the system, the group of norms and beliefs that have been good-enough, recognizes a way to normalize itself with the new included.

#1 What is Change? and Why is Change so Hard?

WE IGNORE THE SYSTEM: HOW BIAS AND INFORMATION PUSH CAUSE RESISTANCE

Historically, we have approached change through information sharing, traditional problem-solving methods, personal discipline and behavior modification, and strong leadership, assuming by pushing new information – new activities, new ideas, new rationale, requests for different behaviors – into the status quo it will be sufficient. But it’s not. We’re ignoring the system, causing it to resist to maintain itself.

Why are systems so important? Systems are our glue. Our lives are run by systems – families, teams, companies, relationships. Each of us individually is a system. Systems are made up of rules and norms that everything/everyone buys in to and that maintain the beliefs and values, history and experience, that make each system unique and against which everything is judged against.

And each system holds tightly to its uniqueness as the organizing force behind the activities, goals, and output of our behaviors. Change any of the elements and we change the system; try to push something new into the system, and it will defend itself. We learned in 6th grade that systems seek homeostasis (balance), making it unlikely we can pull one thing out of a system and shove something else back in without the system resisting.

Currently, our attempts at change (sellers, coaches, negotiators, or diets, exercise programs, etc.) are little more than pushing a new agenda in from the outside and assuming compliance will follow because the new is ‘better’ or ‘rational’. But because the new most likely doesn’t match the unique, internal norms already in residence, we get implementation problems in teams, closing delays in sales, resistance to changing eating and exercise habits, modification problems in healthcare and coaching. Indeed, all implementations, all buying decisions, all negotiations, all new behavior generation, are change management problems.

It’s possible to introduce change in a way that does not cause resistance – from the inside out, by teaching the system how to reorganize along different lines, in accordance with its own rules and values.

For lasting change, it’s necessary to enlist buy-in from the system. Any reasoning or validation for needed change will be resisted because the system fears disruption. Hear how systems are the organizing principle around change – and what to do about it.

#2 What are Systems and How Do They Influence Change

WHAT IS RESISTANCE?

The universally held concept is that resistance is ubiquitous, that any change, any new idea, will engender resistance. University programs teach it how to manage resistance; Harvard professors such as Chris Argyris and Howard Gardner have made their reputations and written books on it; consultants make their livings managing it. Yet there is absolutely no reason for resistance: we actually create the resistance we get, by the very models we use to implement change.

The underlying problem is, again, systems. As per homeostasis, a system will fight to continue functioning as it has always functioned, regardless of how impractical or non-efficient it is or how compelling the new change might be. And by attempting change without an agreement from the system, without designing any implementation of the new around the inherent beliefs, values, and norms of the status quo, we’re causing imbalance.

Systems just are. They wake up every day maintaining the same elements, behaviors, beliefs, they had yesterday, and the day before. They don’t notice anything as a problem – the problems are built in and, well, part of the givens. When anything new attempts to enter a system and the system has not reorganized itself to maintain systems congruence, it is threatened (Indeed, we are threatening the status quo!) and will defend itself by resisting. Hence, we always define and create our own resistance.

It’s possible to avoid resistance by beginning a change process by first facilitating the system to re-think, re-organize, re-consider its rules, relationships, and expectations, and garner buy-in from all of the elements that will touch the final solution, while matching the introduction of the new accordingly. Believe it or not, it’s not difficult. But we do need a new skill set to accomplish this.

#3 If Decisions Are Always Rational, Why Are Changes Resisting?

WHY BUY-IN IS NECESSARY AND HOW TO ACHIEVE IT

As sellers, change agents, coaches, doctors, parents, and managers, we seek to motivate change. Whether it involves a purchase, a new idea, a different set of behaviors, or a team project, all successful change requires

  • matching the new with the values and norms of the status quo,
  • shifting the status quo to adapt to something new,
  • facilitating buy-in from everyone who will touch the new addition,
  • working from inside out by aligning with the core values and norms of the system.
[Note: I teach this change process as Buying Facilitation® to sellers to facilitate Pre-Sales buying decisions, and coaches as a tool to generate permanent change.] Until this is accomplished, resistance will result as the system attempts to defend itself.

#4 Why is Buy-in Necessary and How to Achieve It

HOW TO AVOID RESISTANCE, DISRUPTION, AND FAILURE

Until now, we have approached change by starting with a specific goal and implementation plan and seeking buy-in to move forward successfully. While we take meticulous steps to bring aboard the right people, have numerous meetings to discuss and manage any change or disruption possibilities, our efforts are basically top-down and outside-in and end up causing resistance and disruption.

Starting from the inside begins with an explicit goal that everyone agrees to, but leaving the specifics – the Hows – up to the people working with the new initiative, an inside-out, bottom-up/top-down collaboration. While the result may not end up exactly like imagined, it will certainly meet the objectives sought, and include far more creativity and buy-in, promote leadership, continue through time, and avoid resistance and disruption – and potential failure.

#5 A Radical Approach to Change Management, Real Leadership

Change need not be difficult if we approach it as a systems problem. I’ve developed models for sales, leadership, coaching, and healthcare that facilitate systemic, congruent, values-based change. I’m happy to help you think this through or implement it. To learn more about systemic models for decision making, change, and sales, go to http://sharondrewmorgen.com/ or contact Sharon Drew at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com

Here’s a link if you wish to have copies of the entire series Making Change Work.

_______________________________________

Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, thought leader, author, and the inventor of the Buying Facilitation® model, a decision facilitation and change management model often used in sales to help sellers facilitate the change issues buyers must address before they can make a buying decision. She’s written 7 books on the topic including NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. Sharon Drew has trained many Fortune 500 hundred companies to help people become buyers, to help staff change and be motivated, to give leaders the tools to lead effectively without resistance.

Sharon Drew also tackles listening, and closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. Her book on how to hear others without bias, What? Did you really say what I think I heard?, is used by several organizations to enable them to hear each other, and clients, accurately.. See www.sharondrewmorgen.com for a range of articles on change, buying decisions, and hearing others. She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com

November 18th, 2019

Posted In: News

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Training Your Team, Training In BusinessDid you ever wonder why training fails more often than not? When important material, meant to improve or educate, is not learned or acted upon? Why perfectly smart people keep doing the same things that didn’t work the first time? The problem is the training model.

Current training models are designed to offer and present data, not help folks learn. Let me explain.

Current training models successfully educate only those who are predisposed to the new material. Others may endeavor to learn during their classroom study but may not permanently adopt it. The problem isn’t the value of information or the eagerness of the learner: It’s a problem with both the training model itself and the way learners learn. It’s a systems/change problem.

HOW WE LEARN

We all operate out of unique, internal systems comprised of mental models (rules, beliefs, history etc.) that form the foundation of who we are and determine our choices, behaviors and habits. Our behaviors are the vehicles that represent these internal systems – our beliefs in action, if you will. So as a Buddhist I wouldn’t learn to shoot a gun, but if someone were to try to kill my family I’d shift the hierarchy of my beliefs to put ‘family’ above ‘Buddhist’ and ‘shooting a gun’ might be within the realm of possibility

Because anything new is a threat to our habitual and carefully (unconsciously) organized internal system (part of our limbic brain), we instinctively defend ourselves against anything ‘foreign’ that might seek to enter. For real change (like learning something new) to occur, our system must buy-in to the new or it will be automatically resisted.

The design of most training programs poses problems for learners, such as when

– learners are happy with their habitual behaviors and don’t seek anything new,
– fear they might lose their historic competency,
– the new material unconsciously opposes long-held beliefs
– the new material may butt heads with a learner’s long-held beliefs, ego, or knowledge base.

Our brains are programmed to maintain our status quo and resist anything new regardless of the efficacy of the required change. Much like a sales pitch, training offers good data – and learners, like buyers, may not know they need it or be able to congruently make the change the new information requires. But there is another way to go about training that incorporates change. Let’s begin by examining the beliefs inherent in the training model itself.

HOW WE TRAIN

The current training model assumes that if new material

  • is recognized as important, rational, and useful,
  • is offered in a logical, informative, interesting way,
  • allows time for experience and practice,
  • offers enough experiential learning,

it will become accepted and habituated. But these assumptions are faulty. At an unconscious level, this model attempts to push something foreign into a closed system (our status quo) that is perfectly happy as it is: it might be adopted briefly, but if it opposes our habituated norm, it will show up as a threat and be resisted. This is the same problem faced when sellers attempt to place a new solution, or doctors attempt to change the habits of ill patients.

Until or unless the unconscious system that holds our beliefs and values and habits in place is ready, willing, and able to adopt the new material, any change will not be permanent and learners will resist. Effective training must change beliefs first. And beliefs can only be changed by the learner making internal shifts, separate from the new information provided.

LEARNING FACILITATION

To avoid resistance and support adoption, training must enable

  1. buy-in from the unconscious system of beliefs, habits, rules and history;
  2. the system to discover its own areas of lack and create an acceptable opening for change

before the new material is offered.

I had a problem to resolve when designing my first Buying Facilitation® training program in 1983. Because my content ran counter to an industry norm (sales), I had to help learners overcome a set of standardized beliefs and accepted processes endemic to the field. Learners would have to first recognize that their habitual skills were insufficient and higher success ratios were possible by adding (not necessarily subtracting) new ones.

My training design is called Learning Facilitation. I’ve used this model successfully for decades. (See my paper in The 2003 Annual: Volume 1 Training [Jossey-Bass/Pfieffer]: “Designing Curricula for Learning Environments Using a Facilitative Teaching Approach to Empower Learners” pp 263-272). Here’s how I design courses:

  • Day 1 helps learners recognize the components of their unconscious status quo while identifying skills necessary for greater excellence: specifically, what they do that works and what they do that doesn’t work, and how their current skills match up with their unique definition of excellence within the course parameters. Once they learn exactly what is missing among their current skill sets, and they determine what, specifically, they need to add to achieve excellence, then they are ready to learn.
  • Day 2 enables learners to create a route to supplement their current skills then tests for, and manages, acceptance and resistance. Only then do new behaviors get introduced and practiced.

Course material is designed with ‘learning’ and belief change in mind (rather than content sharing/behavior change), and looks quite different from conventional training. For example Day 1 uses no desks, no notes, and no lectures. I teach learners how to enlist their unconscious to facilitate buy-in for new material.

Whether it’s my training model or your own, just ask yourself: Do you want to train? Or have someone learn? They are two different activities.

 __________

Sharon Drew Morgen is the author most recently of What? Did you really say what I think I heard?, as well as self-learning tools and an on-line team learning program – designed to both assess listening impediments and encourage the appropriate skills to accurately hear what others convey.

Sharon Drew is also the author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller ‘Selling with Integrity’ and 7 other books on how decisions get made, how change happens in systems, and how buyers buy. She is the developer of Buying Facilitation® a facilitation tool for sellers, coaches, and managers to help Others determine their best decisions and enable excellence. Her award winning blog sharondrewmorgen.com has 1500 articles that help sellers help buyers buy. Sharon Drew has recently developed 3 new programs for start ups.
She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com  512-771-1117

November 11th, 2019

Posted In: Listening, News

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For some reason, it’s an accepted norm that presenting details of an idea or solution will prompt action. It goes something like this: you want someone to buy or do something, or fund you; you want a team to organize in a certain way, or a teenager to change behaviors. In other words, you want someone to do something they’re currently not doing. You decide on a story, a pitch, a tactic, a presentation, that will influence them to change their current behaviors to do what you want them to do. So you

  • formulate the ‘right’ message, in the right way – according to their demographics or personal characteristics – that (you assume) represents their ‘needs’ and will motivate action;
  • develop the ‘right’ supplemental materials or stories;
  • pitch, present, tell a story, offer indisputable research and superlative references that prove your value.
  • You then assume your ‘relationship’ with the listener – your status, brand, assumed expertise, history – offers you authority to be granted what you ask for. And then you wait. And then…nothing.

In case you’re wondering why you’re not getting the results you deserve, it’s because it’s all based on you.

WHAT – PITCHES CAN’T BE HEARD

Just because you may be ‘right’, have the essential information and capability to fix a problem, your message won’t be heard unless the listener recognizes they want to change, that they cannot resolve their own problem using familiar resources, and they’re ready to seek an external fix.

Indeed, until they know precisely when, why, what, and how to change their current thinking and behaviors, until they recognize that the ‘cost’ of adopting a solution from outside the status quo is lower than the cost of maintaining the problem, there’s a case to be made that your suggestions will be ignored or resisted.

Here’s the problem. Your pitches and stories:

  1. try to persuade others according to your needs and goals (As a listener, if don’t think I have a need, why should I listen?);
  2. are misunderstood and mistranslated as per unconscious listening biases (As a listener, if I misinterpret what you’re talking about, what is my takeaway? And how will I know what I think I hear isn’t what you’re saying?);
  3. provide an answer according to what you believe is needed (As a listener, I’m offended when you think you know more than me about what I need.);
  4. use biased verbal and graphic forms to represent the message you think will be effective (As a listener, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t think that way.);
  5. reflect your need for them to take action NOW (As a listener, I haven’t figured out if I need to change anything. So why are you pushing me to take action?);
  6. probably don’t resolve the potentially broken internal rules and historic choices that created and maintain the problem (As a listener, I know I need to resolve this, but it’s always been this way and so many things are dependent upon it. What will break if I try to do something different?).

Notice it’s you and your biases determining:

  • the information you’re sharing – which may not be the best set of facts for that listener;
  • the particular words, graphics, presentation used – which may not be the best for the listener’s understanding;
  • the assumption that the problem needs to be fixed – and fixed the way YOU think it should be fixed;
  • that YOU are the one (an outsider with no true knowledge of the full data set of what’s going on internally) who has THE content to fix them – and aren’t recognizing any possible avenues for them to fix themselves;
  • the intended outcome YOU believe needs to be met – which may not be the same outcome or agenda the listener condones.

In other words, with no accurate idea of how your information is being received OR the actual underlying fact pattern that has both created and maintained the status quo, with no ability to understand the historic, systemic issues that keep the status quo functioning well-enough to not have considered change, you’re trying to tell folks to do what you want them to do using your own criteria for them to change.

You certainly have no control. You have no way of knowing the rules, relationships, background, of what you can only see parts of from outside the system. You have no idea how you’re being heard, or if your chosen languaging and presentation is what the Other will respond to. Indeed, you have no way of knowing that your message is ‘right’ for that person at that time.

I contend that by entering a conversation fraught with your own biases, goals, needs, and limited understanding, you’ll only succeed with those who already believe the way you do, are seeking change, and are looking for exactly what you’re presenting. And those who really might need your message will ignore it if it’s mistimed, runs counter to the current operating rules or agreements, or uses the wrong languaging.

This can be amended. You can prepare listeners to accurately hear and be motivated to act on what you want to share; you can language your information according to the best chances to be heard, at a time when the listener is ready, willing, and able to hear. But you need to add a new mindset.

WHY – CAN’T YOUR PITCH/STORY BE HEARD?

Right now it seems your listeners are ignoring you, or resisting; that they misinterpret or forget on purpose. But that’s not the case. They just cannot respond to what you are telling them. The way they hear you is a big part of the problem.

