gender neutralAs someone who’s written about communication for decades, I’ve decided to say what it feels like day in, day out, to be at the wrong end of being a person in America. A female. This article offers my personal viewpoint of how our endemic gender communication biases affect me as a woman. I hope it will inspire a dialogue that leads to gender-equal communication.

I don’t want this article to be a ‘scold’; there’s plenty of blame to go around given 1. our cultural norm that assumes a male preference; 2. women have been historically quiet when at the wrong end of gender communication bias (fear of reprisal, exhaustion and impotence from decades of being disparaged). But I deeply long for authentic and respectful styles of speech.

I suspect most men don’t understand what we women have to adjust to even in ordinary daily activities, from small seemingly-insignificant slights to those that cut to the bone; I suspect most men don’t realize how the endemic male bias methodically picks away at our souls. Sitting with a man recently, another man entered the room:

Man: Hi guys.

        SD: Why not say ‘Hi gals?’

        Man, pointing to my friend: Because he’s a man.

        SD: What am I, chopped liver?

Women being referred to with a male term seems to be acceptable, to have crept into the culture as ‘generic’. But to me, given conversations like the above, it’s not. I’d like to think men would be willing to make some alternate choices and refer to me as a woman, with the strength, power, and respect that deserves. And it’s more than just the use of inept terms; it’s the attitude, the inbuilt assumptions that I’m less-than.

In this article I’ll share a few examples of how I’m too-often spoken to and how it makes me feel. Some of you may not understand or identify with what I’m saying (and men, since most of you have no history of being a woman, this might seem funny or slight), and some of you may judge me. But just maybe a few things I say will open a door to awareness so a dialogue can begin and start a conversation so we can heal this thing and come together as equals.


At an event recently, a man walked up to introduce himself. Here was our conversation:

BILL: Oh Hi! You’re the girl with two names!

SDM: Yes, I’m the woman with two names.

BILL: Aw, come on!!! Gimme a break! Get off it, will ya? Woman? Girl? What’s the difference!

SDM: Seriously? Surely by now you’ve been educated by women in your life as to the proper way to refer to an adult female.

BILL: I’ve been educated!!! Believe me! A lot! I know what I’m supposed to do! Very well!

SDM: So what’s stopping you from doing it?

Bill went quiet. We stood quietly looking at each other. He then said, in a very soft voice:

BILL: You’re right. It’s an old habit, and I’m embarrassed I spoke without thinking. I mean no disrespect. I do realize you’re an adult. I’ll work harder at it. Thanks for reminding me.

Why did he have to fight so hard to be wrong? Why was it easier to try to diminish me rather than apologize?

Let me begin with the very easiest question and annoyance: Why do some men still not know the difference between a child and an adult? It’s a no-brainer: There are two categories of people: child people and adult people. Children are boys and girls. Adults are men and women. Simple. It’s a respect thing. I suspect most men over 25 wouldn’t be happy constantly, daily, being referred to as boys.


Just curious: how can it seem right to use the same vocabulary for an adult woman as you do a 7-year-old female child? Being called a ‘lady’ is not ok either. Just last night, in 2022, I was told by a man “Lady, girl, woman, what’s the difference? I mean no harm by it. Why don’t you just get over it?” He doesn’t realize being referred to as a child devalues my power as a fully fledged adult. Don’t use alternative terms for me! I’m a grown-ass woman!

Do we women really have to fight for the right to be referred to as adults? It’s not a small thing: it sets the tone of the underlying thinking. And yet it has persisted for eons. In line for a movie once in 1980, I heard one man tell another: “When a woman hears the word ‘girl’ she doesn’t hear the rest of the sentence.’ 42 years ago, yet the problem remains. And as a woman facing so many other slights, when you refer to me as a child, my rights, my intelligence, my sexuality, my power is diminished.

Another problem frequently ignored is the cultural acceptance of conforming to a male bias – male being seen as ‘neutral’. As per my story above, I’m curious: how did ‘guys’ become the ‘gender neutral’ term? Why didn’t the term ‘gals’ become the norm? Sounds funny right? Why? Why not use Folks (more inclusive) as the gender neutral term?

Every time – every time – I am amongst women and someone calls us ‘guys’, I look around to see where the men are and wonder why I’m being excluded. What about ‘all men are created equal’? or ‘manpower’ and ‘mankind’? that are accepted as gender neutral, but the term ‘feminism’ (is defined as ‘equality between the sexes’) remains a term to be avoided because it’s ‘about women’?

And how did wearing pants become gender neutral? Generally, men don’t have an option to wear skirts – i.e. if conforming company attire for, say, McDonalds or the USPO, would be that everyone wore skirts? See what I mean? The assumption that ‘male’ equals gender neutral stops us from creatively discovering something new that’s both/and.

What about pronouns in books. Why are they almost always male? Do men realize what it’s like to read only masculine pronouns in books, newspapers, articles? Every time I pick up something to read – every time – I have to adjust. Dammit! I’m not a HE, or isn’t this book for me?

In my own books I alternate pronouns between odd and even chapters. A reader once wrote me to ask why all the pronouns in the entire book were female. “Such a good book otherwise,” he wrote. “Very annoying.” He was so annoyed by half the chapters with ‘she’ that he didn’t even notice that the other half were ‘he’. And yes, we refer to doctors and other professionals as ‘he’ although law schools, medical schools, etc. enroll 51% women.

This presumption that male is preferred overlooks women of every profession. It’s been proven in books, scientific research, for decades that women managers provide better results; women directors, artists, consultants, negotiators, bring an emotional honesty and innovation that doesn’t exist with men. And the patients of women doctors get healthy more quickly with fewer relapses. Why is this still a thing?

What is it that makes someone with a penis automatically better, smarter, more trustworthy, more creative or worth more money? Don’t even get me started on why having a vagina means we don’t like getting paid for our work, or look forward to unwanted sexual advances.


From my earliest memory – certainly in the decades I’ve been an adult – I’ve had to find ways to manage the disrespect, the condescension, the belittlement, I often feel from men when in conversation, especially when I share feelings. Recently a man ended a partnership with me when I told him I was annoyed and felt disrespected because he canceled four meetings (FOUR!) within an hour of the start time! I doubt that would have occurred had I been male.

Should I shut my mouth and stay silent (the route most women take given it’s such a frequent occurrence), express my annoyance, or turn off my feelings so the disrespect doesn’t get to me? Do I say something in the hopes that it will make a difference – that the dolt speaking to me might not do it to the next woman – and risk being put down? My self-talk sounds like this: “Idiot. Does he realize he just insulted me? Is he mean? or just stupid? Is he worthy of my energy to share my feelings and maybe teach him something or if I do, will he recognize what he’s done? or be a jerk and put me down?” Until now, I’ve walked away and ended our connection.

It’s a sad commentary that the baseline, endemic assumption is that women will bend to a man. And if she doesn’t like it and says something about it, she gets shunned, made fun of, tattled on, put down, beaten, berated, excluded, called a nasty name; men prefer to defend their actions rather than think they might have harmed someone, or be wrong.

But I’m done with making excuses for men. If someone hurts my feelings or offends me, I now say something. Silence has been our enemy. I am silent no more. I now speak my truth directly, without blame: the good ones say ‘Sorry’. The rest, I don’t need.

I think the tide may be shifting. Women are speaking up now and many men are listening. But the male bias is deeply, deeply built in to our culture, relationships, child care (How many men know their kids’ shoe size? Their kid’s upcoming school trips?), our work lives.

Here’s an exemplary story: While hiking in Bend, OR recently I came upon a family who had stopped to look at the view. On the right stood a woman, two teenage daughters, and a dog. About 15 feet away was the man. The woman stopped me and asked if I’d take a picture of the family. Sure. At which point this conversation ensued:

MAN turning to his family members: Hey, why don’t you all come over here?

SDM at the point in my life when I say what I want: You’re entire family is over there. Why don’t you just move yourself over to them? Why should they all move over to you?

DAUGHTER: Right on, sister.

MAN in utter confusion, seriously: What??

WIFE: I’ll explain it to you later, Joe. Ma’am, he has a hard time when he’s not the center of everything. And after all these years we’ve been married, and all the conversations with the women in his life, I have no idea why he still thinks he is. Men are just a different species.

They’ve had that conversation many times, and yet there it is still. The expectation, beyond all logic, that an entire family – and dog! – would move 15 feet because the person ‘over there’ was male.

How sad that so much creativity is lost, so many relationships damaged, so many works of art and innovations and services that never get created; so much possibility of learning and growing and caring and supporting each other through this maze of life because of our culturally ingrained assent that all things male are the standardized choice.