Simplistically, brains take in spoken words through your ears as chemical and electrical signals devoid of meaning. These signals

  • travel down neural pathways
  • seeking similar-enough signals
  • that match with the incoming signals
  • to an unknowable (greater or lesser) degree,
  • and may have a different meaning
  • that’s some degree ‘off’ the incoming message,
  • but matches historic decisions and beliefs
  • that have been built in to current choices, status quo, and accepted norms.

In other words, there’s a high probability your intended message will be misheard, misunderstood, or mistranslated as per the meaning attached to the neurons and synapses a listener’s brain automatically chooses to match with your words; you have no idea what others hear when you speak, your clarity, personality, and messaging aside.

Those with no interest at all, and regardless of your attempts to inspire attention, may notice only a fraction of what you offer and certainly won’t care if they’re getting it wrong. For those who are trying to listen, they don’t know what parts of your message they’re missing or misinterpreting. Their brains won’t tell them they’ve got it wrong.

In fact, people can’t know that they DON’T accurately hear what you’re saying. As per above, their brains don’t tell them which words or concepts were omitted or mistranslated during their normal brain/listening process. So if I say ABC, you might actually hear ABL and your brain won’t tell you it haphazardly discarded E, F, G, etc. during its signal matching process. I actually wrote a book on this called WHAT? Did you really say what I think I heard?.

In other words, even if people try to hear you, even if you’re messaging is terrific, all listening is unconsciously biased by your listener’s brains regardless of what you say. And using normal conversation, or pitching/storytelling, you have no control. When you merely pitch

  • what you want them to hear
  • AND your listener has not heard what you intended them to hear
  • AND your listener is not in agreement or doesn’t know how what they think they heard relates to their situation,

there’s a good likelihood you’re unwittingly fostering resistance and resentment.

But when listeners have agreed they want new knowledge, when they know how to manage any disruption that would result from bringing in something new, their brain will connect with the correct neural pathways to listen through and accurately hear what you’ve got to say.

Your first job is to get them ready to hear you. I can’t say this enough: regardless of how much Others need to hear what you’ve got to say, no matter what problem it will resolve, no matter how urgently they need the information you have, they cannot, cannot hear you accurately unless they unconsciously match what you’re saying with their unconscious listening biases.

WHEN – SHOULD YOU SHARE INFORMATION?

Begin by getting on the same page as your listener. That means your normal pitch, your normal presentation materials or deck, may need to be amended to include factors on THEIR side of the table. Do research with current clients. Come at this from the standpoint of the listener, the buyer, the funder:

  1. recognize it’s your responsibility to help the listener hear you accurately; their brains won’t know what’s accurate.
  2. create the path to ensure listener buy-in before mentioning your idea.
  3. assume you will be resisted if what they hear doesn’t match their current beliefs and historic rules about the subject.

I continue to be shocked that I rarely meet a marketer OR a seller who knows exactly how their buyers buy: the types of internal change issues they must manage before they can do anything different; the possibilities they have of fixing their own problems; the relationship and power and buy-in issues going on amongst stakeholders that influence (in)action. Or folks seeking funding: what criteria will funders use to choose you over the competition? It won’t be based on your pitch – they’ve heard it before. Or influencers: what historic actions or cultural norms are fixed in the status quo that would need to shift for them to buy-in to change?

Until you know this, there’s no way for you to be certain the proper technique to use to pitch, and you’ll only be successful with the low hanging fruit. I wrote a book on this that will teach you all of the stuff going on behind the scenes: Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. But make sure you do research. Or let me know and I can help you gather the right data and give you a report.

Once you understand the ‘lay of the land’ behind the scenes, your conversation must begin by engendering trust so they’ll begin to turn off their guarded ear and open up a bit. And the only way you’ll engender trust is to really care about them. They will have no need to care about you unless you do. Something like this:

For some reason, it’s an accepted norm that presenting details of an idea or solution will prompt action. It goes something like this: you want someone to buy or do something, or fund you; you want a team to organize in a certain way, or a teenager to change behaviors. In other words, you want someone to do something they’re currently not doing. You decide on a story, a pitch, a tactic, a presentation, that will influence them to change their current behaviors to do what you want them to do. So you

  • formulate the ‘right’ message, in the right way – according to their demographics or personal characteristics – that (you assume) represents their ‘needs’ and will motivate action;
  • develop the ‘right’ supplemental materials or stories;
  • pitch, present, tell a story, offer indisputable research and superlative references that prove your value.

You then assume your ‘relationship’ with the listener – your status, brand, assumed expertise, history – offers you authority to be granted what you ask for. And then you wait. And then…nothing.

In case you’re wondering why you’re not getting the results you deserve, it’s because it’s all based on you.

WHAT – PITCHES CAN’T BE HEARD

Just because you may be ‘right’, have the essential information and capability to fix a problem, your message won’t be heard unless the listener recognizes they want to change, that they cannot resolve their own problem using familiar resources, and they’re ready to seek an external fix. 

Indeed, until they know precisely when, why, what, and how to change their current thinking and behaviors, until they recognize that the ‘cost’ of adopting a solution from outside the status quo is lower than the cost of maintaining the problem, there’s a case to be made that your suggestions will be ignored or resisted.

Here’s the problem. Your pitches and stories:

  1. try to persuade others according to your needs and goals (As a listener, if don’t think I have a need, why should I listen?);
  2. are misunderstood and mistranslated as per unconscious listening biases (As a listener, if I misinterpret what you’re talking about, what is my takeaway? And how will I know what I think I hear isn’t what you’re saying?);
  3. provide an answer according to what you believe is needed (As a listener, I’m offended when you think you know more than me about what I need.);
  4. use biased verbal and graphic forms to represent the message you think will be effective (As a listener, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t think that way.);
  5. reflect your need for them to take action NOW (As a listener, I haven’t figured out if I need to change anything. So why are you pushing me to take action?);
  6. probably don’t resolve the potentially broken internal rules and historic choices that created and maintain the problem (As a listener, I know I need to resolve this, but it’s always been this way and so many things are dependent upon it. What will break if I try to do something different?).

Notice it’s you and your biases determining:

  • the information you’re sharing – which may not be the best set of facts for that listener;
  • the particular words, graphics, presentation used – which may not be the best for the listener’s understanding;
  • the assumption that the problem needs to be fixed – and fixed the way YOU think it should be fixed;
  • that YOU are the one (an outsider with no true knowledge of the full data set of what’s going on internally) who has THE content to fix them – and aren’t recognizing any possible avenues for them to fix themselves;
  • the intended outcome YOU believe needs to be met – which may not be the same outcome or agenda the listener condones.

In other words, with no accurate idea of how your information is being received OR the actual underlying fact pattern that has both created and maintained the status quo, with no ability to understand the historic, systemic issues that keep the status quo functioning well-enough to not have considered change, you’re trying to tell folks to do what you want them to do using your own criteria for them to change.

You certainly have no control. You have no way of knowing the rules, relationships, background, of what you can only see parts of from outside the system. You have no idea how you’re being heard, or if your chosen languaging and presentation is what the Other will respond to. Indeed, you have no way of knowing that your message is ‘right’ for that person at that time.

I contend that by entering a conversation fraught with your own biases, goals, needs, and limited understanding, you’ll only succeed with those who already believe the way you do, are seeking change, and are looking for exactly what you’re presenting. And those who really might need your message will ignore it if it’s mistimed, runs counter to the current operating rules or agreements, or uses the wrong languaging.

This can be amended. You can prepare listeners to accurately hear and be motivated to act on what you want to share; you can language your information according to the best chances to be heard, at a time when the listener is ready, willing, and able to hear. But you need to add a new mindset.

WHY – CAN’T YOUR PITCH/STORY BE HEARD?

Right now it seems your listeners are ignoring you, or resisting; that they misinterpret or forget on purpose. But that’s not the case. They just cannot respond to what you are telling them. The way they hear you is a big part of the problem.

Simplistically, brains take in spoken words through your ears as chemical and electrical signals devoid of meaning. These signals

  • travel down neural pathways
  • seeking similar-enough signals
  • that match with the incoming signals
  • to an unknowable (greater or lesser) degree,
  • and may have a different meaning
  • that’s some degree ‘off’ the incoming message,
  • but matches historic decisions and beliefs
  • that have been built in to current choices, status quo, and accepted norms.

In other words, there’s a high probability your intended message will be misheard, misunderstood, or mistranslated as per the meaning attached to the neurons and synapses a listener’s brain automatically chooses to match with your words; you have no idea what others hear when you speak, your clarity, personality, and messaging aside.

Those with no interest at all, and regardless of your attempts to inspire attention, may notice only a fraction of what you offer and certainly won’t care if they’re getting it wrong. For those who are trying to listen, they don’t know what parts of your message they’re missing or misinterpreting. Their brains won’t tell them they’ve got it wrong.

In fact, people can’t know that they DON’T accurately hear what you’re saying. As per above, their brains don’t tell them which words or concepts were omitted or mistranslated during their normal brain/listening process. So if I say ABC, you might actually hear ABL and your brain won’t tell you it haphazardly discarded E, F, G, etc. during its signal matching process. I actually wrote a book on this called WHAT? Did you really say what I think I heard?.

In other words, even if people try to hear you, even if you’re messaging is terrific, all listening is unconsciously biased by your listener’s brains regardless of what you say. And using normal conversation, or pitching/storytelling, you have no control. When you merely pitch

  • what you want them to hear
  • AND your listener has not heard what you intended them to hear
  • AND your listener is not in agreement or
  • doesn’t know how what they think they heard relates to their situation,

there’s a good likelihood you’re unwittingly fostering resistance and resentment.

But when listeners have agreed they want new knowledge, when they know how to manage any disruption that would result from bringing in something new, their brain will connect with the correct neural pathways to listen through and accurately hear what you’ve got to say.

Your first job is to get them ready to hear you. I can’t say this enough: regardless of how much Others need to hear what you’ve got to say, no matter what problem it will resolve, no matter how urgently they need the information you have, they cannot, cannot hear you accurately unless they unconsciously match what you’re saying with their unconscious listening biases.

WHEN – SHOULD YOU SHARE INFORMATION?

Begin by getting on the same page as your listener. That means your normal pitch, your normal presentation materials or deck, may need to be amended to include factors on THEIR side of the table. Do research with current clients. Come at this from the standpoint of the listener, the buyer, the funder:

  1. recognize it’s your responsibility to help the listener hear you accurately; their brains won’t know what’s accurate.
  2. create the path to ensure listener buy-in before mentioning your idea.
  3. assume you will be resisted if what they hear doesn’t match their current beliefs and historic rules about the subject.

I continue to be shocked that I rarely meet a marketer OR a seller who knows exactly how their buyers buy: the types of internal change issues they must manage before they can do anything different; the possibilities they have of fixing their own problems; the relationship and power and buy-in issues going on amongst stakeholders that influence (in)action. Or folks seeking funding: what criteria will funders use to choose you over the competition? It won’t be based on your pitch – they’ve heard it before. Or influencers: what historic actions or cultural norms are fixed in the status quo that would need to shift for them to buy-in to change?

Until you know this, there’s no way for you to be certain the proper technique to use to pitch, and you’ll only be successful with the low hanging fruit. I wrote a book on this that will teach you all of the stuff going on behind the scenes: Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. But make sure you do research. Or let me know and I can help you gather the right data and give you a report.

Once you understand the ‘lay of the land’ behind the scenes, your conversation must begin by engendering trust so they’ll begin to turn off their guarded ear and open up a bit. And the only way you’ll engender trust is to really care about them. They will have no need to care about you unless you do. Something like this:

I have something I’d like to share. But I’m not sure if you need to hear it. How are you currently thinking about X right now?

This lets the listener know they have their own valid viewpoint and you won’t foist your beliefs on them; pushing your data too soon encourages resistance and resentment. Continue with some of these:

I hear you currently believe X? Did I hear correctly?

If there is a time when you consider change, how would you plan on handling X?

I notice that you didn’t mention X. Do you have any thoughts on how you might incorporate any needed new choices? I have a solution/idea that would offer new thoughts on this subject should you want to consider new choices.

The hard part is to keep yourself from talking if their responses seem to naturally lead to them adopting your solution: until they have agreed to add something new or consider change, until they realize they might be missing a piece, you’ve got nothing to say.

How many times have you walked through booths at conferences and heard folks wasting their breath pitching pitching pitching, hoping hoping hoping their message will be heard by someone?!?! Well, there’s a good chance you’re doing the same thing. Stop wasting your breath; save it for those who want to hear it and then language it according to their listening patterns.

Wait until you’re certain your listener wants to learn/do something different before pitching. Even for you folks seeking funding: before you pitch, help them determine the criteria they’ll use to choose someone to fund and then match that criteria. For parents seeking to change a teen’s habits: what’s stopping them from implementing what they promised? For sellers: what do they need to do internally to get the buy-in for any proposed change? How will they determine if an outside fix is less costly than maintaining the status quo? What can they do to fix the problem themselves first?

Until people know if they’re ready/able to do anything different, that the ‘cost’ of change is manageable, they aren’t available to listen to what you have to say. When you begin with a pitch, you’re restricting your audience to those who have already decided to change – the low hanging fruit. Until people know how to listen without bias you can’t be heard accurately. Sorry.

HOW – SHOULD YOU PITCH?

Of course it’s necessary to share specific details when needed:

  • to take action (The space for the desk is 8 feet long.);
  • to recognize a fit between items (We will be serving fish, so bring white wine.);
  • to explain penalties (If you come home after midnight, you’ll be grounded.);
  • when someone seeks you out to answer their curiosity (How do you cook that?)
  • to know what to do when an action has been agreed upon (Our first action will be to…);
  • to know content details (I now recognize I cannot solve a problem myself, know how to manage the fallout from bringing in something new, and have the buy-in to learn, buy, think, add something new).

It’s necessary to language your pitch so you’re understood when information is needed. Once the listener has shared what they already believe to be true about the topic you’re discussing, use their words, their beliefs, and what they think is missing, to populate your pitch. Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re selling email organization software.

You: How are you currently organizing your email?
Prospect: I use my folders in my email software.
You: I assume that’s working fine for you or you would have added new capability before now.
Prospect: I know I should do it, but I can’t get my head around adding any new software than I already have. I’m overwhelmed.
You: I know. All of us are. I sell an email organizing product that’s simple to install and seamlessly works with most existing software. If you want, we can discuss it if your stakeholders would consider adding the organizing capability to what you’ve got now.

Notice when it was time to speak I focused my pitch to only the comments my listener mentions. If I used my entire pitch, I’d be breaking trust.

I’ve spent decades training sales folks, another decade as a life/business coach, and more recently as the developer of a unique change model that enables folks to generate congruent behavior change. I developed an entire generic change management model (Buying Facilitation®) that teaches sellers how to facilitate any buying decision, coaches to facilitate congruent change, and helps leaders and parents expedite requests and promises. And I also developed a new form of question (Facilitative Questions (above) that help others discover their own answers with no bias from the questioner other than a facilitated direction for brains to find answers.

I understand how difficult it is instigate change in others. Remember that when you’re pitching, or sharing a story to initiate another to take action, you’re asking them to change. Please consider the problem from a different angle. Help your listeners change by helping them change their brains. Stop thinking your brilliant content will be enough; serve them by helping them figure out how to use what you’ve got to say to become better.

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Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, inventor of Buying Facilitation® and Facilitative Questions, trainer, coach, and consultant. She is the author of 9 books, including NYTimes Business bestseller Selling with Integrity. Sharon Drew can help you develop, perfect, and present your message for optimal success.

November 4th, 2019

Posted In: News

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Why systms work for businessAs a Change Facilitator, I often get asked about the nature of decision making, change and buy-in. Since my responses seem surprising in their laser focus on systems, I thought it might be an interesting conversation to start among influencers: what role do systems play in change? I contend that unless we understand systems we can’t hear others without bias, can’t pose pitches or try to influence others, can’t effectively design or implement projects and project teams, and can’t effectively maintain relationships.

To that end, I’ve jotted down a few of my favorite ‘laws’ of systems that might help explain my intense respect for them, and provide you with baseline truths of how our status quo rules our behaviors, how our beliefs and decisions are tied together, and why it’s so difficult to change anyone’s mind.

Here are my thoughts on how and why systems are not only central to change, but the glue that makes the status quo so substantial and change so difficult; at the end, I offer an approach to enable congruent, inside-out, permanent change.

  • A system is a conglomeration of elements that represent the status quo and have agreed to the same rules and beliefs which are then expressed through behaviors. All behaviors represent and express the beliefs and rules inherent in the system.
  • A system has created its status quo, with a set identity and Hierarchy of Beliefs that govern it. It’s largely unconscious and historic, designed to maintain itself as is, perpetuated by the historic rules that recreate it daily, and defends itself at all costs. It can be said that all systems are complex in their own way.
  • A system always makes choices that enable it to maintain itself with minimal disruption. Regardless of how others interpret the decisions or choices made by the system, our take-aways as Outsiders are always subjective.
  • A system just IS. Systems always act upon the givens, rules, beliefs, etc. that define it, and are congruent onto itself.
  • No one from outside the system can ever understand why it does what it does (i.e. behaviors) due to its idiosyncratic nature. While it may appear to Outsiders to be ineffective, unstable, etc, (all judgments seen through an Outsider’s subjective filters) a system has developed operational behaviors, created the rules and elements of the status quo that maintains itself daily, and will not allow itself to be disrupted.
  • When Outsiders attempt to push their own agendas through advice, information, ideas, content (i.e. sales, coaching, healthcare, marketing, trainingleadership, management) they are pushing against a closed, fixed system that must resist external influence in order to maintain Systems Congruence.
  • No change can occur unless a system makes room for the new (systemic reorientation) in a way that maintains the rules of the system (Systems Congruence). The system is sacrosanct, regardless of its downsides.
  • All elements within a system that would be touched by a proposed change must agree to changing its rules, and buy-in to all of the elements that will change. This is the only way to ensure Systems Congruence. Otherwise there will be rejection, sabotage, lost relationships, misunderstanding, failed implementations, delayed sales cycles, etc. In other words, attempting to create or influence change (aimed at the behavioral level) will fail unless the system has already reoriented itself to seek and adopt change because it is convinced it cannot fix a problem itself, and has a specific path forward that is congruent and avoids disruption.
  • All decisions are change management problems. Decisions are prompted by changes in the Hierarchy of Beliefs, and get made only when there is internal alignment to ensure continued congruency.
  • To influence change, decision making, and buy-in, influencers should focus on the origination points (in beliefs) that designed the behaviors to begin with.
  • Successful change can occur only when the system has assembled, and gotten buy-in from, all of the elements in the status quo that would be modified as a result.
  • Before change can happen, there must be a systemic understanding within the system of the downside of change, and it must be compensated for congruently or there will be fallout as it fights to maintain stability. 
  • Before change can happen, the system must know with certainty that it cannot fix a problem on its own. The last thing a system wants is to accept an external fix, or change. 
  • Information does not teach a system why, when, if, or how to change. Information is necessary at the end, once there is buy-in for change, and only to fill in the necessary gaps when the system gets to the point when it recognizes it cannot fix itself, has gotten the go-ahead (buy-in) from each of the affected elements and knows how to remain congruent while doing something differently.
  • Before change can happen, systems must figure out how to re-organize, re-prioritize, enhance, or devalue, the elements that define so it continually maintains Systems Congruence.
  • There are 13 steps included in all change decisions, regardless of whether it’s one person buying a toothbrush, or a global team deciding to implement new software. The steps may be iterative or unconscious, but they all must be addressed for congruent change to occur and for the components to design, buy-in to, and support, the change.
  • All change must be initiated, and adopted, at the belief level. When content or influencing procedures are used to drive change, it’s too often aimed at changing behaviors, causing systemic resistance. Note: behaviors are merely the expression, the transaction, of a belief and are not the cause of change, but the response to it.
  • Influencers can use their positions as Servant Leaders to enable people, teams (i.e. human systems) to traverse their own unconscious steps to change, so long as they avoid biased questions, biased listening, or content sharing, etc. and stick to facilitating the system through their own discovery and down their own steps to congruent change. Then it will be obvious the type of information required to enable change that’s non-disruptive.

WRAP UP

Systems are the core – the foundation, the status quo – of congruent human structures (people, teams, companies, families) and are based on every element within them agreeing to the same rules and beliefs that specify the operating rules for behaviors. (It’s obvious. Do you think IBM and Google and Uber all operate out of the same foundational rules and operational beliefs?).

This system gets up every day and replicates itself so it not only recreates the status quo, but maintains it. All systems resist, and potentially misinterpret, anything from outside that threatens it. Until or unless there is a systemic understanding that there will be no/minimal disruption – certainly no change without buy-in from the elements – change will not occur.

Each system (each family, each person) is unique and idiosyncratic, unknowable to an outsider due to its unconscious nature, history, patterns, and Hierarchy of Beliefs and rules.

For those of us in sales, coaching, healthcare, leadership, consulting, or any type of change management, we often use content/information (initiatives, information, Behavior Modification, education, pitches, marketing, advice, etc.) or our own intuition and needs for the Other as the means to invoke change, assuming that offering the right data, in the right format, will teach someone to do something differently.

Yet change doesn’t happen as a result of information, regardless of how critical it is, unless the system has already determined its willingness and ability to change congruently, with buy-in from all effected elements. Change only happens systemically, when the foundational beliefs are ready, willing, and able to change. Until or unless the system learns how to facilitate and incorporate new congruent choices, or reprioritize the existing Hierarchy, change cannot occur.

Conventional practices include posing conventional (biased) questions asked to elicit answers as per the Asker’s needs and curiosity, filtered through their biased listening, directed toward behavior change (rather than belief change) that they want to see occur and use biased content to convince/influence/rationalize the system to acquiesce. In other words, the approaches we’re now using won’t affect systemic change unless the system was already poised to do so.
Change only happens when the system has already agreed, and knows how to manage any change so there is no disruption (or there will be automatic resistance); change cannot happen when the system believes it will become unstable as a result.

A good rule of thumb: no one, and nothing from outside the system can change it so long as conventional questions and curiosity, biased content or convincer strategies, are used. Systems must change themselves from within. This is the reason why sales closes such a small percentage of prospects, why coaches have permanent success with so few clients, and why 97% of all implementations fail. I’ve written an article on why ‘push‘ doesn’t work. 

And this is why change appears to be so hard. It’s not. We’re just going about it ineffectively. By merely attempting to change behaviors, we actually cause the resistance we get, only capture those who are ‘ready’ (the low hanging fruit), and miss an opportunity to facilitate and enable those who CAN change.

CHANGE FACILITATION

I’ve developed a Change Facilitation model (Buying Facilitation®) that manages congruent change through a unique skill set, including Listening for Systems and formulating Facilitative Questions (using specific words, in a specific order; directive and action inducing, not information driven or biased) that enable a system to discover its own route through to congruent change and its own brand of excellence. Different from conventional sales, coaching, etc. that run the risk of pushing change, facilitators enable the system to change itself, with no bias from the influencer, and results of greatly enhanced success.

Over the last 35 years, I’ve trained the model globally to corporations and teams in sales, healtcare, coaching, leadership, consulting, and communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?). It’s a generic model that can be used in any industry (clients include banking, consulting, insurance, tech, project implementations, wellness (doc/patient buy-in), real estate, research, travel, etc.) in any format (i.e. sales pitches, marketing articles, websites, questionnaires, customer service, team building, doctor/patient relationships, buy-in, etc.) and enables congruent buy-in and Change Readiness.

For those ready to add a new capability to their current influencing practices, I’ve designed several approaches, from self-guided study, to learning programs, to coaching. Let me know of interest.

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Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker and the developer of Change Facilitation. She has written 9 books, including the acclaimed NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon Drew is the inventor of Buying Facilitation® a change facilitation model that works with sales to facilitate Buyer Readiness to use with sales. She is a consultant, speaker, trainer, and coach. Visit her award winning blog: www.sharondrewmorgen.com. She can be reached at 512 771 1117 or sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com

October 28th, 2019

Posted In: Change Management

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A friend of mine delivers leadership training in police departments. On the first morning, he has the partners dance with each other, taking turns for an hour at a time as leader and follower. As most of them are men, they start off very uncomfortable as the ‘follower’, usually a woman’s role in dance. But follow they must; he tells them if they can’t follow, they can’t lead.

As leaders with specific goals we’re responsible for, we operate from the assumption we’re in charge. But what, exactly, are we in charge of? I believe our job is to set the tone, and enable our followers to create a path to a successful goal. As they say in Argentine Tango, if you notice the leader, he’s not doing his job.

WHAT IS OUR JOB

With unconscious blinkers, limited by our biases and assumptions, leaders often begin with a plan, an idea, a fantasy if you will, of how to achieve an outcome. We then work at creating and driving the path to execute it. But this strategy faces several unknowns:

  1. We really have no way of knowing beforehand if it could succeed.
  2. We don’t know the follower’s unspoken beliefs, creative capabilities, or dynamics, how their process factors in, or the range of ideas they might come up with if encouraged.

Even with an aim to be inclusive, we too often carry our plan into the initial sessions with the group and, maybe unconsciously, try to persuade them to adopt the path we imagine. This route might yield resistance at best; at worst, it restricts the full range of possible outcomes.

I recently heard Presidential Candidate and Senator Amy Klobuchar say: “I haven’t gone on TV for interviews much before now. But my team told me I needed the exposure. So here I am.” Was she the follower? Or the leader? While smart enough to be considered to be leader of the free world, she didn’t have the foresight of her team to expand her publicity. That makes her the leader AND the follower.

I contend that as leaders using our own assumptions, ideas, and expertise, it’s not possible to achieve an optimal result: until followers develop their own values, vision, and voices; until the group discovers a path through their own group dynamics; until the group works collaboratively to develop creative outcomes that they can all buy into; there’s no condition for success as the outcome will be restricted.

So here’s the question: do you want to facilitate a route through to the best result? Or drive the path to the result you’ve imagined? You can’t do both.

  • What would you need to believe differently to trust you can achieve the best outcome if it’s driven by the followers?
  • What is your role if the followers are in charge of the route to a successful outcome?

I believe that leading and following are two sides of the same coin. And I believe it must be an interdependent process.

CONTROL

I once trained a group of executive leaders at a company with a reputation of having values. They were the most manipulative group I’ve ever trained. Getting them to consider any form of leadership that didn’t involve them having total control was a herculean task. Seeing my frustration one of them said: “But our message is values-based. Of COURSE it’s our job to convince them to do it our way! It’s the RIGHT way.” Having a great outcome does not give license to push our agendas to get it done OUR way.

As leaders, we must give up our egos, our needs for control, our perceived value of being ‘right’, of being The One to exert power and influence. We obviously need to have some sort of control given we’ve got a job to do. But control over what?

There are two components to our job: reaching a goal, and getting there; we cannot control both unless we do it alone. To work with a group of followers, I suggest we manage the goal and supervision of the journey through change; the process of getting there, the details and actions along the route, must be managed by the followers. It’s an interdependent process. On a day-to-day basis that means the leader

  • controls the space that will enable all voices to be heard, giving rise to creativity, collaboration, and mutual responsibility for planning and delivery;
  • leads the group through forming, failure and resistance, discovery and confusion, trials and success;
  • guides the group through the route they designed and helps them maintain equilibrium.

Here I’m reminded of another great Argentine Tango expression: The leader opens the door; the follower dances through using her own unique steps; the leader follows.

STRUCTURE VS CONTENT; CONTEXT VS COMPONENTS

I contend that we must assure results, but hand over the control of the journey to the followers.

Let’s look at the two components, the goal and the route, from a systems perspective. Considering the result we seek to achieve from the viewpoint of the structure – the context, the boundaries that define the goal – the goal is clear and unadorned. The structure is the headline that identifies what’s within, so a headline that reads: Sandals are Worn in Summer, would have an article about shoes, not recipes for spaghetti.

I refer to the components within the structure as the content – the details, the story line, the items that fit within the parameters of that specific structure. Using the above headline, the content might include different types of sandals, shoes worn in summer vs those worn in winter.

Another simple example would be the structure defines the size and use of a room, while the content includes the size and type of furniture that will fit into it; so an 8’ by 10’ room to be used as a bedroom would not hold a 12’x12’ living room couch.

The structure strictly limits, controls, defines, and identifies the content. Any content is acceptable so long as it fits within the confines of the structure.

If leading a team through an initiative to enhance customer service, for example, the leader is responsible for ending up with happier customers and supervising the journey to get there, while the followers are responsible for

  • the route taken to get there,
  • the choice of the components of the new services,
  • what these services will do, the planning to get there, and the rules that will maintain them,
  • what each team member will do,
  • how it will be delivered.

Here’s the deal: we can only have real control over a single factor – the structure OR the content. Sadly, leaders too often try to control both. The real control and power is in controlling the structure:

  • By controlling the structure, any components that fit would be acceptable so long as they clearly meet the goal’s criteria. By controlling the structure, we’re a problem seeking a solution. If we have a 3 foot box, we can choose whatever we want to put into it – balls or bananas – so long as it fits. Improved customer service might mean more reps, better phone coverage, more focused email responses, year-end gifts, better website access. Humana offers televisits for patients who can’t get to a doctor’s offices. Whatever fits, whatever the group agrees to within the parameters of the structure, is up for discussion. The content will correspond with the structure.
  • By controlling the content, by focusing on the components, it’s necessary to find a structure that confines them. We become a solution looking for a problem – obviously limiting the field of possibilities. With 12 green 10” balls, we need a very specific-sized box. Using our example, we might train reps to answer phones by the third ring and lower prices; then must define a goal to match that. And of course the full range of options for improving customer service would be overlooked. Obviously, starting from the components, the content, is the less flexible, less creative route.

It’s by controlling the structure we can plant a stake in the ground with the rules and criteria for success that all else emanates from. Our job then becomes to maintain the tone and vision; how we get there is the job of the followers, tasked with creating the content.

When followers control the content, they create a collaboration amongst themselves, use their combined imaginations to develop a set of behaviors and outcomes that will fit within the rules and structure, and take ownership of the process and journey to success. Each follower is a leader who buys-in to the change and process, owns the solution, manages any resistance, and takes responsibility for implementation. The leader then maintains the space the followers created.