For those of you who may not be aware of some of the things that might make the women in your life feel less-than, I will share some of the comments and questions I regularly hear. And note: I lived in Europe for six years where men spoke to me with egalitarian, respectful, authentic communication.

I was shocked on return at the level of condescension, the use of words of mistrust, skepticism and degradation that’s built into – and accepted! – our daily communication. I had lived with it so long that it had become part of my life experience. Only with six years away did my ‘new’ ears hear the disrespect. When I told my seatmate on the plane coming back that I had started up a tech company and an international non-profit he replied, “Yeah? You and who else?”

Even now, as a well-known, well-respected author of several bestsellers, inventor, entrepreneur, etc. my intelligence and ability are regularly questioned. Here are a smattering of phrases I hear regularly:

Do you really think you can do that? or Don’t you think you need help with that? or Are you sure you don’t need help? * Did you do it yourself? * That dress really makes you look sexy.* Just scroll down and hit ‘enter’ – it’s right there in front of you.* That’s pretty good – did you come up with that yourself? * Calling you a girl is a complement – chill out! * You took it the wrong way; get over it.* Here you go, young lady (Spoken by much younger man: my response is always “I’m neither.” I’m not young, and who the hell wants to be a lady?) * We didn’t forget you – we just thought you might not be interested in that sort of thing and we knew John could catch you up. You don’t mind, right? * Oh! You know about boats/math/science/computers… etc.! Huh! * Seriously? You can do that? – and what is your background? * You write books? Do you write them on your own, or do you have a ghost writer? * Where are your footnotes…what do you mean ‘original thinking’ – that’s impossible.* It’s all in your head. * You won’t go out with me??? Dyke. * You look a bit tired; do you need a break? * I hope you don’t mind that I used your term – I’m sure you don’t mind if there’s no attribution. * I know you think your way works, but let’s use the conventional format, shall we?

Women live with this daily. There’s this all pervasive, underlying, endemic assumption that we’re not creative or smart, not to be believed, trusted, or acknowledged, that we don’t know/can’t know, or that we won’t care if we’re left out, ignored, made small, or paid less. Why is it still a thing to pay women less? Why?

There hasn’t been a day in my life that I haven’t had at least one conversation that would never have occurred if I were a man. The language is different, the tone might be snide or pejorative, the assumptions patronizing even if the men mean well.

One man actually went out of his way recently to send me an email re an article I wrote on some of my original thinking: “Well, you’re just full of yourself, now, aren’t you!” My answer, of course, was ‘Yup.’ I doubt he would have sent that note to a man. He might have thought it, but wouldn’t have sent it. Does possessing a vagina mean that I don’t mind being insulted?


For too long our tribal norms have normalized condescension and sexuality: assumptions of inequality has been built into our culture. I believe men aren’t speaking this way purposefully, and the majority of men trust and respect women. But it’s time to change the language to reflect this. Let’s start with how conversations should sound and what we should aspire to:

  1. A collaborative communication – what I call a WE Space – between both Communication Partners (CPs) that has no leader, no follower. Both/And. No right or wrong, better or worse, smarter or dumber. Both and neither partner are in control. Everyone is equal. No put-downs or slights. Every exchange includes the feelings of the Other. A Recognition and openness to emerging ideas, feelings, problems without defense should something need resolving. No fault – just willingness to get it right for both CPs. Everyone enters the conversation with no goal other than to be collaborative and serve the other. And if something specific needs to emerge from the conversation, it must be agreed to by all parties at the beginning of the conversation. [NOTE: I teach this in corporations. It’s astounding how many men, even CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, aren’t aware of their communication biases. And yes, it’s changing. But it remains a struggle.]
  2. Listening biases that assume a positive outcome, not an assumed conflict that starts with an ear readied to be ‘right’ if challenged by a woman. Men: women very often feel conversations include words and attitudes that make us wrong, weak, or silly, giving men permission to step in with disparaging demeanor, words, insults, and be ‘right’. It’s inherent in language and attitude choices and often not obvious to you. It’s all been normalized – but we women always, always notice.
  3. The belief that everyone is equal, that everyone’s ideas are valid, that everyone’s work is meaningful, that people are generally honest.
  4. The time between exchanges to notice a shift in voice, tone, tempo, volume that might connote a problem that creates a pulling away from engagement.
  5. The ability to check yourself if thoughts of intelligence, sexuality, competition arise.
  6. The willingness to ask if there’s a problem, or apologize when necessary.
  7. The willingness to not get your individual needs met if the conversation takes a different turn than expected.

I believe that behaviors are merely a translation of our beliefs. Since our language is one form of behaving, I’d like to pose a few questions to men to help begin considering change:

  • What would you need to believe differently to be willing to examine your own unconscious attitudes in case you might be harboring some imbalances? How will you know (given your normalized and habituated communication) there’s a problem?
  • In case your internal exploration shows no problems, would you be willing to request feedback from 3 women as per your communication patterns?
  • What would collaborative, respectful conversations sound like? And what, specifically, might you need to change to achieve this?

Play with listening filters. Using these 5 words – Why Did You Do That – ‘listen’ to them in your head as if they were said by 1. A close female – wife, partner; 2. A female colleague; 3. Your mother; 4. A male colleague; 5. Your father. What are the differences in tone, expectation, assumed meaning, feeling? If you notice any, write them down. [NOTE: in my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? I have many fun exercises to highlight listening biases and assumptions.]

Thinking about entering conversations with women:

  1. What are your expectations re your own takeaways going in to the call/conversation? Expectations such as being collaborative, or getting your own objectives met, etc. Write them down.
  2. Listen for shifts in a colleague’s speech patterns. When a shift occurs following something you’ve said, stop the conversation and ask your Communication Partner if something happened, and if there was something you inadvertently said that needs to be examined.
  3. Go into a Starbucks, or other coffee shop, and overhear a few conversations that you can hear well enough to mentally code. Notice the flow, the words, the tone; notice when shifts occur in topics. See if you can tell if there were shifts that might have been initiated by male-dominated biases built in. Listen to conversations between women only, men only. And mixed. What are the differences between types of words used, underlying and unspoken messages, between the three.

Here are some easy phrases to use:

That dress is pretty. It suits you.

I am so excited to learn you know how to do that! I’d love to learn how at some point.

Your ideas are so profound! Well done! I’d love to hear more. Given some of my ideas are more traditional, I’d like to ask some questions so I can add to what I already know.

Oh my! I hadn’t meant to speak in a way that you find patronizing. I apologize. Would you mind telling me exactly what it was you heard and tell me how I can say it differently so I can learn to not do it again? Thanks.

Seems you’re not able to get X up on your computer. There should be a ‘submit’ button near the bottom somewhere. It might be hidden on your screen. It’s up there somewhere I think.

My bias is that we communicate kindly and respectfully, that women get treated like capable, creative humans, that men are merely the other gender – not better or worse, smarter or dumber. I believe we’re all here to serve each other, life being what it is. Let’s not use our gender to separate us. And men, if you’re not sure what to say, here’s the rule: they only barometer for acceptable is integrity.


Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. She can be reached at

September 19th, 2022

Posted In: Communication


Ask more questions! sellers are admonished. Ask better questions! leaders and coaches are reminded. Questions seem to be a prompt in many fields, from medicine to parenting. But why?

There’s a universal assumption that questions will yield Truth, generate ‘real’ discussion topics or realizations, or uncover hidden gems of information or important details. Good questions can even inspire clarity. Right?

I’d like to offer a different point of view on what questions really are and how they function. See, I find questions terribly subjective and often don’t get to the Truth. In fact, it’s quite possible to use questions in a way that enables Others to discover their own, often hidden and unconscious, answers.


Let me start with Google’s definition of ‘question’: a grouping of words posed to elicit data. Hmmmm…. But they don’t often elicit accurate data. Here’s my assessment. Questions are:

  • posed according to the needs, curiosity, goals, and intent of the Asker;
  • interpreted uniquely and unconsciously, according to a Responder’s world view;
  • potentially ignore more important information outside the Asker’s purview.

And, to make it worse, our normal processes get in the way:

  1. Language: Questions are posed using words and languaging unique to the Asker. Using their own (subjective) intent and goals, their own idioms and word choices, Askers assume Responders will accurately interpret them and respond along expected lines. This expectation is most easily met between folks who are familiar with each other, but less successfully with those outside the Asker’s sphere of influence. Too often Responders interpret a query quite differently than intended, offering responses far afield from the Asker’s intent.
  2. Listening/brain: All incoming words enter our ears as meaningless sound vibrations (see my book on this topic), “puffs of air” that eventually get translated according to historic circuits based on our mental models that have been set during our lifetimes. In other words, and similar with the language problem, Responders may not accurately translate incoming questions according to the intent of the Asker. The way Responders hear and interpret the question is at the mercy of the Responder’s brain circuits.
  3. Curiosity: Often an Asker seeks data, thoughts, according to his/her desire for knowledge. It might be for research, interest, or ego – to exhibit their intelligence or prove their commitment. Yet given the way information is stored and retrieved in the brain, the question may capture some degree of applicable data, or a whole lotta subjective, unconscious thoughts that may or may not be relevant.