STARTING UP A COMPANY AS A LEADER/FOLLOWER

I’d like to share a story of my own journey as an entrepreneur of a tech start up in London. I began with no knowledge of business and even less of technology (Those were early days, remember?). I was smart enough to know my range of content knowledge – nil. So I wrote an outline of what I wanted to achieve (the structure):

  • a company that would take great care of the needs of customers in the area of 4th Generation Languages (Really early days!) with integrity, honesty, and win/win values;
  • be seen as a premier provider by charging high prices and great service expertise;
  • have my staff be as happy and cared for as my clients;
  • make money and have fun.

That was my structure. I had no idea what would be in the content. I did my best to research, speak with people, read a few books. Then I realized that it would be best if I hired good people who designed their own jobs. My hiring process included asking applicants to bring in a P&L that included their salary and the route, within the confines of their job and the structure I put forth, to getting their salary AND bringing in a profit for the company. We ended up providing programming, training, and consulting services to users and teams. But I didn’t know that when I started.

The applicant for the job of receptionist was quite creative. Ann Marie wanted a small salary and a percentage of the gross income. For this, she would make sure the company ran efficiently and staff and clients would be thoroughly taken care of to the point they wouldn’t want to go anywhere else and would have the time to do their best job. Wow. I hired her. And she did exactly what she said. She made us write these daily TOADs – I don’t remember what the acronym stood for…something like Take what you want And Destroy the rest… but it took us an extra hour each night to write them up (No computers in daily use in the early 80s, remember?). Each morning we found the full set of everyone’s TOADS on our desks when we arrived. They involved current initiatives, our frustrations, any good/bad issues with clients and prospects, any good/bad issues we had with each other.

As a result of us all knowing ‘everything’, on any given day, if a phone would ring and the person wasn’t there to answer, anyone could answer it and be able to help. As the receptionist, Ann Marie would take the time to make kind comments to whoever was calling, making every caller feel wanted and comfortable. Office squabbles and gossip didn’t have a way to fester as we knew who was mad at who and the argument dissipated. Team members helped each other by coming up with creative solutions, or sharing resource. We had the knowledge to introduce clients to each other for follow-on partnerships. Frankly, Ann Marie terrified me. Tall, officious, unsmiling, we all did what she told us to do (Talk about leaders!). And she walked away with pockets full of money as she helped the business double each year.

I hired John as a ‘Make Nice Guy’ to bridge the divide between technical and people skills. He wanted a $100,000 salary (in 1985!) to make sure techies, their code, and how our contractors maintained relationships with the teams they worked with, all ran smoothly. That was a no brainer. With John taking care of all outside stuff, I was left with no fires, no problems, no crashes, no personality issues, no client problems, and I could grow my business. He even found out when a client was buying new software that we could support well before it arrived on site; when the vendor came to install it, my folks were there waiting, well before the vendor tried to sell their services.

The team worked hard to get me to say “We’re doing WHAT??” I was once walking down the hall and ran into my Training Manager. When I asked where he’d been hiding since I hadn’t seen him in days, he told me he was busy scouting out extra office space for the new training programs being developed. “We’re doing WHAT??” And fill the seats he did, bringing in new clients and new programs. Including me as a trainer. “I’m doing WHAT??” Apparently, the team believed I supervised techies so well as a non techie that I should teach other non-techie managers how to supervise their techie staff. I would never have thought of that myself. So they got me to run monthly programs which were always packed.

As part of my commitment to creativity and growth, I told the management team to take risks but to let me know if a disaster was imminent at least three feet before they fell off the edge (If they waited until they were already off the cliff there wouldn’t be a thing I could do but wave). And they did. As a result they created unique programs, processes, and initiatives that I could never have dreamed of. And they mostly got it right.

By setting a tone of authenticity, I regularly discussed my failures and got input from the team as to how to make things better. This obviously opened the door for us all to discuss failures as part of our job. Also my maintaining control of the structure, by trusting the staff and enabling them to be leaders and innovators, I was able to double the company income every year. With no computers, no internet, no email, no websites, we had a $5,000,000 revenue (and 42% net profit) within four years. Everyone made money, loved coming to work, and grew individually. We controlled 11% of the market (the other 26 competitors shared the other 89%), had loads of fun, and we changed the landscape of what was possible.

TRUST

I could never, ever have been that successful if I hadn’t trusted my followers to create their jobs. I controlled the structure. They controlled the content. Win/win. Interdependent. Trust. Respect. Their joke was that they were the ones with the brains, and I was the one with the mouth. Cool beans. I opened the door, they danced through it, and I followed.

Leadership is an interdependent process with followers and leaders working together from the inside and outside simultaneously to inspire trust and reach the best possible outcome. Here are the givens:

  • The process is always transforming and dynamic, rendering pockets of success, confusion and failure, creativity;
  • There’s no way to know until the end what the trip will include so it’s necessary to build in trust, collaboration, and openness;
  • The result will be what everyone wants. The process will not be what the leader envisaged;
  • The process will proceed according to the values, creativity, and needs of the followers;
  • The leader will be respected so long as s/he uses her/his power to shepherd the process;
  • Failure is part of the process and can be used to inspire creativity;
  • Resistance will be visible and managed by group with no fallout;
  • The result will be the best amalgam of everyone involved bringing their values and hearts.

A real leader enables their followers to operate interdependently, using their own values, their own creativity, their own vision. As leaders we must stop trying to exert influence over the entire process, and begin trusting followers to lead us.

THE HOW

If you’ve been reading my articles for a while, you know that I always include a ‘how’ so readers can use the ideas I espouse. In this case, my suggestions will be a bit challenging: the necessary skills to implement this style of leadership includes rethinking and enhancing two skills we all believe we’re good at and take great pride in – our listening and our questioning.

The reality is that no matter how professional, how fair, how honorable, how impartial we believe ourselves to be, when we use our conventional questioning and listening skills there’s a high probability we’ll be (unconsciously, unwittingly, automatically) biased by our words, ideas, needs, beliefs, and history. I’ve developed ways to listen and question that avert bias and indeed facilitate transformation and expanded possibility. I train these skills to leaders when I train in organization

1.    Listening. The biggest problem is that it’s just not possible to listen without bias no matter how hard we try to show up as good listeners, or how carefully we listen to every word. We just cannot separate our intent from our physiology.

Words, as sounds, come into our ears as electrical/chemical signals, devoid of meaning. Simplistically, these signals go down neural pathways in our brains to find the nearest synapses that carry similar signals – assumed, sometimes wrongly, to be a match, regardless of the accuracy of the underlying meaning. So our brains might find a match with ABL when the speaker actually said ABC. Listeners actually hear ABL with no recognition that there’s a misunderstanding; our brains don’t tell us it omitted D, E, F, G… Net net, we unwittingly listen with biased ears and ‘hear’ what our brains tell us has been said…often some degree ‘off’ of the speaker’s intended message.

There is a way to mitigate this. (My book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? teaches how.) By listening in Observer/Coach, on “the ceiling” we supersede our normal neural pathways and enable our brains to find a more accurate match. Using normal listening, it’s only possible to hear what is most comfortable and habitual. For those who don’t get a chance to read the book and learn how to listen to whole conversations without bias, I suggest you at least take this shortcut and say: “I want to make sure I understand you accurately. I’m going to tell you what I think I heard; can you please tell me if I’ve got it right and correct me where I’m wrong?” That will keep the conversation on track.

2.    Questioning. Conventional questions elicit information as per the Asker’s curiosity. Of course given our unconscious biases, our curiosity is restricted by our beliefs and life histories, resulting in questions limited to what we think we need to know (certainly not the full universe of available information). It goes without saying that there’s no way an outsider can know what’s going on within someone else’s life experience. It’s even more difficult within a group setting. Hence, normal questions can only gather information that’s some fraction of what we need, and an unknown level of accuracy.

Of course often people need information to act from, and normal questions are necessary. But for those times change is part of the process, people/followers need to understand their own motivation, values, and beliefs to act from. For this I invented a new form of question called a Facilitative Question that makes it possible to enable Others to mentally (unconsciously) aggregate their own values and needs to make their own best decisions, define their own outcomes, recognize their own success criteria, and chart their own next steps, with no bias or influence from the leader.

So: Why do you wait for six rings before answering the phone? would be replaced with What would need to be willing/able to answer an incoming call by the third ring? Instead of gathering information, facilitate people through to their own actionable answer and non-resistant choice, using their own criteria. Used in a group setting this process enhances creativity and responsibility for action.

For those wishing to learn how to formulate these questions, read this article, and take a look at this learning module I developed. Formulating Facilitative Questions employs listening for systems, understanding word usage and word placement, and the sequence of decision making in the brain. A much different process than posing normal questions.

As leaders, our job is to facilitate a collaboration with our followers to interdependently create a successful goal. It demands that leaders enter with a different outcome, a different mindset, and a different tool kit. But it’s worth it. We’ll end up with the real power of spearheading harmony, integrity, creativity, and excellence. And have a greater success than we ever could have achieved alone.

____________________________

Sharon Drew Morgen is a thought leader, original thinker, consultant, trainer, and speaker. Sharon Drew trains leadership teams and sales forces. She is the author of 9 books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon Drew’s award winning blog www.sharondrewmorgen.com carries original articles on topics such as sales, leadership, decision making, questions, collaboration, and values.

Sharon Drew is the inventor of Buying Facilitation® the first new paradigm that gives sales people, healthcare professionals, leaders, and managers, the tools to enable others to generate real change based on their own internal beliefs, rules, systems, and vision. She has spent her life decoding how brains decide and how to generate real change at the core neurology of synapses and neural pathways. She has also designed innovative training models to facilitate learners in producing permanent change. Sharon Drew lives on a houseboat in Portland OR.

October 21st, 2019

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13 steps people take between discovering a problem and choosing/buying a solution as they seek to resolve a problem in a way that minimizes disruption to their culture.

A buying decision is a change management problem well before it is a solution choice issue. People don’t want to buy anything; they want to resolve a problem in the least disruptive way. Indeed people only become buyers when they’re certain they cannot resolve the problem using familiar resources, and explore every avenue to fixing the problem themselves first. Buying anything is the very last thing people do.

In case you’re one of those sales folks who try to motivate a sale by pushing your information, or lowering the price; or you’re wondering why your prospect isn’t returning calls or in the pipeline for so long; or thinking they’re in pain; this is what’s going on: they’re doing necessary work behind the scenes to find the most efficient route to resolving their problem in a way that ensures maximum buy-in and the least disruption.

I can’t say this enough: people buy only if they’ve determined they cannot fix a problem themselves with known resources AND a purchase will ‘cost’ less than the cost of the disruption they’re facing in their status quo.

This article lays out what people go through en route to buying anything, regardless of need or the efficacy/size/price of the solution, whether buying a new car, choosing an external trainer, buying software or a new phone, or deciding on family therapy. And because they’re recurrent and generic, I consider these steps to be a pattern.

BUYERS HAVE NO PAIN

I don’t understand why ‘pain’ is so often paired with why/how buyers make buying decisions. Indeed, the ‘pain’ issue has been invented by sellers who assume potential/targeted buyers would function better if they bought the seller’s solution, and by not buying they’re obviously in pain. This is bogus.

A buying decision is a systems issue; it’s not a pain thing. If adding an external/new solution causes too many problems that the stakeholders believe will leave them worse off, they will not buy regardless of their need or the efficacy of your solution. They must weigh all the issues involved and get buy-in from the stakeholders before any action is taken or not. And the sales model doesn’t enter into this Pre-Sales, hidden, unknowable area as it’s not product/solution-related. But with a different hat on, it’s quite easy to be involved and facilitate the route to a purchase.

David Sandler called me in 1993 to buy me out before he died. He said he’d made an error stating that ‘buyers are liars’ and saying ‘buyers are in pain’, stating that after reading one of my books, and looking at the problem from the buying decision/change management side, he finally understood the focus should be on facilitating the buying steps. “I thought I had gone outside the box with Sandler Sales; I realize now I was still considering sales from a solution placement perspective. I didn’t understand how far outside the box I needed to go to include the buying decision process.”

Think about it. Before you buy a new car, you try to fix the one you have; make sure you’ve got the funding; try to sell the current one; make sure your spouse is in agreement, etc. You don’t start off with a purchase, regardless of the problems with your current car. Or in business, if you need a new CRM system, for example, you don’t begin by buying a new system: you begin by meeting with the managers and users to determine why the current system is problematic; trying to get the current one fixed; finding workarounds to try to resolve the problem easily; and making sure that there’s a process in place to manage any user, technology, training, time disruption that might come with bringing in new technology. Again, buying anything is the very last thing that happens.

SELLING VS BUYING

Choosing a new solution is a systems problem that involves careful orchestration, even when some of the process is unconscious. As a frustrated sales person, I developed a new model called Buying Facilitation® to make the journey through the steps of change, choice, and buy-in, conscious. I’ve identified each step and carefully defined what’s involved in each step to make it possible to intervene in any segment so sellers can assist people in navigating the journey first, before trying to sell anything. This sequence – Buying Facilitation® first, sales second – ensures you’ll find (and quickly close) a much larger number of people who WILL buy (rather than those who SHOULD buy) and keep you from wasting time on those who will never buy (but you think they ‘should’ because you think they’re ‘in pain’).

People who may become buyers must do this anyway, and due to the solution-placement focus of the sales model and avoidance of all things ‘change management’, do it by themselves as we sit and wait. But we can find the people who WILL buy on the first call, and help them traverse their journey. But we need a different hat on before we begin selling. Again, we wait while they do this anyway – why not add a new skill set before selling, and then just sell to the ones who will buy?

Here’s a simple story to explain what’s going on behind the scenes.

In 1995 I was running a Buying Facilitation® training at IBM. One day my client asked me to help enlist a new Beta site for one of their new systems. There was a small ‘Mom & Pop’ shop (i.e. family run business) located nearby, and from their records they knew this company was using a system far too small for the growth they’d incurred over the past years, causing very slow response times. Letting them have a free new system in exchange for IBM having them close by to test, would be a win/win. But even after two sales folks had visited them with the promise of a new, free, system that would substantially speed up their response times, the company had no interest. Could I try to get them to become a beta site?

Here was our conversation:

SDM: Hi there. I’m a trainee calling from IBM and have a question for someone who is using your computers.
SON: Hi. I’m Joe. I’m one of the owners. Maybe I can help.
SDM: Thanks. I wonder how your current system is running?
SON: It’s ok.
SDM: I know our folks were out there offering you a faster system to beta and you weren’t interested. I’m curious now what’s stopping your current system from being better than OK?
SON: Dad.
SDM: DAD? I don’t understand.
SON: I know our system is very very slow. But my father is in charge of the technology here, and he’s 75 years old. He’ll be retiring in a year or so, and I don’t want to overwhelm him with learning anything new. So I’ll make whatever changes necessary after he leaves.
SDM: Ah. So what I hear you saying is that your main criteria is not to overwhelm Dad and don’t mind how slow the system is in the meantime.
SON: Right.
SDM: You already know we want to give you an upgrade in exchange for being a beta site for us. From what I know about it, they’ve made it very simple to use and easy to learn. Maybe you and Dad could visit another beta site here in Rye to see if Dad likes it and finds it easy to use? I’d be happy to pick you up and take you there. And if Dad is happy, then maybe you’d be comfortable accepting it to beta test for us?
SON: Oh. I wasn’t aware we could do that. Your colleagues were trying to sell me on the features of the new capabilities, and that wasn’t my problem. Sure, Dad and I would be willing to go to the beta site. Thanks. Having a quicker response time would be great for us if we could make that happen and Dad is comfortable with it.

Focused on placing a solution through the strength of the product, through assumed needs and pain, the emphasis was ‘features, functions, and benefits’ instead of the real, unknowable criteria; there was no way an outsider could guess that Dad was the problem that had to be solved. Offering product or price (free) details were moot. The group’s Buying Patterns were systemic, focused on ensuring their culture remained operational. And every buying experience uses the same process, obviously in different scales of complexity.

By overlooking the full set of Buying Patterns to focus merely on placing solutions, sellers automatically restrict their full set of prospective buyers: people who will become buyers haven’t yet decided to go outside for a solution and have no reason (other than research into different ways they can fix the problem themselves) to heed your content/pitch. That’s why content marketing is spectacularly unsuccessful (close rate 0.00059%).

SELLING DOESN’T CAUSE BUYING

Please understand this: there is no way for outsiders to fully understand what’s going on behind the scenes in any person or group’s route to a decision. We don’t live in the prospective buyer’s environment; we cannot know the system, the relationships, givens, rules or priorities, of the people involved. Until they figure out how they need to resolve their problem, there is no way a seller can determine how, or why, your solution would benefit them; even they can’t know the full fact pattern until they’ve gone through their steps. And your pitching and biased questions, will only uncover the low hanging fruit who have managed the first 9 of their Buying Patterns and already become buyers.

Obviously when it’s time to buy, buyers take very specific actions as they choose one solution over another, choices based on price, reputation/brand of the solution, decision makers, etc. This is when the conventional sales tools of pushing information and content details, explaining features and functions, finding optimal demographics etc. are vital. Selling depends on information sharing. But selling doesn’t cause buying.

I’m aware that many sellers believe Buying Patterns are how buyers buy. But by focusing merely on the final stages when they actually choose a solution, you restrict your ability to facilitate those who will buy but haven’t completed their process and could use your help. Once you understand and recognize

  • the full range of steps people go through as they become buyers (Pre-Sales),
  • how the buying decision path begins much earlier than choosing the solution, with very specific stages that can be tracked,
  • the point at which the change issues have been factored in and it’s agreed to seek an external solution,

you can facilitate them through the process to become buyers. Then you can employ your sales strategy as well as your marketing and digital offerings to target each stage. By ignoring this, you’re severely restricting your market.

STAGES OF BUYING PATTERNS

Here are the Pre-Sales areas folks go through as they become buyers. And note: as outsiders we cannot be directly involved in their internal process, but we can use our knowledge of these steps to facilitate the progression so long as our first focus is to facilitate change:

WHAT’S THE STATUS QUO; WHAT’S MISSING: until or unless every element of the status quo is understood by the prospective buyer, they cannot identify exactly what’s missing. In the Dad example, what was missing was not the computer issue, but the ability to have Dad learn how to support a new one; a delay in purchasing new software is most likely not a technology issue, but might be a recent reorganization, or a merger, or a change in leadership. And an outsider can never, ever understand because they’re, well, outsiders. It’s like asking someone to know if any pieces are missing in a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle by looking at the picture on the closed box. Sure, an outsider can know what it will look like when completed, but cannot know if anything is missing until the puzzle is almost completed by the users. This stage includes meetings, research, identifying stakeholders.

RULE: a seller can facilitate someone through the process of recognizing the full fact pattern of givens within their status quo, including the people, culture, and rules, to help them learn what is keeping them from having an optimal environment. In other words, help people, in a way that does not bias their discovery, recognize if anything is missing from their status quo. Until or unless they can see this in an unbiased way, they will prefer to maintain their status quo. And posing questions biased by a seller’s need to place a solution cannot do this. The focus must be to facilitate change, first.

GATHER THE FULL SET OF STAKEHOLDERS: until or unless everyone involved with creating the problem and using any new solution is brought in, the full problem set cannot be understood. Too often only recognized leaders take the lead, or only one person recognizes a problem and fights with the status quo to be willing to change (This is often the one person we speak with, and we can’t really know if s/he’s speaking for the entire Buying Decision Team or just for him/herself, even if we ask.). Everyone’s voice must be included – Dad, and Joe in accounting. This stage includes meetings to determine who will touch the final solution and agreement as to how to involve them.

RULE: a seller can facilitate a prospective buyer through a discovery to ensure every single stakeholder is included to buy-in to any change. Until all folks who will touch the final solution are included, there is no way for them to understand their needs. Speaking with anyone about needs before this has occurred is a waste of time (i.e. all those names on your call back list and pipeline].

TRY TO FIX THE PROBLEM WITH KNOWN RESOURCES: until it’s fully understood that the problem cannot be resolved with anything that’s already been accepted by the culture – other departments or items, familiar vendors or products – and all workarounds have been tried, they will never consider bringing in anything brand new as it will be disruptive to the culture. It’s a systems thing: systems work hard at maintaining their status quo (homeostasis) as anything new runs the risk of creating problems by not fitting in. This stage includes internal research, and delegating folks to outreach for familiar resources: can our old vendors fix this? Do our colleagues know anyone they respect? Can the other department help? Until a workaround is sought and dismissed, there will be no initiative to make a purchase.

RULE: people never start off seeking an external solution but must try to fix the problem themselves. Sellers can help folks discover how to fix their own problem: What’s stopping you from using the vendors you used last year? Have you tried getting help from other departments? They are going to do this anyway as it’s part of their process. They’ll do it when you hang up, in fact. Either you help them through this, or are relegated to sitting helplessly while they do it themselves as you continue to think they’re prospects and put them in your pipeline. By helping them, you can provide further support and help them speed up their own process. In reality, this is the simplest stage, as if they could fix it, they would have done so already.

MANAGING CHANGE TO AVOID DISRUPTION.: once folks realize 1. They have a problem that all stakeholders have fully defined and agree is a problem; 2. They cannot fix it themselves, then it’s necessary to go ‘outside’ for a solution.

This is the most problematic step in the Buying Pattern because anything new will cause some sort of disruption: technology might not integrate; users must agree to use and get trained; familiar patterns of use will be scrapped for new routines; people fallout must be managed.

The cost of the new must be calculated against maintaining the status quo – if they are going to have to fire a whole department when bringing in new software, is it worth it just to speed up their output? When they figure this element out, they’re ready to choose a solution. This stage includes lots of research within the group/company/family to ferret out problems that change would incur, and figuring out the cost of each.

RULE: facilitate people to recognize what might be in jeopardy if something new is brought in. Until they weight the risk between the status quo vs a fix, and can calculate that bringing something new is has a lower cost than maintaining the status quo, they cannot buy anything as the risk is too high.

CHOOSE A VENDOR/SOLUTION: This is the last stage – where sales now enters! Once it’s calculated that it will cost less to bring in a new solution than maintaining their status quo, AND there is buy-in from the stakeholders, they become buyers. This is the low hanging fruit. These folks are ready for a pitch because they know how to manage the change and understand the costs of buying something. This stage involves sellers pitching, content marketing, website design, etc.

These elements comprise Buying Patterns. And to lead folks through these stages I my ‘new sales paradigm’ Buying Facilitation® uses a new form of question called a Facilitative Question that avoids any bias from the Asker and leads people through their Buying Patterns steps to design their own, unique, solution criteria that can then be easily matched by our products.

So one question for the Managing Change phase might be “How will you and your Buying Decision Team go about identifying the elements a new solution would need to include, to avoid disrupting your status quo?” instead of “Let me tell you how my product can help you fix that.”

First facilitate their journey through their Buying Patterns, facilitate Buyer Readiness – and THEN sell to those who are ready. You’ll avoid chasing people who will never buy, and speed up the buy cycle for those who will buy. And you’ll get results: my students using Buying Facilitation® close 40% against the control groups closing 5% using the same list and the same solution. By focusing on the tail end of the Buying Decision Path, sellers restrict their close rate by a factor of 8.

SALES VS FACILITATING BUYING PATTERNS

I always ask: Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They are two different activities. People become buyers ONLY when there is no way to resolve their own problem AND they know the cost of bringing in something new. There will be NO purchase until the entire series is handled somehow, even on a small item purchase. It has nothing to do with pain, or the marketing efforts, or the pitch deck, or the product. You’re products are great. The problem is you’re only focusing on those who already show up as buyers and ignore managing the full set of Buying Patterns where a far larger group of real prospects reside.

Note: trying to understand these yourself is a frustrating exercise, as we can do little more than pose questions biased by our own curiosity and generally have no way to even consider the unique situations within each potential prospect’s environment, i.e. Dad.

I understand that the sales industry doesn’t consider these elements part of the sales process. Sales continues to assume a purchase is based on how we position our solutions, when in fact that relegates us to picking off the few who show up. Let’s help those who will/can buy, facilitate them through their Buying Patterns, and when it’s time, THEN pitch to those who are ready to buy it.

I know you’re all getting accustomed to the definition of Buying Patterns now circulating. But by forgetting the original intent of the term, you overlook the change management portion of Buying Patterns: by merely focusing on the low hanging fruit, you’re missing an opportunity to prove your value by facilitating them through the process. By focusing on this small group, you’re losing the opportunity to facilitate that percentage of people on your lists will become buyers once they get through their Pre Sales change issues. You can speed it up with them, help them get it right, and then be there when they are ready to buy.

Shift the focus from selling based on the value of the solution, to first managing change: It’s a wholly different initiative and strategy using different terms, different goals, different outcomes and a different set of skills (i.e. Listening for systems Facilitative Question, etc.) . Because net net, until people understand the entire range of internal issues that will be activated as a result of adding something new, nothing will be purchased. It’s not about your solution. And as long as you continue to merely focus on that final element, you’ll only close the 5% you’re currently closing.

People who will become buyers must go through this process anyway, regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution. But they do this without us, as we wait, hope, push, and pitch, and lose an opportunity to both serve and differentiate ourselves. We assume they’re in pain because they’re not responding to our efforts.

Instead of the time and resource we use pushing content, why not use a different skill set (i.e. Buying Facilitation®, or some form of facilitation model that’s manages change) first to help them become buyers. Using a change management focus at the beginning you’ll even be able to recognize who WILL become a buyer on the first call, reducing your prospecting time to one quarter the time you’re now using, and close 40% of the list you’re now closing at a 5% rate.

_____________________________________

Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, thought leader, trainer, coach, consultant, speaker, and author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? As the inventor of Buying Facilitation®, Sharon Drew has been changing the sales industry since 1987 when she first trained KLM in a program titled Helping Buyers Buy. Sharon Drew is also the thought leader behind the HOW of Change. She lives on a houseboat in Portland OR.

October 14th, 2019

Posted In: News

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A few years ago,  Brian Moynihan, the CEO of Bank of America, was interviewed as he discussed their new Customer Focus initiative: prioritizing Customer Centricity over revenue by putting their customers first. He said something like, ‘The money will come. Let’s take care of the customer!’ I haven’t noticed many companies, including Bank of America, who’ve actually done the work of re-organizing around customers; to be Customer Centric means you must put rules, staff, tasks, websites and customer interfaces in place to, um, put People first.

DEFINITION CUSTOMER-CENTRIC

My long-held ideas and questions on what a true Customer Centric company would look like begins with an admonition: stop making it so hard on your customers. They purchased something from you. That automatically puts them in a relationship with you (And probably in a leadership position, since if customers don’t buy anything you’re not in business at all.). They paid the price you set and trusted your promises enough to believe they’d get what they paid for. If they have problems, questions or needs, their resolution and your kindness are a representation of your promise, must be a part of the relationship, and cannot be separated from the purchase.

You claim you want ‘relationship’ with customers, yet you create rules that disrespect, offend, ignore, insult, and frustrate them. Your customers have bought-into being on your team; don’t make it so hard on them. All that does is cause customers to complain to their 1000 closest friends, damage your reputation and give your competition the competitive edge. You forget that your customers are your competitive advantage.

‘Putting the customer at the center’ means having rules, procedures, hiring and training practices, and baseline values that use a People filter. It demands a customer lens through which to view every aspect of your company. It demands that your customer be the heart and soul of your company.

Corporate identity: Since behaviors and rules are translations – the daily actions – of your foundational identity and values, a Customer Centric company has the commensurate People values and ethics at its core. I always ask myself, after being hung up on, or ignored, or disrespected by a contact with a company whose solution I’ve purchased, what the foundational beliefs of that company must be: That I’ve made a purchase from the wrong provider – a company that doesn’t care about me. That my problems and needs are secondary to profit. That I’m not worthy of care once I’ve made my purchase.

It must begin with an identity of ethics and integrity. How you accomplish this will take the work of change – assembling and assessing the broken elements, getting buy-in for change from each of the broken parts, addressing disruption and confusing implementations. There are lots of decisions to be made that will ripple through the company.

Stakeholder alignment: All stakeholders, all company employees, all managers and Board Directors, must share, exemplify, and communicate the exact same beliefs and values. Your marketing and customer service must portray your kindness and respect; you’ll hire people with values that match. There used to be a legend that Nordstrom had a one line customer service rule: “Use your best judgment.” Imagine how hiring practices, management, and training shift if such rule is in place.
With a People orientation, everything and everyone has one goal: to keep a customer happy. Then, a lower level rep would feel free to make this sort of adjustment on her own:

So sorry this is happening. Please accept my apologies on behalf of X company. What would make this right for you? And I’ll be your Team Leader to make sure your problem gets handled, including speak to whoever I need to speak with on my side and get back to you with a resolution.

not this rule-based, disrespecting flip-off that we all suffer time and time again:

This is not something I can take care of. I’m transferring you (and transferring you, and transferring you, and…).

With a Customer Centric filter, each rep, each internal stakeholder, each person who touches a customer, owns the problem and resolution. This will change your rules.

One more thought here: your employees are your first customers. Don’t ever forget that.

Proximity to customer: With ‘Customer’ in the center, organization is based on the proximity to the customer, giving the most importance (and training) to help desk and sales groups who directly touch customers, and Senior Management, the Board and CEO at the far end with the job of coming up with the ideas and maintaining the foundation of values and vision.

ORGANIZING A CUSTOMER CENTRIC COMPANY FROM INSIDE OUT

In order of customer proximity, here are some thoughts on the organization of a truly Customer Centric company. Again, each customer touch point must have a criteria of putting the focus on People first, with Task, Rules and Profit Margin second.

First touch point:

  • Customer service (questions, needs, problems): Reps whose job is to give product service and support must be client advocates. They must have a very strong People filter and be passionate about ensuring each customer gets their needs met. That should be their only criteria and have the right tools and skills – listening skills are especially prone to biased filters –  at their disposal to do so.