As you can see, questions posed to extract useful, relevant data have a reasonable chance of failure: with an outcome biased by the needs and subjectivity of the Asker, with Responders listening through brain circuits that delete incoming sound vibrations and only translate incoming words according to what’s been heard before, it’s likely that standard questions won’t gather the full set of information as intended.


Here’s my opinion on a few different forms of question:

Open question: To me, open questions are great in social discussions but there’s no way to get precise data from them. What would you like for dinner? will prompt an enormous variety of choices. But if the fridge only has leftovers, an open question won’t work, and a closed question “Would you like me to heat up last night’s dinner or Monday night’s dinner?” would. Open questions cause brains to do a transderivational search that may unearth responses far afield from the Asker’s intent and the Asker is out of control.

Closed question: I love these. They are perfect when a specific response is needed. What time is dinner? Should we send answers now or wait until our meeting? Of course they can also be highly manipulative when only limited responses are offered for potentially broad possibilities.

Leading question: Don’t you think you rely on conventional questions too much? That’s a leading question. Manipulative. Disrespectful. Hate them.

Probing question: Meant to gather data, these questions face the same problem I’ve mentioned: using the goal, intent, and words of the Asker, they will be interpreted uniquely as per the Responder’s historic stored content, and extract some fraction of the full data set possible.

Given the above, I invented a new form of question!


When I began developing my brain change models decades ago, I realized that conventional questions would most likely not get to the most appropriate circuits in someone’s brain that hold their best answers.

Knowing that our brain’s unconscious search for answers (in 5 one-hundredths of a second) leads to subjective, historic, and limited responses along one of the brain’s neural superhighways, I spent 10 years figuring out how to use questions to help people find where their unbiased (and unconscious) answers reside.

One of the main problems I had to resolve was how to circumvent a brain’s automatic and unconscious preferences to make it possible to notice the broadest view of choices.

            Language to avoid bias and promote objectivity

Since questions (as words) are automatically sent down specific neural routes, I had to figure out a way to use language to broaden the routes the brain could choose from, expand possibility, and circumvent bias as much as possible – a difficult one as our natural listening is unwittingly biased.

Incoming words get translated according to our existing superhighways that offer habitual responses. To redirect listening to where foundational answers are stored, I figured it might be possible to use questions to override and redirect the normal routes to find the specific cell assemblies where value-based answers are stored and not always retrieved by information gathering questions! That led me to a model to use specific words in a specific order so the brain would be led to find the best existing circuits.

To accomplish this, my Facilitative Questions are brain-change based, and save information gathering until the very end of the questioning process when the proper circuits have been engaged.

            Getting into Observer

To make sure Responders are in as neutral and unbiased a place as possible, avoid the standard approach of attempting to understand, and have a chance of listening without misunderstanding, Facilitative Questions are formulated in a way that puts Responders in Observer, a meta position that overrides normalized neural circuitry. They are not information gathering and use the mind-body connection to direct incoming messages to where accurate answers exist that often are not noticed via conventional questions.

Let me show you how to put yourself into an Observer, coach/witness position – the stance you want your Responders to listen from – so you can see how effective it is at going beyond bias. You’ll notice how an objective viewpoint differs from a subjective one and why it’s preferred for decision making. Indeed, it’s a good place to listen from so you can hear responses without your own biases.

Here’s an exercise: See yourself having dinner with one other person. Notice the other person across from you (Self, natural, unconscious, subjective viewpoint). Then mentally put yourself up on the ceiling and see both of you (Observer, conscious, objective, intentional viewpoint).

If you’re having an argument with your dinner partner, where would you rather be – ceiling or across the table – to understand the full data set of what was going on so you could make personal adjustments?

On the ceiling, where you’d see both of you. From this meta position, you’d be objective, free from the feelings and biases that guided the argument along historic circuits. From Observer you’d have the best chance to make choices that might resolve your problem. Try it for yourself! Don’t forget to go back down to Self to communicate warmly. My clients walk around saying ‘Decide from Observer, Deliver from Self.’

So when developing Facilitative Questions, I had to put listeners into Observer. I played with words and found that these cause Responders to unconsciously step back (i.e. meta) to look into neural circuits with an unbiased, less subjective, and broader view.

  • how would you know if…
  • what would you need to understand differently…

Notice they immediately cause the Responder to ‘observe’ their brain; they do NOT gather data or cause ‘understanding’ in the Asker. The intent is to have the Responder begin to look into their brains to discover answers stored outside the automatic circuitry.

            Change the goal

I also had to change the goal of a question, from my own curiosity and need to elicit data to helping the Other discover their own answers.

“Why do you wear your hair like that?”

is a conventional question puts the Responder directly into Self and their automatic, historic, unconscious responses, while

“How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle?”

enables the Responder to step back, to look into their full circuitry involving hair (How would you know), look at current and past hairstyles (if it were time), note their situation to see if it merits change (reconsider), and have a more complete data/criterion set with which to possibly make a change – or not.

Note: because some questions are interpreted in a way that (unwittingly) causes Responders to distrust you, Facilitative Questions not only promote an expanded set of unbiased possibilities, but encourages trust between Asker and Responder and doesn’t push a response.

            Questions follow steps to change

The biggest element I had to figure out was the sequence. I figured out 13 sequential steps to all change and decision making and I pose the Facilitative Questions down the sequence. Here are the main categories:

  • Where are you and what’s missing? Responder begins by discovering their full set of givens, some of which are unconscious.
  • How can you fix the problem yourself? Systems don’t seek change, merely to resolve a problem at the least ‘cost’ to the system. To minimize any ‘cost’ involved, it’s best to begin by trying to fix the problem with what’s familiar.
  • How can you manage change without disruption and with buy-in? Until it’s known what the fallout of the ‘new’ will be, and there’s agreement, no change will occur.

For those who wish to learn how to formulate Facilitative Questions, I’ve developed an Accelerator you can purchase. Enjoy.


Facilitative Questions are especially helpful in

  • data gathering to discover a more expanded range of choices,
  • decision making to uncover each element of consideration as matched with values and outcomes,
  • habit/behavior when seeking to understand and modify the patterns and neural circuitry underlying the current behaviors,
  • leadership, sales, coaching when leading others to discover routes to new choices.

I’ve trained these questions globally for sales folks learning my Buying Facilitation® model to help prospects become buyers, and for coaches and leaders to help followers discover their own best answers.

If your job is to serve, the best thing you can offer others is a commitment to help them help themselves. Facilitative Questions can be used in any industry, from business to healthcare, from parenting to relationships as tools to enable discovery, change, and health.

It takes a bit of practice to create these questions, but the coaches, sellers, doctors, and leaders I’ve taught them to use them to help Others discover their own excellence. I encourage you to consider learning them. And I’m happy to discuss and share what I know. My hope is that you’ll begin to think about questions differently.


Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. She can be reached at

September 12th, 2022

Posted In: News


As a preamble to a discussion about failing consciously, I’d like to retell a story. Many years ago Xerox was beta testing a then new-type digital printer. The testers sent back complaints: it was hard to figure out how to work the damn thing, and the user guide was confusing. Obviously, User Error, the designers concluded. Yup. More stupid users. So an internal focus group was set up by senior management to test what exactly was happening.

They brought in three middle managers, put them in a room with the new printer and user guide, and from the one-way mirror watched while mayhem ensued. They watched while the managers got confused by the directions in the user guide, spent literally hours arguing amongst themselves about what the user guide meant, kept pressing the wrong buttons, and finally gave up – never getting it to work.

User Error, they again said. Obviously, went the thinking, the managers weren’t smart or savvy enough to understand simple directions. Except they didn’t know a trick had been played on them: the testers were actually PhD computer scientists. Oops. It wasn’t User Error at all. They had failed to design a machine and a user guide that had clear user interfaces. So while the printer itself might have been a marvel of machinery for its day, it couldn’t be used. It was a failure. Or was it?


I contend that until every ‘failed’ step was taken, and every ‘failed’ assumption made, there was no way to know exactly what problems needed to be fixed or if indeed their printer was a success. The failure was part of the march to success.

We call it failure when we don’t achieve a goal we’ve set out to accomplish, whether it’s starting up a company, reaching a job goal, learning something new, or starting a new diet. I think that as humans we strive to succeed, to be seen as competent, to be ‘better than’, even if we’re only in competition with ourselves. It’s natural to want our products, our teams, our families, our competitive activities, to reap success. To be The Best. And we plot and envision how to make it happen.