I’ve been told by customer service reps that they’re only allotted a short time frame – minutes – to handle a problem and then get on to the next customer on the cue. One rep called me back on his own cell phone because he didn’t want to ‘get in trouble’ (his words) for taking too long with a customer. Seriously?! Of course this means you’d need to train your team differently. And yes, you’ll need to hire more reps to get them off ‘the clock’ and into ‘relationship.’ Keep thinking: People vs Task. Which will it be? Here are two conversations I had with different AT&T reps, 5 minutes apart, when I called to change my billing address. I bet you can tell which one has a People filter:

Rep #1: You don’t have your password? Sorry. I can’t help you. I know you only want to change your address. But call back when you find your password….. (And then she hung up on me).
Rep #2: You don’t have your password? Hm… Let’s use your social security number to start with. Then we can change your address, and then I’ll send you a link to reset your password so you have it for the next time you call.

Same company; but one rep was Task/Rules-bound with no criteria re taking care of me and just wanted to get me off the phone quickly; one was Customer Centric and got creative so I was cared for. Both had the same customer screen in front of them when I called but one had a People hat on. And btw, who the hell was supervising that first Rep? Why was that ok? Do companies even KNOW what their representatives are saying to customers?

I urge you to consider having whoever answers the phone ‘own’ the customer’s problem. This way customers don’t get hung up on, and don’t get shuffled between departments to explain their issue over and over again – only to be disconnected after 45 minutes and on maybe the 6th person! The initial rep must take the customer’s phone number, give them a case number, and a call-back number that connects directly TO THE PERSON THEY SPOKE WITH so there is a continued process. How much will that cost? Compare that with the amount of business and reputation you’re losing now from NOT doing it, from complaints against your company showing up on social media, from customers cancelling service because they can’t take it anymore.

Website: Your site is often the first (and sometimes only) connection with a customer and it can go a long way to making sure customers feel cared for. Here is where a lot of companies fail. Almost all sites are strictly Rules, Company, Profit, Product driven. There’s no way to talk to anyone, and lots of hoops to go through before it’s even a vague possibility.

Few sites have their phone number available. What’s the deal with that? How much business are you losing because a customer or prospect can’t ask a simple question, or get directed to their best resource? What is the cost? I buy only from companies whose sites offer a phone number so I know I’ll have fewer hoops to go through if there’s a problem.

And what’s the deal with ONLY having the sign-in boxes in the Contact area? You’re soliciting their data for your marketing lists and reducing their ability to make contact only according to YOUR terms? You want something precious from them and you’re not willing to offer something in return? What percentage of real buyers won’t fill out those things? I have never, ever filled out one of those damn things. I want my vendors to take care of ME, not me take care of THEM, especially when it might involve me receiving tons of unsolicited email.

And while I’m on a rant, how ‘bout including a real time Customer Tweet roll bar on your home page? Invite customers to Tweet their thoughts, questions, and feelings to make it a living dialogue. Too scary you say? Well, if you focus on a customer, and all your rules are similarly focused, you should hear nothing but good things, no? And where there’s a negative comment, it will exhibit how quickly and accurately you handle the situation. After all, these folks are going onto social media to complain about you anyway; you might as well hear it straight and deal with it immediately and show other customers your fallible, but trustworthy.

This is your first line of contact. You can use your site as a good representation of your brand’s promise. You’re blowing it.

  • One more idea. With a People focus, online communication tools like Live Chat/Bot must abandon their Rules/Task focus and use vocabulary that is helpful soothes disgruntled people, and finds ways to take responsibility for supportive dialogue. It’s beyond infuriating. I found myself recently having a fight with a Live Chat person (Well, 3 actually, because I kept asking to speak with a supervisor.) for 2 hours (with horrible NameCheap) and finally SCREAMED in frustration at this invisible ‘person’ who kept explaining ‘rules’ that didn’t correspond to my questions; I actually wrote I HATE YOU YOU’RE A TERRIBLE COMPANY AND YOU CHEAT PEOPLE AND I’M GOING TO TELL EVERYONE NOT TO EVER USE YOU YOU’RE CHEATS. I became a tantrumy teenager as I felt more and more disrespected, misunderstood, and thwarted by invisible rules that didn’t seem to match my issue. Turns out not ONE of these folks heard me or resolved my problem. Don’t do this to your customers. They deserve better.

Second touch point:

  • Sales – Sellers are the intermediaries between you and customers. Stop relegating them to a ‘content push’ orientation. Make them the arbiters of true customer focus. Instead of being focused on pushing/placing solutions, using a facilitation model such as Buying Facilitation® (a model I invented for sales and marketing that gives sellers tools to facilitate Buyer Readiness at each stage of their Pre-Sales Buying Journey) it’s possible to use your connection to become industry leaders and become true Servant Leaders. Stop pushing! They can find your solution data on your site! Use your sales team to build and enhance customer relationships based on THEIR needs for excellence, not YOUR needs for profit. This is a place you can truly differentiate yourself from your competition.

Customers don’t need you for the details of your solutions until they’ve decided they cannot fix the problem themselves, what sort of a solution everyone agrees to, and how to manage any change that will occur when they do buy. [A purchase is a change management problem before it’s a solution choice issue; a prospect is someone who CAN buy, not someone who SHOULD.] Your site might be one of their steps toward deciding on whether or not to buy anything. Help them. It will not only differentiate you, but you’ll have vast amounts of data to bring back to other groups in your organization to help them be more Customer Centric, including R&D, customer service, manufacturing, billing. All areas of your company will shift according to the voices of real customers and their needs and problems – so long as the focus is on serving, not selling. Remember: People filter, not Task. Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? Two different activities.

Third touch point:

  • Day-to-day Management: These folks are in leadership positions for employees nearest the customer. Instead of pushing pushing pushing staff to close a sale, or get off the phone, continually find ways to connect, to respond in ways that make, and keep, customers happy. That means you’ll not only need to hire a people-oriented management staff, but the employees will need new types of training, especially additional listening skills. Currently, each group listens through their own Task filters and agendas: sellers listen for signs of ‘need’, help desk reps listen for easy solutions so they can stick to their 2 minute (or whatever) time limit.

Have managers sit alongside of reps and coach them for hours during a week, to check their skills real time. You could even design a Customer Service Check List to hand out to managers for their phone coaching hours. Obviously you’ll have to employ new hiring practices to hire People oriented people rather than Task oriented people. Like the AT&T story above, we all know to keep calling back until we get a ‘good’ rep. How much does that cost you?

Question for you: how will you know that the front-line staff are congruently representing your values? What is it costing you to have reps who hang up on paying customers? Or transfer transfer transfer to the point of madness because no one owns the problem? Why are managers acceding to this practice? What is it costing you?

Fourth touch point:

  • Marketing: your current focus remains selling something; your marketing efforts push product data, with no visible sign of Customer Centricity regardless of your lofty terms. What if you used your marketing to enter along the customer’s decision path to help them manage each aspect of their route to choosing you? They can get solution details on your site so add elements of facilitating the decisions that will make site visitors into customers.

Add a People/Customer filter to your marketing: send out content marketing that helps them make sense of those decisions they need to make as they figure out if they even want to make a purchase. It’s possible to create staged marketing to address each of the 13 stages of a buying decision. Because people aren’t buyers until a purchase is their only viable option to solve a problem, you’re missing entering earlier in their decision cycle and only focusing on those relative few who have already decided to buy (at the end of the buyer’s journey). Make it easier for those who CAN/WILL buy.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

Here are some questions you need to ask yourself moving forward:

What is the soul of your company? How can you operationalize that? Hint: Make sure you’re not a ‘financial company that serves customers’, and be a ‘customer centric company that offers banking services’. People first; it changes everything.

What would you need to know or believe differently to be willing to make People your priority? How would that change your staffing? Sales? Marketing? Leadership? Training? Management?

What is the cost? What is the cost if you don’t?

How would you know it would be worthwhile to use a People filter over a Task/Rules filter? Would you need to have a pilot group with specific tracking capability re customer retention, or surveys, or increased revenue, etc.? [Call me. I’ll help you set it up.] A new Mission Statement?

Where do Integrity and Ethics factor in to your customer touch points?  Or is that not part of your equation? Do you have defined values? Do the rules you’re currently using match your company values? Why not? And don’t tell me it’s time or money – rescale if you need to. Your success depends on this. Amazon.com has an impressive focus on the customer. Takes me one minute to get a problem resolved, including them giving me my refund BEFORE they even get the product back – and often they tell me just to throw it away, or keep the extra item. They make it easy for me and actually less time consuming for them. I always feel trusted and valued, and I’ll never go to any of their competitors.

How do your current rules restrict Customer Centricity? Evaluate your current rules. What new rules would need to be in place to be Customer Centric – and what does that mean for how you run your company?

How would Customer Centricity change your hiring practices? Training? HR? Management?

How will you know in advance that it will be worth the time/effort to tackle this? Because if you don’t, your competition will. Remember: your customer is your competitive advantage.

What skills training would need to occur? Listening, certainly.

What would need to change within your company culture? How people speak to each other? The symbols of success, expectations, agreements?

How are you currently communicating your values to customers? Take a look at your site, your rules, your reps. What you see IS a representation of your corporate values.

What promises are you making to customers who buy your solution? How does this differ from what a customer thinks you promised them?

How would your technology need to change to embrace a Customer Centric mentality? In 1996 (before Google), I designed a new search tool named Hobbes based on helping a site visitors get to the exact page they needed using 3 simple questions that highlight their choice criteria. I got an offer from the VC Heidi Roisen for funding if I could find one other funding source. I could not. And to this day, no one is using my search tool; seems tech folks never understood why sorting with human criteria is necessary.

I hope I’ve inspired you to begin thinking about this issue and started a conversation. I believe that becoming Customer Centric will be your competitive edge moving forward. But that also means change. What is it worth to you?

How would Customer Centricity change your hiring practices? Training? HR? Management?

How will you know in advance that it will be worth the time/effort to tackle this? Because if you don’t, your competition will. Remember: your customer is your competitive advantage.

What skills training would need to occur? Listening, certainly.

What would need to change within your company culture? How people speak to each other? The symbols of success, expectations, agreements?

How are you currently communicating your values to customers? Take a look at your site, your rules, your reps. What you see IS a representation of your corporate values.

What promises are you making to customers who buy your solution? How does this differ from what a customer thinks you promised them?

How would your technology need to change to embrace a Customer Centric mentality? In 1996 (before Google), I designed a new search tool named Hobbes based on helping a site visitors get to the exact page they needed using 3 simple questions that highlight their choice criteria. I got an offer from the VC Heidi Roisen for funding if I could find one other funding source. I could not. And to this day, no one is using my search tool; seems tech folks never understood why sorting with human criteria is necessary.

I hope I’ve inspired you to begin thinking about this issue and started a conversation. I believe that becoming Customer Centric will be your competitive edge moving forward. But that also means change. What is it worth to you?

____________

Sharon Drew Morgen is a thought leader in Change Facilitation, and developed of a collaborative facilitation model used in sales (Buying Facilitation®), coaching, leadership, and implementations. She began keynoting in the 1990s on topics such as Make Money by Making Nice, Spirituality and Sales, the Caring Company. Her books – NYTimes business bestseller Selling with Integrity; Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell; and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? – focus on the skills to facilitate collaboration, respect, communication, and integrity. Sharon Drew has trained her process to over 100,000 people globally. She currently consults, trains, coaches, and keynotes. Sharon Drew currently lives on a floating home on the Columbia River in Portland OR.

October 7th, 2019

Posted In: Change Management

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Writing a proposal is an accepted norm in many industries: as a vendor, you receive an RFP, or get a call from a client site to bid on a job; you either take direction from the RFP or gather data on specs from a customer; you then go forth writing a proposal to explain exactly how you’ll achieve their stated goals; and figure out a competitive price that’s as low as you can go – a fight to the bottom – and still make a few shekels.

Then you sit back and wait. And close far less than you deserve, sometimes losing to folks who you know wouldn’t have done as good a job as you would do.

How do customers choose a vendor? I suggest that 1. It’s not based on your proposal (except possibly if it’s a government RFP), 2. It’s not based on your price. I believe that the process of writing proposals is not only irrelevant, but has a cost: neither you nor the customer gets the results you deserve. Here are some truths:

  • People don’t buy on price, unless all else is equal and it’s their only determining factor. They will pay to get the exact results they want.
  • RFPs are usually sent to help the client figure out exactly how to reach their goals.
  • Too often, only a fraction of the folks using the end result are involved, either to write up the RFP or discuss the project, and you have no way to know.
  • Too often, the client doesn’t have the full set of criteria for excellence needed to choose the best vendor, and the RFP/bid process often overlooks the inclusion of use, collaboration, resistance, and disruption factors that often occur during/following the project.

WHAT’S MISSING FROM AN RFP

The problem with a proposal is it only addresses the completion portion of the underlying problem to be resolved. Sure, a finished solution is needed, and that solution will have a cost. But until the entire set of stakeholders is involved to not only collaboratively define the acceptable parameters of a result, and buy in to the resultant disruption and change, any outcome will be plagued by resistance and implementation issues. Unfortunately, these important considerations are too often left out of the RFP/bid process:

  • How involved were all (ALL) the stakeholders developing the RFP, or parameters of the project?
  • Have ALL those who will touch the solution bought-in to, and understand, the full fact pattern of the entire process involved?
  • How does the new solution disrupt the status quo and what can be done to alleviate problems upfront?
  • How will integration be managed?
  • How will the vendor be connected with the customer during the process to make sure all problems are managed immediately before they fester?

I contend that most vendors will come up with a decent proposed execution and cost, but fall short during the process of developing and implementing it because the upfront work was incomplete and different types of resistance ensue unnecessarily. This is where the RFP/proposal/bid process falls short, and it’s your competitive edge.

Think about it: if you’re going to do a house remodel, you assume whoever sends a proposal will be some level of competent. But which one will make your life difficult/easy during the build? Will any of them sit down with you and the recipients of the remodel BEFOREHAND to make sure everyone has a say and is committed to the process? To make sure you’ve managed your expectations for what’s involved and find new choices if necessary? If you knew that one contractor would begin by ensuring all stakeholders had a voice in the outcome and process, led you all through the potential disruption, and designed a communication channel to minimize fallout during the process, would you mind if this group charged 15% more than the others?

Years ago my partner was a famous landscape architect who did major land rebuilds as he put in ponds, mountains and waterfalls, Chinese tea houses, etc as his landscaping. He came home daily grumbling about his clients’ anger. Knowing how brilliant his work was, I decided to follow him around for a couple of days to find out why clients were so unhappy: while his designs were magical, the clients didn’t know upfront the amount of mud, noise, filth, access problems, etc. that would take over their lives for months. I helped him understand the problem and his process changed. Before he even submitted a proposal, he sat down with the potential clients and helped them come to terms with the levels of chaos that would be involved and submitted designs and timing plans that incorporated their needs. His business doubled, and the grumbles subsided.

If you seek a new training partner for a leadership program, for example, you might send out an RFP, and seek references (separate from the price) to help make your best choice. But imagine if, before responding, one of the vendors set up a meeting asking the full set of stakeholders (or their representative) be present and helped them determine their own criteria for success, what they’d need to understand about the process and delivery of a program and how it would meet their values, and how to include post-training maintenance to ensure a learning culture would be maintained.

Years ago, when I still wrote proposals, I was friendly with my closest competitor. When we received an RFP, we agreed on a similar price to submit (usually within a few hundred dollars from each other) to make sure we were chosen specifically on our merits, not on price. I personally met with the client to include all stakeholders and manage the change upfront, and got a greater share of the business, based on my merits.

The question is: how can you be the one to assure customers get their full set of needs met – especially when they’re not always cognizant of the ‘cost’ as they send out their project for bid?

OUTCOME VS PROCESS: HOW KPMG CHANGED THEIR PROPOSAL PROCESS

Years ago, my client at KPMG didn’t return my call for many days. When I finally got ahold of him he said he was suddenly busy: a large team of the consultants were working on responding to an RPF from a company that had never used them before, always using their biggest competitor Arthur Anderson (no longer in business). “What’s stopping them from using Arthur Anderson this time?” I asked? Dave said he’d find out and call me back.

Next day Dave called: They ARE using AA. They just needed a second bid.

We went into action. Since it now made no sense for KPMG to respond to the RFP (saving a team of 4 people almost a month of time), but they really wanted to be considered for future business, we sent a cover letter stating that we’d not be sending a proposal, but instead help them recognize what they needed to do internally to ensure buy-in from all stakeholders before, during, and after the final implementation; how to ensure minimal disruption; and the specifics of how to alleviate resistance or fallout by managing relationship, compliance, and change issues BEFORE they started the project.

We sent them a list of a form of question I invented called Facilitative Questions that lead Others to discover their own best answers, rather than conventional questions that are biased by the needs of the Asker (Example: What would we all need to know, and agree to, moving forward, to recognize a glitch or resistance early and avoid fallout?). My FQs facilitate the HOW for any situation of change and went far beyond the details – the WHAT – the RFP required including:

  • input from the stakeholders who will touch the final solution,
  • the arc of change during the course of the project, from status quo through to completion, and how it collides with the people and status quo,
  • the downsides of disruption for each group, set of stakeholders, change in routines,
  • the team collaboration needed in each phase of the implementation to ensure buy-in,
  • a list of elements necessary for folks to buy-in to the final solution.

We didn’t hear back for two months. Then KPMG got a call asking them to begin the job. “We hired AA as planned. But when they started, they didn’t address the topics of your questions, where we always seem to experience fallout and resistance. We never thought about those issues before we started a project and always suffered fallout from ignoring them. Your questions taught us how to think of the whole project as a coordinated structure not just an end result. Thanks. Can you do the job for us?”

From then on, my clients at KPMG used the same questioning structure whenever they received an RFP, and never sent out another proposal – and got more business. And btw the RFP was for multimillion dollar work that involved global stakeholders; the process is equally effective with small jobs.

WHAT DO CLIENTS/CUSTOMERS REALLY WANT?

People want a job done well for them, executed in a way that will cost them the least downsides, in a way that’s acceptable to those who will be part of the process. It’s not a money thing, not an output thing; it’s a system thing. And the way proposals are now approached, it becomes a money/output thing.

Let’s think it through: people would prefer to resolve all problems themselves, but in some cases they need outside help, and as per the size of the project, need outside help.

  • Do customers know what will happen while getting from here to there? The people/jobs that will be disrupted, the time it will take and how that will affect them, the working conditions that might change? Do they know, exactly, what any disruption will look like to them?
  • Do they know how their folks will be confronted with disruption, each step along the way, or how a new implementation will collide with the existing situation?
  • How can they be certain, up front, that the vendor they choose will work in a way to maintain their stability and minimize disruption?
  • How can they get the buy-in from everyone to agree to the necessary changes?
  • Does their stated outcome represent the full set of stakeholders, or only a small group of decision makers, leaving those who may face disruption in the dark until a problem surfaces?
  • Who chooses the vendor? A small set of leaders, or the entire stakeholder team? And what’s the fallout if just a small top heavy group that ignores the internal change issues? How can you resolve this?
  • Do vendors get chosen in terms of how they’ll manage disruption, implementation, or resistance?

The reality is, unless the full set of stakeholders is involved and has a say in the process and fallout, unless there is a known route through the change/disruption/implementation process, there will be a mess for the contractor as the voices that have been silent get raised in protest.

Most folks sending out an RFP or talking to a contractor don’t include the whole group, and do NOT understand the full set of givens necessary for a good job. They are trying to choose a vendor based on referrals, websites, reputation, without actually knowing what the hell is going to go down.

But imagine if you can lead them through to the entire set of circumstances, the gathering of the right stakeholders, the understanding of the downsides to the sort of result they seek, the route through to facilitating buy in so the fallout is minimal. Imagine if you do that – and none of the other vendors do. Is it not possible they won’t need to look at other vendors? That price won’t be an issue?

In reality, you don’t really know the full set of stakeholders when you receive an RFP or get called in to price a job; you have no idea how close the specs are to the needs of the full set of those who will touch the final solution and who may be unhappy when a new solution is thrust on them; you have no idea how the implementation will play out in terms of buy in and resistance; you have no idea what level of chaos is involved under the sheets, as it were. In the same vein, neither do your clients. Help them first determine the full set of their own needs and issues, and then writing up a few details and costs will be simple. You would have already paid for yourself, and saved a lot of time writing up proposals.

___________________________________

 

Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, thought leader, consultant, trainer, speaker and coach. She is the author of 9 books, including a NYTimes Business Bestseller, Selling with Integrity, and two Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard?Sharon Drew works across industries, using her generic Buying Facilitation® model to enable sellers, healthcare professionals, leaders, coaches, etc. to facilitate others through to their own best decisions. She lives on a houseboat in Portland OR.

September 30th, 2019

Posted In: Communication, News

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Working with a partner in Amsterdam recently, I was one of a small team of communication experts offering a day of skills for executive leaders. Wanting to make sure my contribution would work interdependently with the other consultants, I asked my Dutch partner Thomas Blekman the topics my colleagues would be presenting. Voice and Storytelling, I was told. Did I need to contact either of them to discuss how to best fit my content in with theirs? Nope. “Just teach your great stuff.”

Hmm…. From the topic titles, it seemed the client company wanted the leaders to learn the best tools to facilitate audience buy-in. To add my knowledge appropriately, I developed an agenda that enabled these leaders to be heard without bias and encourage maximum information/idea adoption. Given my work on the unconscious biases involved in our brain’s physiologic listening processes (I wrote a book on closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard – WHAT? Did you really say what I think I heard?), I know that people can accurately interpret only a percentage of what’s said. I wanted to help these leaders make sure their outreach efforts would be heard as per their intended outcomes.

Twenty minutes prior to my session, I met the man teaching Storytelling. Except it wasn’t Storytelling. He was teaching How to Pitch. He introduced himself as the winner of The Netherlands Pitching Competition.

PITCHING VS STORYTELLING

What? Not Storytelling? The blood drained from my face. Thomas noticed immediately: “You’ve got a bias against pitching. Admit it,” he whispered. I was so overwhelmed by the enormity of my misunderstanding, and the consequences to the participants, I merely agreed. But I had to very quickly try to figure out how to reconfigure what I’d developed to more accurately address the new situation.

Different from the listening skills I would now be teaching, I’ve spent 35 years training sales folks in my Buying Facilitation® method, and my pitching program teaches 1. very specific skill sets to facilitate an audience’s ability to make a new decision and be ready to act before a seller pitches anything, and 2. how to develop pitch materials that match the responses of the audience. In other words, not pushing content at them as per the speaker’s outcome, but helping them determine the type of content they’d need in order to consider making a purchase now, then giving them that exact content. Quite the opposite of conventional pitching.

For me Storytelling and Pitching are entirely different concepts. In Storytelling, the speaker shares a narrative that will hopefully facilitate audience buy inand connection, potentially shift thinking, and maybe consider new ideas. Pitching means there is a manipulation going on – with precisely chosen words and images – to get Others to act according to the speaker’s agenda. While both are potentially forms of influencing, Storytelling has an idea-shift outcome while Pitching is a persuasion tactic designed to cause an action desired by the presenter.

Had I understood the real program title was Pitching, I would have designed a very different program, including role plays to teach how to formulate the new type of question I developed (Facilitative Questions) that facilitates decision making, to use before they pitched; and then ways to develop presentation materials for their pitch that matched the audience responses rather than traditional pitch decks that focus on the seller’s information choices.

While I was able to add some new material to my original design, my presentation left the audience confused as to where my stuff fit. Not to mention that without discussing his content to see how I could collaborate, I was flying blind against The Best Pitcher in The Netherlands. Obviously, an upfront discussion weeks prior to the program would have given me the data I needed to design the best skill sets to complement his.

While there was no blame involved here (I don’t think Thomas intended to mislead – he most likely just translated wrong.), there was a cost to my misunderstanding. The participants didn’t get what they deserved because I had misunderstood my mission. The fact that it wasn’t my fault is irrelevant.

HOW WE GET IT WRONG

Often in our communications we make assumptions, mistranslate another’s words or meaning, or misunderstand the nature of a message, and unwittingly end up causing harm.

While sometimes – maybe 15% of the time – the problem isn’t your fault because you can make faulty assumptions from the facts you’re given; or you have such an entirely different world view that you cannot fully comprehend the full fact pattern. Most of the time you unconsciously bias what you hear, causing a gap between what’s said and what’s heard. It’s your brain’s fault.

  1. What you hear enters your ears as chemical/electrical signals that trigger your unconscious biases- historic, systemic, physiological – leading to flawed assumptions. You don’t even recognize that what you think you heard is inaccurate: your brain doesn’t tell you how it has ever-so-kindly (re)translated the incoming message, leaving you to believe the speaker actually said what you thought you heard even when it was never said. When you think someone’s not hearing you, that’s not true: they are hearing you, but their brain is sending your message down an incorrect synapse and discards what doesn’t fit – and then neglects to tell us what it omitted. Oops.
  2. Sometimes we translate what’s been said into an entirely different world view than intended. Recently I asked a friend – a techie – to read over a draft article to tell me if he could understand the way I explained something, or if it was confusing. After an hour (should have taken 10 minutes max) and a missed meeting, as I waited for his response (the article was time sensitive) I called him. He said he was still editing my article. What? Did he hear me ask him to be my editor? “Well I heard you say to just read it, but that’s what people say when they really want me to fix it for them.” Why didn’t he first check with me if that’s what I meant? “Why? I knew that’s what you really wanted.” His faulty assumption cost me a meeting.

So net net, it’s quite difficult to know for certain if what you think you hear is accurate without checking; when you believe your understanding is accurate, it’s pretty hard to get curious about the possibility of a misunderstanding. [Of course it’s only when an influencer can consciously recognize fact from personal, unconscious bias that it’s possible to truly understand what’s been said. For those wishing to learn how to do this, I have a chapter on this (Chapter 6) in WHAT?.

But whether it’s because a situation has occurred outside of your choice, or because your own unconscious bias caused you to misunderstand, the results are the same: when your actions are based on a fundamental misunderstanding that results in you causing harm, you must fix it. Otherwise you lose trust.

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

To fix a misunderstanding, you must take responsibility for it, regardless of whether or not you believe you’re at fault. Many years ago, when leaders still made unilateral decisions, I was working with the inside sales reps at Bethlehem Steel. Over the months, it became very clear that the entire group was deeply angry. Earlier that year they had been ordered to move: leave their homes and lifestyles, and move to either Burns Harbor, MI or Sparrows Point, MD. They were given two months to sell their houses, pack, buy new houses, move their families, find new schools and new jobs for spouses, in the middle of a school year. Two months! Obviously, families split up to remain behind with kids in school, houses weren’t sold in two months, or packed, or purchased. The reps were living in rentals, flying to their families on weekends. Or the spouses moved and left teenagers to finish out the school year with neighbors, etc. A mess.

The reps lived in daily resentment, unconsciously (or consciously) dragging their heels getting things done, forgetting to do stuff. Sales numbers plummeted. They took a lot of sick time, took days off to visit their families back in their old houses, got weird illnesses like emotional blindness (Who knew that was a thing!), etc.

Because my client Dan was the instigator, I decided to do something about it. One day, Dan came out of his office to meet his mystery lunch guest. It was me. I had arranged everything with Dan’s secretary, and flew in on my own dime.

Dan: Hey, SD. You’re not supposed to be here today, are you? Are you my lunch date?

SD: No. And yes. And you’re paying.

During our lunch I explained how angry everyone was, and how he had disrupted their families and lives. Dan didn’t get it. “I gave them each $5,000 compensation to move!” Obviously he needed a bit of a push. I told him I’d set up a meeting at 2:00 that afternoon with him and the rep’s leadership team, and handed him a speech to say to them.

Dan: This is an apology!!! I’m not saying this!

SD: Yes you are.

Dan took the paper, and began pacing around the restaurant, reading. He paced for 20 minutes. Then said he was ready to go. We didn’t talk in the car. In the meeting, I sat in the back. At the table, he stood up, looked over at me, cleared his throat, and said to everyone:

It seems I overstepped my bounds and didn’t consider your needs when I forced you to move on such short notice, find other houses to move into, pack, move in the middle of the school year, and didn’t respect your family obligations.

That was all he had to say. The entire group got up and cheered. Some of the men starting crying. They all went around him to hug him. “We just needed to hear you apologize. We felt overlooked and disrespected. You didn’t seem to care about us or our families. We just needed you to take some responsibility for your mistake.”

Dan had totally misunderstood the system involved in families moving house across country and how children needed to find schools, parents needed to find playgroups, the time it takes houses to sell. The misunderstanding harmed his team. They needed an apology. They needed to be respected.

Net net. I don’t care if you believe you misunderstood anything or you believe you’re ‘right’. If there is a problem under your watch, you’re responsible.

THE HOW

Here’s what you’ll notice if there might have been a misunderstanding:

  • Something is amiss. You may not know exactly what it is, but it will feel like something is a bit off center. People will try work with the givens, but they’re not particularly happy, and not particularly at their best; they might be late for work, forgetting to do promised stuff, ignoring deadlines, etc.
  • You’ll hear people grumbling and their issues don’t seem to make sense.
  • Suggestions for change will be made in areas you believe to be stable.
  • People won’t look you in the eye, or they’ll make themselves unavailable.
  • People will not necessarily complain, but they won’t necessarily be compliant either.

Net net, there will be something wrong and you won’t know what it is. Gather the group, or the leaders, and ask if there is something you did that caused confusion or annoyance that you need to clean up. Is something wrong that you need to make right?

  1. Make sure you don’t have any attachment to being right; your goal is to make sure whatever problem has occurred will be resolved. You’ve got a ‘people’ criteria here, not a ‘right’ criteria.
  2. Listen with an unbiased ear. It’s helpful for you to walk around while you’re listening – it puts you into Observer, and will supersede your unconscious biases.
  3. Let the outcome, the fix, come from the people that are experiencing the hurt.
  4. Make sure you repeat what they say to make sure you hear them accurately and you work from their suggestions.
  5. Get agreement from everyone for the fixes, and make sure everyone is on board.
  6. Ask if there is anyone still left hurt or angry – and ask them what they’ll need from you to feel the problem resolved going forward.