But the road to success isn’t straight; sometimes we face disappointment, shame, and self-judgment along the route. We get annoyed with ourselves when results don’t seem to comply with our mental images, and tell ourselves maybe we didn’t follow the original plan, or didn’t plan well enough, or maybe we’re self-sabotaging. We blame teammates or vendors, spouses or neighbors.

I’m here to tell you that failure is a necessary part of success. It’s built in to learning and succeeding, actually a natural part of the process of change and accomplishment. Before we win we gotta fail. Tiger Woods didn’t wake up the best in the world. Neither did Pavarotti or Steve Jobs. For anyone to get to the top, to achieve success in any industry, any endeavor, any sport, it’s necessary to fail over and over. How surprising that no one teaches us how to fail consciously. I suggest we develop conscious failing strategies that become built in to our success procedures.


Getting to success is a sequential process that includes trial and error – i.e. winning and losing are both part of the same process, and each adding a piece of the puzzle. Of course there’s no way to know what we don’t know before we start – no way to even be curious, or ask the right questions because we don’t know what we don’t know. And unfortunately, part of the process is internal, unconscious, and systemic.

Change – and all success and failure is really a form of changing our status quo – has a very large unconscious component, and when you only try to add new behaviors you miss the unconscious elements that will rear their ugly heads as you move toward hitting your goals: you can’t change a behavior by trying to change a behavior. It just doesn’t work that way.

Let me explain a few things about how your brain works in the area of change. Anything new you want to do, anything new that requires, ultimately, new behaviors, or added beliefs or life changes, requires buy-in from what already exists in your make up – your status quo. Indeed, as the repository of your history, values, and norms, your status quo won’t change a thing without congruency. Indeed it will reject anything new, regardless of how necessary it is, unless the new has been properly vetted.

Setting a goal that’s behavior-based without incorporating steps for buy in assures resistance. Sure, we lay out the trajectory, attempt to make one good decision at a time, and use every feeling, hope, data point, guess, to take next steps. But when we don’t take into account the way our brains unconsciously process, it may not turn out like we envision. Lucky there’s a way to manage our activities to take into account what a brain needs for congruent change and a successful outcome.


In my work on how brains facilitate change and make decisions to shift what’s already there (my The How of Change program teaches how to generate new neural routes) I offer ways to create new synapses and neural pathways that lead to new behaviors. Take a look at the Change Model chart I developed, with a careful look at The Trial Loop:

How of Change

When developing the Change Model, it became important to me to diagram how we learn and developed The Trial Loop to explain it.

The Trial Loop is where the brain learning occurs. It’s here we iterate through several touch points: new data acquisition, buy-in, trial behaviors, and the stop/go/stop action (double-arrowed line between Beliefs (CEN) and red Stop) as each new element is tried and considered before new behaviors are formed.

So as we try out new stuff, our personal mental models of rules, beliefs, norms, history, etc., go through iterations of acceptance, rejection, acceptance, rejection, etc. until the new is congruent with the norms of the system, something we cannot know before we go through this process. So let’s call our disappointments all part of the iteration process that precedes success. Here is a closer look at my chart:

  1. An initial goal/idea/thought enters (through the CUE),
  2. then gets sorted through an acceptance/rejection process for beliefs and systems congruence (the CEN), which
  3. darts around the brain seeking a match for an existing neural pathway for earlier incidence of achieving this goal.
  4. If no existing pathway is found, a new synapse/neural pathway must be formed.
  5. The brain goes through an iterative process to form a new path to a new action with agreement (buy in) needed at each step (notice the iterative arrows in the chart).
  6. Iterative process includes: gathering data, trialing new activity, getting internal buy in, testing for Systems Congruence (All systems must be in a congruent state. Individually and personally, we’re all a system.)
  7. Process of Stop/New choice-data acquisition-action/Stop etc. as each new thing is tried.
  8. Final success when there’s congruency and new is adopted without resistance as a final Behavior. (And note: the Behavior is the FINAL activity. You cannot change a behavior by trying to change a behavior.)

Now you know the steps to conscious change. Should you want to learn more talk with me about my How of Change program let me know.


Now let’s plot out the steps to conscious failure to avoid large-scale malfunction. To begin with, write down components and sub-outcomes for each stage of the route between input (start of the initiative or goal) and final outcome; examine each stage and resistance point against this; examine what’s not doing what was expected through time; come up with new choices to try, and run through the Trial Loop again; then ultimately create steps to ensure the new is integrated and on track to become a new behavior. Success!

The Beginning: to start the process toward succeeding at a goal, you need:

  • Include all (all) stakeholders (including Joe in accounting) and all who will touch the final solution;
  • Agree upon the wording for the final goal, including specifics of new behavioral elements, rules, politics, outcomes – i.e. what, exactly, will be different;
  • Write up a ‘guess list’ of problems that might occur (failures) to the status quo as a result: what they might look like, as well as possible workarounds;
  • An agreement clause from all stakeholders to act when something is going off course. Note: listening without bias is urgently needed here;
  • Consider possible ways your starting goals may shift the status quo and make sure it’s tenable;
  • Know how the new outcome will be maintained over time (including the people, rules, norms, changes, that will be involved) and what else has to buy in to maintenance;
  • State potential, detailed steps toward achievement that are agreeable to all stakeholders;
  • Agreement to reconsider all previous steps if the problems that show up cause new considerations.

The Middle: to make changes, add new knowledge to trial, get continuous buy in, you need:

  • Re write the original goals, with delineated outcomes for each;
  • Notice how the new is disrupting the status quo. Is it necessary to amend the new plans to ensure Systems Congruence? Is the cost of the new lower than the cost of the original? There must be a cost-effective decision made;
  • Find ways to acquire the right knowledge to learn from;
  • Check on the ways you’re failing. Were they expected? Do they conform to your goals? Do you need to shift anything?
  • Agreement to develop new choices where current ones aren’t working as per plan.

The End: making sure the outcome is congruent with the original goal:

  • Go through the Beginning steps and check they’ve been accomplished;
  • Compare end result with original goal;
  • Make sure there is congruent integration with the thinking, beliefs, values of the original;
  • Make sure the status quo is functioning without disruption and the system ends up congruent with its mental models and belief systems.

Here are more specifics to help you integrate the necessary failure, and avoid guesswork and reactions to what might seem inconsistent with your goals:

  1. Lay out specifics for each step you’re considering to your goal. Include timelines, parameters, and consequences of results, specific elements of what success for that step should look like, and what possible failure might look like. Of course, you can’t truly know the answers until they occur, but make your best guess. It’s important to notice something new happening when it’s happening.
  2. If something unplanned or feared occurs (i.e. failure), annotate the details. What exactly is happening? What elements worked and what didn’t, and how did they work or not work – what/who was involved, how did the result differ from the expectations? What does the failure tell you – what IS succeeding instead of what you wish for? How does the remedy for the problem influence the next step? How long should you allot for each occurrence before determining whether it’s failure, or just part of the success trajectory you weren’t aware of?
  3. Are all stakeholders involved and shared their input? Do you need to bring in more stakeholders?
  4. Notice the consequences of the outcomes for each: employees, clients, hiring, firing, quitting, vendors, competition, state of the industry and your place in it. What comes into play with these factors when considering if you want to continue down one trajectory rather than designing a new one? What will it look like to decide to change course? How will your decisions effect your vision of an outcome? How are the stakeholders affected by each choice?
  5. How much failure are you willing to risk before you determine that either your outcome is untenable, or you need to make structural changes? What part does ego and denial play? Does everyone agree what constitutes failure? Success?
  6. What will you notice when your trajectory to success is negatively effecting your baseline givens? What are you willing to change, or accept, to reach your goal?
  7. What will it look like, specifically, when you’ve concluded your efforts? Will parts of the failure be factored in as success? Do all stakeholders buy in to the end result? If not, what remains unresolved? And how will you bring this forward?

Of course there’s no way to know before you start what any specific stage will look like. But using the steps, the thinking, above, you’ll be able to get a handle on it. And by including the failure, you’ll have a far better chance of succeeding.

For some reason, as leaders or individuals, companies or small businesses, we shame ourselves when we don’t achieve what we set out to achieve during our change processes. I contend we must think of each step as an integral part of the process of getting where we want to be. As they say in NLP, there’s no failure, only feedback.


Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. She can be reached at

September 5th, 2022

Posted In: Change Management, Communication

I used to assume that what I hear someone say is an accurate interpretation of what they mean. My assumption was wrong; what I think I hear (the words, the meaning) has a good chance of being inaccurate, regardless of my intent to listen carefully. But it’s not my fault.

During the years I spent reading, thinking, and researching for my book (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?) on closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard, I was quite surprised to learn how little of what I think I hear is unbiased, or even accurate. Listening, it turns out, is a brain thing and has little to do with words or intent.


Our historic life experiences (education, family, values, Beliefs, mental models) filter all incoming words, creating biases and assumptions that keep us from translating incoming messages accurately. Generally speaking, our brain determines what we hear. And it’s not objective. Here’s what happens:

    • Words are merely puffs of air that emerge from our lungs, formed by our mouth and tongue. They are meaningless sound vibrations that enter a Listener’s brain and get made into signals that get sent to ‘similar-enough’ brain circuits for translation. Everything ‘heard’ is understood and translated as per the circuits the signals were sent – what’s been ‘heard’ before – leaving the possibility that incoming content may be at least partially misunderstood.
    • A Listener’s ears

– capture some portion of incoming sound vibrations,

– conducts them through historic filters (Beliefs, mental models, etc.)

– translate the remaining vibrations into signals that get sent to

– match ‘similar-enough’ existing circuits, which

– discard what doesn’t match.

The remainder is what we think we ‘hear’.

Listeners have no idea what has been discarded in the process, the relevance of the historic reference the translating circuit refers to, or what parts of the originating message are heard inaccurately.

    • Speakers have no idea how a Listener’s brain has interpreted or biased what they’ve said or how close to accurate it is. Neither do Listeners. We all accept the translation our brain offers us as real.
    • We speak in run-on sentences, not individual words, and a Listener’s brain must make sense of the variations in vibrations of each word.
    • People speak for approximately 600 milliseconds and respond (or begin formulating a response) in 200 milliseconds. Large portions of what’s been said is not even listened to.

In other words, what we think we hear is some version of what’s been said. With people we’re in regular contact with and already have circuits to translate, it can be pretty accurate. With others not so much.


Herein lie the gap between what’s said and what’s heard: we all make inaccurate assumptions of what we think we hear, causing us to respond and choose actions from a restricted or flawed knowledge base. Of course, it’s not done purposefully, but it sure plays havoc with communication and relationships.

I once lost a business partner because he misinterpreted something he thought I said, even though his wife told him he had misheard. His comment: “I heard it with my own ears! Are you both telling me I’m crazy??” and stormed out, never to speak to me again.

Unfortunately, and different from perceived wisdom, brains don’t allow us to ‘actively listen’ to accurately understand what’s been said. Sure, Active Listening allows us to ‘hear’ the words spoken but doesn’t capture the intent, the underlying meaning. And given our neurological hearing processes are automatic, mechanical, and thoughtless, we’re stuck with what we think we hear. Here’s a simplified diagram of the process of listening:


There’s little chance any of us can understand a Speaker’s intended meaning accurately.


Given how vital listening is to our lives, for those times we want to make sure we understand and get on the same page with a Communication Partner (CP) to reach consensus, here are some guidelines:

Get agreement for a dialogue: Often, Communication Partners have different life experiences and, potentially different goals – many of which might be unconscious. Begin by agreeing to find common ground.

“I’d like to have a dialogue that might lead to us to a path that meets both of our goals. If you agree, do you have thoughts on where you’d like to begin?”

“I wonder if we can find common goals so we might find agreement to work from. I’m happy to share my goals with you; I’d like to hear yours as well.”

Set the frame for common values: At a global level, we all have similar foundational values, hopes and fears – for family, food, shelter, health. Start by ‘chunking up’ to find areas of agreement.

“I’d like to find a way to communicate that might help us find a common values so we can begin determining if we share areas of agreement. Any thoughts on how you’d like to proceed?”

“It seems we’re in opposite mind-sets. How do you recommend we go about finding if there’s any agreement we can start from?”

Get agreement on the topics in the conversation: One step at a time; make sure CPs agree to each item and skip the ones (for now) where there’s no agreement. (Put them in a Parking Lot for your next conversation.) Work with ‘what is’ instead of ‘what should be.’

Enter without bias: Unintentionally our historic, unconscious beliefs restrict our search for commonality. Replace emotions and blame with a new bias for this conversation: the ‘bias’ of collaboration.

“I’m willing to find common ground and would like to put aside my normal reactions for this hour but it will be a challenge since my feelings are so strong. Do you also have strong feelings that also might bias our communication? I wonder if we could share our most cherished beliefs and then discuss how we can move forward without bias.”

Get into Observer: To help overcome unconscious biases and filters, here are a few mind hacks that will supersede automatic brain processing: in your mind’s eye, see yourself on the ceiling looking down on yourself and your CP. I call this the Observer (witness, coach) position. It will provide a different viewpoint for your brain, replacing the emotional, automatic response with a broader, far less biased, view of your interaction. Another way is to walk around during the conversation, or sit way, way back in a chair. Sitting forward keeps you in your biases. (Chapter 6 in What? teaches how to stay in Observer and reduce bias.). From your Observer place, notice elements of the communication of both you and your CP:

      • Notice body language/words: Similar to how your brain filters incoming words, your CP is speaking/listening from their filters and assumptions, which will be exhibited in their body language and eye contact. From Observer notice how their physical stance matches their words, the level of passion, feelings, and emotion. Now look down and notice how you look and sound in relation to your CP. Just notice. Read Carol Goman’s excellent book on the subject.
      • Notice triggers: Emphasized words hold beliefs and biases. You may also hear absolutes: Always, Never; lots of You’s may be the vocabulary of blame. Silence, folded arms, a stick-straight torso may show distrust. Just notice where/when it happens for you both. If your CPs words trigger you into your own subjective viewpoints, you’ve gotten out of Observer and must get back onto the ceiling where you have choice. But just in case:

“I’m going to try very hard to speak/listen without my historic biases. If you find me getting heated, or feel blame, I apologize as that’s not my intent. If this should happen, please tell me you’re not feeling heard and I’ll do my best to work from a place of compassion and empathy.”
Summarize regularly: Because the odds are bad that you’ll accurately hear what your CP means to convey, summarize what you think you heard after every exchange:

“Sounds to me like you said, “XX”. Is that correct? What would you like me to understand that I didn’t understand or that I misheard?”

“I’ statements: Stay away from ‘You’ if possible. Try to work from the understanding that you’re standing in different shoes and there is no way either of you can see the other’s landscape.

“When I hear you say X it sounds to me like you are telling me that YY. Is that true?”

“When I hear you mention Y, I feel like Z and it makes me want to get up from the table as I feel you really aren’t willing to hear me. How can we handle this so we can move forward together?”

Get buy-in each step of the way: keep checking in, even if it seems obvious that you’re on the same page. It’s really easy to mistranslate what’s been said when the listening filters are different.

“Seems to me like we’re on the same page here. I think we’re both saying X. Is that true? What am I missing?”

“What should I add to my thinking that I’m avoiding or not understanding the same way you are? Is there a way you want me to experience what it looks like from your shoes that I don’t currently know how to experience? Can you help me understand?”

Check your gut: Notice when/if your stomach gets tight, or your throat hurts. These are sure signs that your beliefs are being stepped on and you’re out of Observer. Get back up to the ceiling and then tell your CP:

“I’m experiencing some annoyance/anger/fear/blame. That means something we’re discussing is going against one of my beliefs or values. Can we stop a moment and check in with each other so we don’t go off the rails?”

Get agreement on action items: Simple steps for forward actions will become obvious; make sure you both work on action items together.

Get a time on the calendar for the next meeting: Make sure you discuss who else needs to be brought into the conversation, end up with goals you can all agree on and walk away with an accurate understanding of what’s been said and what’s expected.


Until or unless we all hold the belief that none of us matter if some of us don’t; until or unless we’re all willing to take the responsibility for each (inadvertent)act of harm; until or unless we’re each willing to put aside our very real grievances to seek a higher good, we’ll never heal.

It’s not easy. But by learning how to hear each other with compassion and empathy, by closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard, our conversations can begin. We must be willing to start sharing our Truth and our hearts and find a way to join with another’s Truth and heart. By hearing each other accurately, it’s the best start we can make.


Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.

August 29th, 2022

Posted In: Listening

Think about the number of stars in the sky. Let’s say you’ve been told that 500 of them would provide elements of a good resolution to one of your problems, although some would be better than others. You’re offered a spaceship to bring you to just one of them. How would you know which star to choose given you can’t know where they’re located or what, specifically, they can provide?

Now, let’s parallel your brain with the stars, although there are more synapses, neurons, and circuits in your brain than there are stars in the sky! The problem above is the exact problem your brain faces whenever you want to do or decide something: you have a wish, an aspiration; you want to make a new decision; your team needs to figure out how to approach a new initiative.

To make your decision, your brain must send the ‘request’ to one grouping of your 1,000 trillion synapses, neural pathways, circuits (etc.) for translation into action. How does it choose? And how do you know it’s the best possible choice?