Your responsibility is to have a well-functioning, thriving group, an outcome in which everyone is creative and collaborative, a conclusion that everyone can buy into and become better for. Blame, fault, mistake, are not operative. It’s just your job.

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Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, sales visionary and inventor of Buying Facilitation®, and author of 9 books including the NYT Business Bestseller Selling with IntegrityDirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard?Sharon Drew works with companies to facilitate congruent change and collaboration, with healthcare providers to facilitate patient buy-in, with folks seeking permanent change by facilitating them through their unconscious to design a conscious route to permanent change (The HOW of Change). She is a consultant, coach, trainer, speaker, change maker and award winning blogger (www.sharondrewmorgen.com). She lives in Portland, OR on a houseboat. Reach Sharon Drew at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com

September 23rd, 2019

Posted In: News

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speakToday was a typical day. I arrived at my office early in the morning and began by checking email: colleagues, fans, strangers writing from around the world, each with their own agendas, each email exchange demanding a different type of communication. I then went to LinkedIn and connected with new colleagues from several countries, answered questions from followers, and added ideas to a group discussion. Twitter is always strictly relegated to 10 minutes. Then I had several Skype meetings: with a business partner from Paris and her colleague in Brussels to consider developing a healthcare app; brainstorming with my tech in India; coaching a team of banking reps studying Buying Facilitation® with me, and a strategy call with a new client to discuss a leadership implementation we’re developing; a brainstorming call with another author of listening books in India to discuss ideas for a collaborative article we’re writing. Finally, I spoke with a friend, now in London visiting her dying grandmother. I spent the rest of the day writing an article, using Google for references.

I suspect your worlds are digitally similar and equally challenging: our global interactions include people with ideas, cultural norms and assumptions, perceptions, religious beliefs, and languages different from our own. The internet has expanded our world. And therein lies the problem.

WHY IS OUR COMMUNICATION PROBLEMATIC?

We all take our communication skills seriously. But in this digital world of instant connection with people around the globe, our communication skills haven’t kept up: we speak from our normalized biases, assumptions, and patterns; we listen with our habituated, biased listening filters; we use terms and regional communication styles and (very idiosyncratic) subjective criteria and reference points.

Sometimes we hear others accurately, sometimes we don’t but think we do. Sometimes we unwittingly use terms that annoy, or are annoyed by a Communication Partner’s (CPs) terms. I remember once when living in the UK, being insulted when someone from London said my house was ‘homely’. Only later did I learn that ‘homely’ in the UK means what ‘homey’ means in the US, while ‘homely’ in the States means ugly. What was meant as a compliment almost ended our dialogue.

Using our established communication skills, we may not know when or how to modify our languaging accordingly, or hear precisely what’s intended and face the possibility of communicating ineffectively with people outside our experience and culture.

It’s time to add new skills for global communication: without knowing when what we’re doing isn’t working – listening with a cultural or subjective bias that causes an ineffective response, asking what might seem to be pushy, or manipulative, or invasive questions, responding according to our own agendas – we can only have a restricted set of communication choice points available, causing us to respond or connect inappropriately. We need soft skills training.

Soft skills always seem to be put on the back burner. When I wrote my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? I got calls from several HR Directors who wanted to bring in my unbiased listening skills training (just one day!), but couldn’t get the buy-in to actually hire me. Why? Because they said, everyone thinks they know how to listen. But of course, that’s not true. We certainly know how to hear spoken words, but there is no way we can correctly interpret them when what we hear is outside our normal references.

WE CANNOT KNOW HOW ANOTHER’S REALITY DIFFERS

Finely honed throughout our lifetimes, we all live in a reality of our own making, seeing, hearing, and feeling the world uniquely, according to our own idiosyncratic, and very unconscious, filters – obviously some degrees removed from veracity. Programmed to do this, our brains are pattern recognition devices, unconsciously on the lookout for anything (differences, disparities) that may challenge our baseline beliefs and status quo.

  • We hear what others say through biases, triggers, and assumptions that carry a modified interpretation of what’s been said through our brain’s habituated neural pathways, mistaking or misinterpreting some fraction of the intended message: we hear the message our brain wants us to hear regardless of the Speaker’s intent. And because our brains fail to tell us what it mangled, omitted, or misinterpreted, we actually believe that what we think we hear is accurate.
  • We feel our emotions through automatic feedback loops that trigger us, via normalized and habituated neural pathways, to historic events our brains have determined are similar to the current event, objective reality aside.
  • Our vision is idiosyncratic and habituated. We each see colors uniquely, for example; we remember details according to historic triggers, and our field of vision is restricted accordingly.
  • We choose neighborhoods and mates who match our beliefs; professions that are comfortable in dress codes, values, communication patterns, and culture; even our TV choices match our chosen reality and biases.

Sadly, we don’t question our experience. Our brains don’t tell us the level of interpretation or modification they’ve automatically chosen for us, nor do they tell us when we might be missing something important, expecting something that was never promised, or fabricating something never agreed to. And yes, we occasionally, unwittingly, hurt others.

Yet we continue doing what we’ve always done, believing our constructed reality to be True, believing that our skills are fine, regardless of the consequences. Why? By adhering to our subjective reality, we get to maintain our core beliefs and cultural norms so we can wake up every day and ‘be’ who we are. Our inadequacies, prejudices, mistakes, and viewpoints are built in and habituated daily. And we’re comfortable. So long as we stay in our own worlds.

Obviously, this restricted, biased reality has consequences in our global worlds. What happens when we encounter people or situations that are sufficiently different from us and our miscommunication causes us to inadvertently take a wrong action? What happens when we actually hear something inaccurately and act on what we think we heard rather than what was said? [My book explains and fixes this: What? Did you really say what I think I heard?] What happens when we perceive incoming harm, and it’s merely our unconscious biases overreacting? What happens when we misinterpret someone’s intent and miss an opportunity for joy? What happens when we consider ourselves successful, or content, or ‘right’, and blame another for any confusion? What happens when we unwittingly harm another?

What do we lose when we react inappropriately to something we mistakenly deem reality? What happens when our livelihoods are dependent upon making accurate decisions and having truly collaborative conversations with folks outside our normal sphere of influence, and our questions, or listening, or comments, or assumptions, go against the norms of our CPs? It’s all unconscious; we may never know if something untoward is occurring until it’s too late.

It’s time for soft skills training to be a Thing. Our communication status quo is just not good enough in our global worlds. It’s time to get training to

  • enlarge possibility,
  • expand our realities, understanding, inferences, and unconscious biases,
  • make fewer errors and have more choices,
  • hear what’s intended, even when it goes outside of our reality,
  • include a new set of triggers, neural pathways, and listening filters,
  • have no personal restrictions that could hinder our connections.

GUESSES AND HABITS

Often we can’t tell if what we take away from a partner communication is accurate when it seems to be fine. Unfortunately, our brains don’t tell us they’re hearing, feeling, or seeing something uniquely: it seems normal to us. Even those few instances when we notice something seems a bit ‘off’, we’re merely comparing what’s in front of us against what we have historically held to be ‘true’ and have no idea what is causing the irritation or our part in it, too often blaming the other for the problem. And even when we try to understand there’s a good chance we can do no better than confirm, misinterpret, or disprove according to our own biases, using our own ‘givens’ as comparators of ‘right’. We are actually projecting our status quo and guessing meaning per our past predictions. It’s real if we believe it to be real.

Indeed, there is no intrinsic meaning in anything, outside the meaning we give it, making a problem difficult to fix even when we suspect something is wrong: the same unconscious, habituated neural pathways that caused the problem is restricted when it needs to do something outside of its scope.

By bringing soft skills training to all of our professions, sales folks can accurately connect with prospects and customers in other countries, coaches can work with clients worldwide and effectively enable self-driven change, leaders can run groups and implementations with folks from different countries. Here are the programs I believe necessary.

  1. Listening: What we think someone says has been unconsciously curated for us by our filters, biases, assumptions, and triggers; we only hear what our unconscious wants us to hear. In fact, while our brains sift and insert, they don’t tell us what has been misinterpreted or mangled, leaving us to believe that what we think we hear is accurate. And we never realize our errors until it’s too late. I’ve lost business partners who think something has been agreed with without my awareness that anything was proposed.
    • To actually hear/understand what’s meant, we must override our normalized listening filters and develop neutral neural pathways to hear through.
  2. Asking unbiased questions: Even with colleagues, the questions we pose are indications of what we want which biases and restricts possible responses and can be easily misinterpreted by those outside our culture.
    • Pose Facilitative Questions that direct the brain to specific memory channels (i.e. not interrogation devices) to enable others to figure out what THEY want from the conversation, disconnected from our needs or guesses.
  3. Managing triggers: We all have unconscious, habituated, normalized triggers that are activated automatically with a word, phrase, or idea, causing us to use our own subjective values to judge our CPs. With global colleagues, it’s especially important to unhook our triggers to have effective communication.
    • We must learn to recognize, and make adjustments for, our own triggers and biases, and add new triggers to make mutual understanding possible.
  4. Choice: We must learn to choose communication skills that match our CPs skills, especially once we recognize a miscommunication.
    • We must know how to disconnect from our habituated responses, listening, and general communication styles and build in the cultural norms of our communication partners.
  5. Expanding curiosity: Our curiosity is limited by our current knowledge. With a global audience, we must expand our curiosity to ask better questions and listen accurately.
    • To wonder why a conversation is taking a turn, or not progressing, we must go outside of our habituated biases and subjective defenses to recognize problems outside our customary thinking.
  6. Negotiating skills: Different countries, different cultural groups, have different expectations when they negotiate. Learn them.
    • For win-win to occur, both sides must understand the other’s interpretation of what is fair, and must supersede acculturated expectations.
  7. Changing beliefs: Our beliefs are the underlying trigger in any communication. We need to examine what they are and how they align with our global communication partners.
    • Soft skills programs are designed to change behaviors but don’t cause permanent behavior change unless the originating beliefs and norms that created the behaviors are modified. All soft skills programs must focus on permanently changing beliefs so new neural pathways and triggers are installed.
  8. Gaining empathy: Short of living in a new community for years, the easiest way to understand other’s cultures and experience is by reading novels.
    • I recommend James Baldwin, Jane Austin, Toni Morrison, JD Vance.
  9. Writing: Much of our communication is through writing, albeit through our own styles that might conflict with a CPs expectations. We need to learn to write in more efficient, neutralized ways to ensure we don’t conflict with others due to how we write.
    • Training must be designed to teach skills for email exchanges, social media interactions, proposal and presentation writing.

CAN I HELP?

I believe my learning facilitation model is perfect for today’s need for enhanced soft skills. I’ve spent my life – since I was 11 – coding the steps and skills for unconscious choice and change to enable influencers (leaders, sellers, doctors, parents, coaches) to facilitate others through to their own, idiosyncratic, systemic, congruent decisions to change; I can use this Change Facilitation approach to help people prepare to learn learn, buy, change, themselves from their own core, largely unconscious, criteria. Instead of outside/in, it’s inside/out.

Used in global corporations since 1987 (first course with KLM titled Helping Buyers Buy) I developed this approach when I realized that people cannot respond accurately to the type of shared, or experienced, information offered in current training modalities (regardless of value or efficacy) due to their own habituated filters, biases, assumptions, cultural norms, etc.

As a result, learning occurs in only people who can hear, understand, and accept that approach, that idea, that representation. So: offered information is automatically biased by a listener’s filters; conventional questions merely represent the biases of the Asker and restrict the response framework accordingly; and the training approach of a set of data being offered, using the languaging, examples, and exercises of the course designers, and may cause unconscious reactions or lost learning.

In other words, the only people who will truly benefit from a program are those whose unconscious beliefs are already aligned; all those with different biases, different beliefs, different assumptions or norms, will not be able to hear, understand, abide by, or comprehend the need for, the proposed change and may find it incongruent enough to resist. This problem persists not merely in training programs, but anywhere outside influencers try to effect change. So buyers with a need won’t buy; patients with an illness won’t follow doctor’s regiments; coaching clients won’t buy-in to a needed change.

Using my learning facilitation approach, people seeking change can discover their own route to their unique learning path, eschew bias and resistance, and create their own permanent change where existing choices are found to be less than excellent.

I’ve used the training to spearhead permanent behavior change, to expand possibility and make new decisions without resistance or bias: sellers can facilitate buyers through their change management issues to enable buying; doctors can teach patients to make appropriate, permanent behavior changes; coaches can help clients buy-in to permanent change; unconscious bias and diversity programs can help people get rid of unconscious bias. Here are a few of the skill sets that I developed that are different about my training model.

Facilitative Questions – with no bias from the Asker except to facilitate congruent change (in other words, not used as interrogation vehicles), these questions are designed as directional devices to help Responders traverse through their unconscious route to change and discover how to change, using their own criteria. They are posed in a specific sequence, using specific words, to enable others to figure out their own unconscious answers, and actually, lead through the steps of congruent change. I know there is no referent for these questions. I have trained their formulation to over 50,000 people, so the skill is learnable and scalable. Please email me to start a conversation. To learn how to formulate these, take a look at this learning tool.

Listening – normal listening merely uses accepted viewpoints to make sense of what’s said. Remember: we only ‘hear’ air vibrations that hit our habituated neural pathways and are interpreted as per our biases. It’s possible to go outside our habituated pathways and listen without bias. To learn more about this, read sample chapters of my book What?. If you get excited and want to learn how to do this, use the Study Guide I’ve developed that takes you through each chapter to shift our normal skills. Or call to have me train a one day program for your folks to listen with choice.

Choice – we currently make choices according to our own biases and norms. I’ve coded the steps of choice and change and can teach people, and outsiders (i.e. leaders, coaches, trainers, etc.) to intervene in their own or other’s choices at the stage where there is a breakdown, incompatibility, or misrepresentation.

I’ve first tested, then offered, this training in global corporations such as Morgan Stanley, IBM, Kaiser, DuPont, P&G, FedEx, Wachovia, etc. using control groups and pilot studies which consistently found my learning facilitation approach 8x more successful than the control group. For those needing a more expansive discussion on this, read my paper in The 2003 Annual: Volume 1 Training [Jossey-Bass/Pfieffer]: “Designing Curricula for Learning Environments Using a Facilitative Teaching Approach to Empower Learners” pp 263-272.

So here’s the pitch: when used in training, my learning facilitation model does something well beyond conventional training models that use information as the route to helping others embrace, adopt, receive, or execute a new idea or behavior. I can actually teach people how to change their core choices, and help them develop new neural pathways for choice, using their own terms of excellence, so they can adopt the new behaviors they choose.

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Receive Sharon Drew’s original articles and essays on Mondays: http://sharondrewmorgen.com/subscribe-to-sharon-drew-morgens-award-winning-blog/

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Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker and thought leader. She designs change facilitation models that enable the buying decision journey in sales (Buying Facilitation®), the change issues needed for coaching clients to permanently change, the implementation issues needed for leaders to organize congruent change without resistance. Sharon Drew is a speaker, coach, trainer, and NYTimes Business bestselling author of 9 books including Selling with Integrity, Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Sharon Drew is a speaker, consultant, trainer, and blogger of an award-winning blog www.sharondrewmorgen.com.

September 16th, 2019

Posted In: Communication, Listening

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