In this article I’d like to explain how your neural circuitry (abbreviated here as ‘circuits’) creates and biases everything you experience, and why you get resistance during a change initiative.


Let me begin with a bit of background on brains. See, they are merely electro-chemical interpretation devices, devoid of thought or meaning. That’s right: you think with your mind, but the instruction to act come from brain circuits that (simplistically) get chosen and triggered by the vibrations of the incoming content. You think or hear something, your brain captures the corresponding vibrations, dispatches the subsequent signals for interpretation, and the results are sent to your mind for action.

Without the mind-brain interaction, you wouldn’t feel, see, hear, or do anything. And here is where a problem emerges: few of us realize that our self-talk – our fears and annoyances, rejections and excitement, plans and rationalizations – as well as our actions, comes from instructions sent by our brain and might not accurately represent a full fact pattern.

When you make a decision, see a color or listen to a concert, you assume what you experience is an accurate representation of what’s happening. And sometimes it is. But sometimes your lazy brain has chosen the nearest superhighway (sequence of circuits) to translate the experience and it’s only a good-enough choice among a thousand other possibilities. Since it’s the only option you were given, how would you know there are better ones available?

See, your brain can’t tell the difference between good or bad – it only sorts for matching signals to interpret an input: meaning, intent, importance are not accounted for. Imagine if it were possible to consciously choose or create the exact circuits to provide your best choices!


Your brain is merely a predictive machine, comprised of vast numbers of elements (synapses, neural pathways, axons, etc.) that hold your history. To achieve an outcome, it employs thousands of biological, physiological, electrical, and chemical interactions that interpret incoming messaging into output action: input from the mind and setting (requests, conversations, thoughts, music, etc.), goes through some internal processing that filters the incoming to make sure it’s congruent, and eventually provides meaning and action (output).

In other words, everything you experience is directly from an instruction in your brain. Even words have no meaning until a brain circuit interprets them for you. In fact, many of the books I’ve read call words puffs of air!

Indeed, your mind has no way to understand or act, hear or see, unless your brain interprets it. Here’s what happens: the brain

  • filters incoming vibrations (inputs) from thoughts, feelings, sounds and words
  • through your Beliefs,
  • turns what remains into electro-chemical signals, and
  • dispatches them to ‘similar-enough’ circuits (among your 1,000 trillion)
  • that exit in your historic neural circuitry and
  • translates them into outputs/meaning or action (behaviors, decisions),

all in five one-hundredths of a second. Here is a simplistic diagram using the language of neuroscience:


The process is automatic, devoid of meaning, and unconscious; you have no choice but to operate from the meaning your brain has provided. Sadly, the conscious ‘you’ is largely out of control: Once you provide an input message, and these vibrations have been turned into signals that become outputs, it’s too late to change their destination.


Unfortunately, today’s standard practices for change management ignore the brain change element and focus on modifying the behaviors, decisions, actions – the outputs – AFTER they’ve been generated and therefore difficult to alter.

You end up with resistance or return to an unwanted habit when you try to change a behavior by trying to change a behavior. This is the reason Behavior Modification and other behavior-change models fail 97% of the time. Have you ever tried turning a chair into a table? You can’t, but it’s possible to reprogram the machine (input) to get a table (output)!

For change management, it’s possible to begin by getting a whole team to design the input: the norms of the new system for the proposed outcome, the stakeholders to include (not always obvious), the values and criteria to be met, the goal that everyone agrees to, and then send the brain the full set of criteria to process. This avoids resistance as the group develops suitable neural pathways that generate new responses.

Here’s a very simplistic example of the difference between using an input leading to an existing circuit, and a new input instruction that provides a new output:

“I’m a fat cow now! I need to go on a diet. I’ll start Monday.”


“I’m a healthy person who will do the necessary research to find the best foods and nutrition to help my body attain and maintain my best weight over time.”

In the first instruction, the brain sends the input to an historic neural pathway used for past diets and provides the same outcome. But the new input carries instructions that don’t have existing circuits and will create a wholly new pathway for permanent weight loss. I call this conscious choice.


I’m not a scientist, but as someone with Asperger’s, figuring out how to get into my brain to have conscious choice has been my ‘topic’ since around 1957 when I became annoyed that I couldn’t hear exactly what someone meant or do precisely what I wanted.

I’ve devoted my life and intense curiosity to reading, thinking, designing, unpacking, writing, and inventing new skills and programs to create conscious routes into the unconscious for making personal decisions, serving Others by enabling their personal discovery and change, and for change initiatives that ensure buy-in and collaboration without resistance. I believe this is a Servant Leader route: how to enable Others to discover and design their own version of Excellence. Great for coaches and leaders.

Over the decades I’ve realized that change is a systems problem since everything you do must be congruent with who you are. And by judging incoming messages in relation to how ithey maintain your system, your brain is the arbiter of keeping you congruent.

Using systems as the foundation, here are what I consider to be the norms that all change follow as it relates to the brain:

  1. Every person (or group) is a unique, idiosyncratic system made up of norms, history, Beliefs and mental models that define it uniquely and must remain congruent to keep the system whole. Each action, thought, behavior, choice must match the norms, Beliefs, and mental models of the system. Turns out that behaviors are Beliefs in action. I call this the System of Me (SOM).
  2. Whatever you think see, hear, think, ‘know’, feel is what occurs after your brain has chosen interpretation circuits. Your world is restricted according to what you already know and believe; your understanding of unknown concepts is restricted accordingly. This makes curiosity, innovation, understanding new ideas, and accepting direction with new initiatives difficult.
  3. Before your brain changes what is historically built-in, anything new must match the SOM (For those scientists reading this, this is Systems Congruence.) or it will be rejected or resisted. This is true for both individuals and groups.
  4. All existing circuits (of which there are 1,000 trillion) predict the data it will accept. According to Jordi Cami and Luis M. Martinez in The Illusionist Brain,

“When the brain perceives, it generates a prediction…by inferring and anticipating reality based on past experiences.” (pg 102) Over time we generate a codification system…. And through experience we learn to store only what is most relevant (to us) … and eliminate details that we do not process.” (page 182).

In other words, your choices, how you interpret what you hear someone say, what you want to do, is pretty restricted to what’s already ‘in there’. We’re all restricted and unwittingly biased. And yes, there is neurogenesis, and brains constantly evolve. But the evolution is based on the existing neurology, physiology, and biology. How, then, is it possible to cause change and maintain Systems Congruence?


When you attempt to make a change without discovering and reorienting those parts of the brain that represent the status quo – regardless of how necessary or effective the new might be – resistance results.

In We Know It When We See It, Richard Masland says neurons get fired together automatically in response to an input used frequently, causing the brain to see these elements together even if only a portion of the same signals are sent (page 137)! He goes on to say:

“Our brain has trillions of cell assemblies that fire together automatically. When anything incoming bears even some of the characteristics [of operational circuits], the brain automatically fires the same set of synapses…There are very few inputs in our world that are not redundant.” (pg 143)

When you attempt to make a change using similar input as you’ve used before (i.e. without involving new input, new circuitry), your brain – acting mechanically and automatically – will seek existing circuitry so long as even a portion of the same signals are sent. And this is how you end up with resistance.

But it doesn’t have to stay that way. I’ve developed models that make it possible to recognize the circuitry causing the activity and enable the brain to develop new circuits or change existing ones as needed.

Note: my models don’t use conventional thinking so you may not have the circuitry to translate my ideas completely. But if you’re interested in the topic, and don’t fully understand the article, contact me and I’ll lead you through it. It’s my life’s work and I’m here to serve you.


Knowing that your brain is an unreliable servant, how, then, can you create a new output? Here is what must be included:

  1. We must create input messages that include the proper wording and word placement, the correct hierarchy of criteria, the full set of instructions that captures the outcome as well as the route to get there.
  2. By following the natural path the brain takes to make a new decision, it’s possible to create successful initiatives/outputs very efficiently, without resistance. I’ve unpacked the 13 steps to change/decisions that match the flow of systems.
  3. The criteria (often unconscious) that hold the current problem in place (and have been maintained) must be matched when anything new is generated. Resistance follows when this is omitted. I have developed a 5 hour program that makes it possible to unpack a current habit and design new circuits for permanent habit/behavior change.
  4. To know which circuits are involved I invented a new form of question that directs the brain to the exact circuits (i.e. they are NOT information gathering).
  5. It’s vital to capture the full set of norms in the status quo so the underlying Beliefs, mental models, and history remains intact through the change. Without this, there is resistance as the system faces incongruence.

For those of you interested in leading congruent change without resistance, posing questions that enable Others to discover their actual answers, changing habits permanently, please 1. Go to and read some of the 1000 articles (clearly labelled in categories) on these subjects; 2. Connect with me and we’ll chat:

For those seeking the tools to change habits and behaviors, I’ve developed a HOW of Change™ model. For those seeking to enable Others to generate change without resistance, I’ve developed a generic Change Facilitation® model frequently used in sales to facilitate buying.

For those who would like to create their own systemic change models that enable the unconscious to generate effective outputs, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What criteria will you use to generate new messaging that incorporates the SOM for new behaviors and new decisions?
  • How can direct your conscious mind to the relevant access points in your unconscious without bias?
  • How can you influence the choice of circuits to best translate your input?
  • How will you know when there are more appropriate choices if your brain doesn’t offer them?
  • How will you generate the instructions and triggers that cause permanent behavior change that avoids resistance?
  • When creating a new initiative, how will you maintain Systems Congruence?

These are a few of the questions I’ve asked myself for decades and helped lead my thinking. I invite you to join me in discovering all the conscious routes into the unconscious for permanent, congruent, values-based change.


Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. She can be reached at  

August 22nd, 2022

Posted In: News

The only time I ever stole anything I was 11 years old. A group of us girls pledged to do the very naughty thing we knew we weren’t supposed to do and steal one item from the local pharmacy. To this day I remember sidling up to the lipstick counter, putting my right arm behind me, looking around to make sure no one would notice my dastardly deed, then grabbing whatever my hand landed on – a $2.98 lipstick.

Once the deed was done and we were outside, we compared our bounty.  The other newly-minted thieves seemed quite proud of themselves. They were now, after all, officially Bad Girls. Me? I felt so guilty that when I got my first babysitting money years later I ran into the store and left three crumpled one-dollar bills on the counter and ran out.

I never even wore the lipstick. I’ve never even liked lipstick! Hated the feel of it on my lips – like a sheet of rubber. Ewwww. So I never wanted to wear it. My friends thought I was crazy. It was a sign of maturity, after all. Grown-up women wore lipstick, and of course we all wanted to be grownups. Even my mother got into the act when I was 16 going to proms and parties, telling me I wasn’t ‘finished’ without it.


Over the decades, I’ve amassed hundreds – drawers full – of once-used lipsticks, always seeking the ONE I could tolerate. But no matter the price, the brand, the color, they all felt like rubber.

And then I found it. THE ONE perfect lipstick: perfect color, stayed on forever no matter what I ate, was light and didn’t feel like leather. Perfect. Finally, a finished face my mother would love.

But for the last month it’s not been available. Nowhere, no how. Online. Every store. Nope. I was frantic. What if they were going to remove this from their line? I finally got accustomed to having a finished face!


Yesterday, walking downtown Portland, I decided to go into a Target and give it a try. And there it was!!!! OMG. Such happiness! HAPPY!!!! I brought the three they had and went to the cash register. Here was the conversation:


CLERK: I’m so glad we had what you needed. Let me do a price check and see if I can make you even happier.

SD: But I’m already REALLY happy! So happy!

CLERK: And I can make you REALLY REALLY happy because I can save you $2.00 on each! So glad you could make ME really happy today!

I must admit the frustrated month I spent trying to find the lipstick was worth it just for this exchange. And it brought up some questions. Why didn’t other cashiers in other stores take this extra initiative? Did Target know she was saying that?

I’ve never had that experience in other Targets. Was it just this woman who took this initiative? With just me or with everyone? Was she trained to do that? Why aren’t all customer-facing folks trained to do this sort of thing? Do employers even know what their employees are saying to clients and customers? It leads me to wonder:

  • How many of our customer-facing staff want to make customers really REALLY happy?
  • How many of our customer-facing staff are ready and willing to go out of their way to truly serve a customer when their job isn’t dependent on it and no one will know if they do or not?
  • Do we really know what our client-facing, customer-facing employees are saying to our clients and customers?

Indeed. Are the employees serving clients? Or getting caught up in their own personalities and might not be serving the company? Are we losing business and actually harming people because some sellers or customer service reps are being less than helpful?


Most managers have no idea what their employees say. After being hired, folks are generally trusted to say the right thing, to represent the company professionally. But do they?

During the course of my Buying Facilitation® training I have learners tape conversations and send them to me. Some have been pretty shocking. I played one particularly inexplicable one to a client as a seller went on (and on and on) about how she needed a lobotomy, how it would certainly improve her memory and probably make her a nicer person. She was selling phone services! The manager’s response was chilling: “My God, I have no idea what my sellers are saying to clients.”

So how, exactly, are your sellers, your customer service reps, the help desk folks, the cashiers, your admin, speaking to your customers? What are they saying? And how will you know?


Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. She can be reached at

August 15th, 2022

Posted In: Communication, Listening

With untold millions of sales professionals in the world, sellers play a role in any economy: sellers are uniquely positioned to make a difference. As the intermediary between clients and providers, sales can be a spiritual practice, with sellers becoming true facilitators and Servant Leaders (and close more sales).


The current sales model is a time-waster, restricts success, and is horribly inefficient. Sellers close 5% of prospects and waste 95% of their time (approximately 130 hours a month per seller); product data is well-represented online so pitches based on product details may be irrelevant; sellers connect with only those who are ready to buy, and ignore the possibility of facilitating and serving people en route to becoming buyers.

Until people have tried, and failed, to fix their problem themselves, and then figured out how to manage any disruption that a new solution might cause their environment,  they aren’t buyers. It’s only when:

  • they know exactly how to manage and recognize any change that bringing in something new creates,
  • they’ve tried to fix the problem themselves and failed,
  • they get buy-in from whomever will touch the final solution,
  • they’ve calculated that the cost of bringing in something new is lower than the cost of maintaining the status quo,

will they seek help through a purchase. Indeed, buying is a change management problem before it’s a solution choice issue.

People don’t want to buy anything, they merely seek to resolve a problem at the least ‘cost’ (risk) to their system. And the sales model, using eyeballs, content, price, and needs assessments seeks to place solutions, ensuring that the only people they find are the low hanging fruit. Indeed: selling doesn’t cause buying. Sales focuses on only the final steps of a buying decision and overlooks the change process necessary for would-be prospects to even self-identify as buyers.

In fact, even if folks eventually need a seller’s solution, until they understand how to manage the change a new solution would generate, they won’t heed our outreach, regardless of their need or the efficacy of the solution. As a result, sellers with needed and worthwhile solutions end up wasting a helluva lot of time being ignored and rejected.

It’s not the solution being sold that’s the problem, it’s the process of pushing solutions rather than first helping those who will become buyers facilitate their necessary change process that’s mistimed and misguided, leading to the win-lose quality of sales: sales becomes a product/solution push into a closed, resistive system, rather than an expansive, collaborative experience between seller and buyer wherein both attain trust and a win-win.

As a result, sellers end up seeking and closing only those ready to buy at the point of contact – unwittingly ignoring others who aren’t ready yet, may need our solutions, and just need to get their ducks in a row before they’re prepared to make a decision.

Imagine having a product-needs discussion about moving an iceberg and discussing only the tip. That’s sales; it doesn’t facilitate the entire range of hidden, unique change issues buyers must consider – having nothing to do with solutions – before they could buy anything. Failure is built in.

But when sellers begin conversations at the point where people are considering change, and lead them through change management before selling, sellers can truly facilitate them through all of the issues they must resolve (even those that aren’t obvious), have all stakeholders in the loop from the start, and help them figure out how to address the disruption of bringing in a new solution. Then sellers become true servant leaders, inspire trust, and close more sales.


Seller’s restricted focus on placing solutions, listening for needs (which cannot be fully known until the full change management process is complete) rather than for ability to serve, all but insures that kindness, respect, and true facilitation are unwittingly overlooked. A major factor is the one-sided communication based on the needs of the seller:

  1. Prospecting/cold calling – driven by sellers who pose biased questions to allegedly gather information as an excuse to offer solution details. It ignores the unique behind-the-scenes change issues each prospect faces and enlists only buyers seeking THAT solution at THAT time at THAT period of readiness, omitting those who will buy – real buyers! – once they’re ready. Wholly seller-centric.
  2. Content marketing – driven by the seller to push the ‘right’ data into the ‘right’ hands at the ‘right’ time according to their biased interpretations of ‘right’, but really only a push into the unknown and a hope for action. Wholly seller-centric.
  3. Deals, cold-call pushes, negotiation, objection-handling, closing techniques, getting to ‘the’ decision maker, price-reductions – all assuming buyers would buy if they understood their need/the solution/their problem, all overlooking the real connection and service capability of addressing the person’s most pressing change issues. Wholly seller-centric.
  4. Real communication involves each communication partner, in this case a buyer and a seller, being equally served; sellers can facilitate buyers through their private change management issues first as they travel towards a purchase thereby facilitating Buyer Readiness, AND developing a win/win connection, AND closing more sales. Win-win.

I’ve been a seller, trainer, consultant, and sales coach since the 1970s, been a buyer as founder of a tech start up 1983-1988, and have personally worked with dozens of global corporations and untold thousands of sellers. I see sales as a near-predatory job: sellers spend their time seeking and following, pitching and positioning, networking and calling to find those few set up to buy something, and ignoring a large population of potential buyers who merely aren’t ready, but could be with true facilitation.

Selling is fraught with guesswork and hope, manipulation and persuasion, white lies and exaggerations – not to mention highly ineffective when the time spent vs sales closed ratio is examined.

Not only are we wasting time pushing/chasing folks deemed prospects (A real prospect is one who WILL buy, not someone who SHOULD buy; the current sales model doesn’t know the difference.), but the nature of the client’s environments causes closing to take 30% longer. And the ubiquitous nature of the internet makes most pitches and presentations moot. In fact, buyers often know more than sellers.

Sales unwittingly ignores the real problem: it’s in the buying, not the selling. The sales model’s focus on placing solutions keeps sellers from using their positions as knowledge experts and Leaders to facilitate buyers down their own path to excellence.

Truth is, sellers can never know all the elements that have created and maintained a prospect’s status quo, or what needs to happen internally for them to be ready to make a purchase. And here is where sellers can truly serve. Sellers can facilitate the buying decision/change management path to help folks discover what a congruent fix looks like, and in the process create trust, respect, and serving.


Indeed, the job of ‘sales’ as merely a solution-placement vehicle is short-sighted.

  1. Buyers can find products online. They don’t need sellers to understand the features and benefits.
  2. The solution isn’t the problem – it’s the buyer’s behind-the-scenes timing, buy-in from those who will touch the solution, and change management process that gums up the works.
  3. 80% of prospects will buy our solution (but not necessarily from that particular seller at that moment in time) within two years of our connection.
  4. The lion’s share of the buying decision (9 out of the 13 step decision path) involves buyers traversing internal change with no thoughts of buying (they don’t even self-identify as buyers!) anything until there’s consensus.

It’s possible to truly serve clients AND close more sales, by adding a Buying Facilitation® capability that leads the steps of change, expands entry points into the buy cycle, makes the buying decision process much more efficient and makes sales a spiritual practice (that closes dramatically more sales in a fraction of the time). Here’s my definition of ‘spiritual’:

  • the whole is greater than the parts;
  • we’re all here to serve each other;
  • everyone has their own unique excellence;
  • no one has an answer for someone else.

Different from sales, which

  • purpose to be win/win but often is ‘win-lose’,
  • believes the parts might be greater than the whole,
  • causes buyers to feel pushed with content and contacts,
  • considers their solution the ‘right’ answer,
  • only addresses the tail end of a larger (and unknowable to outsiders) system of rules, internal politics, relationships, and status quo.

To elaborate:

Aspiring to a win-win

Win-win means both sides get what they need in equal measure. Sellers believe that placing product or resolving a problem offers an automatic win-win but that’s not wholly accurate.

Buying isn’t as simple as choosing a solution; buyers first must resolve the entire system that created and maintains their problem (problems never occur uniquely). The very last thing they want is to buy anything, regardless of their apparent need. As outsiders sellers can’t know the tangles of people and policies that hold a problem/need in place. The time it takes them to design a congruent solution that includes buy-in and change management is the length of their sales cycle. Buyers need to do this anyway; it’s the length of the sales cycle.

If sellers begin by finding those on route to buying and help them efficiently traverse their internal struggles, sellers can help them get to the ‘need/purchase’ decision more quickly and be part of the solution – win-win.

Sellers waste a valuable opportunity to facilitate buying by only wanting to sell. If we enter earlier, work with them as Buying Facilitators to help them facilitate their change, sellers can capture and serve more real prospects, and spend less time trying to convert those who aren’t yet buyers.

Believe it or not it becomes a very efficient process and great time saver: no more chasing those who will never close; no more turning off those who will eventually seek our solution; no more gathering incomplete data from one person with partial answers.

Sellers can find and enable those who can/should buy to buy in half the time and sell more product – and very quickly know the difference between them and those who can never buy. Win-win. [All the change issues buyers must address are in my book Dirty Little Secrets].

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

There are several pieces to the puzzle here.

  • The buyer and the system the buyer lives in, including people, policies, job titles, egos, relationships, politics, layers of management, rules, etc. that no one on the outside will ever understand and are focused on excellence, not on buying anything. It’s never as simple as just changing out the problem for a new product; their focus is to have the best situation possible and will buy a solution only when they’re certain they can’t fix their own problem.
  • Resolving the problem needs full internal buy-in from the system before being willing to change (i.e. buy) regardless of the efficacy of the fix. A purchase is not necessarily their best solution even if it looks like a fit to a seller.
  • The ability of the buyer to manage the disruption that a new purchase would incur on the system, people, and policies. A fix, or purchase, might be worse than the problem.
  • The seller and the seller’s product may/may not fit in the buyer’s environment due to idiosyncratic, political, or rules-based issues, regardless of the need.
  • The purchase and implementation and follow up that includes buy-in from all who will experience a potentially disruptive change if a new solution enters and shifts their job routines.
  • The sum of these parts is the whole; seller and buyer can work together to facilitate systemic change first. Surprisingly, this is a very quick process, uncovering real prospects almost immediately. Win-win for all.

We are all here to serve each other

Sellers understand enough about the systems in their areas of expertise to help buyers traverse their change route that could lead to a sale. With an entry point of systems excellence rather than solution placement, buyers immediately recognize the benefits from a collaboration with the seller and are happy to invite sellers onto their decision team and not seek other competitors. Win-win. The Facilitative Question I developed for Wachovia’s Small Business Banker’s cold calls helped prospects immediately realize a problem they had to resolve rather than say ‘No’ to an appointment request:

“How are you currently adding banking resources to the bank you’re currently using for those times you seek additional support?”

With no disrespect, no push, no information gathering or asking for an appointment, this Facilitative Question above (as one of several asked in a specific sequence, using specific words) merely pointed to the problem they might have to resolve over time. [Note: I invented Facilitative Questions to lead brains through to change, rather than conventional questions that elicit biased data.] The results were astounding: against 100 prospecting calls and a control group: 10% appointments vs 27%; 2 closes in 11 months vs 19 closes in 3 months; we facilitated discovery immediately and served: we actually helped folks figure out their own configuration for change. And we only visited those who could close.

One more note: people are happy to buy in a short time frame once they know, and figure out how to manage, the full set of change issues they’ll have to deal with (Fire a team? Retrain users? Get rid of software they’ve used for years?). As I’ve said above, they must do this before they can buy. And sellers’ aren’t helping them. But they could. And truly serve them in the process.

There is no right answer

Sellers often believe that buyers are idiots for not making speedy decisions, or for not buying an ‘obvious’ solution. But sales offers no skills or motive to enter earlier where buyers are not at the point of even knowing if – let alone what – they might buy. Let’s expand the definition of a buying decision as the route down the 13-step path from the status quo through to congruent change. Includes the people, policies, relationships, and history – the systems issues that ensure Systems Congruence – that maintain the status quo and must be addressed before they consider buying anything.

Once buyers figure out their congruent route to change, they won’t have objections, will close themselves, and there’s no competition: buyers are the ones with the ‘right answer’; sellers facilitate change management first and then sell once everything is in place. No call backs and follow up and ignored calls. Win-win.

No one has anyone else’s answer

By adding Buying Facilitation®, everyone focuses on uncovering the right questions. Collaborative decisions get made that will serve everyone.

Let’s change the focus: instead relegating sales to a product/solution placement endeavor, let’s add the job of facilitation to first find people en route to becoming buyers, then lead them through to their own type of ‘excellence’ through their internal change process first, and then using the sales model when they’ve become buyers. Then buyers make better, quicker, more congruent decisions – with more/quicker sales, less tire-kickers, better differentiation, and no competition, and sales close in half the time.


As a seller and an entrepreneur (I founded a tech company in London, Hamburg, and Stuttgart in 1983), I realized that sales ignored the buying decision problem and developed Buying Facilitation® to add to sales as a Pre-Sales tool.

Buyers get to their answers eventually; the time this takes is the length of the sales cycle, and selling doesn’t cause buying. Once I developed this model for my sellers to use, we made their process far more efficient with an 8x increase in sales – a number consistently reproduced against control groups with my global training clients over the following decades.

Buying Facilitation® adds a new capability and level of expertise and becomes a part of the decision process from the first call. Make money and make nice.

Sellers no longer need to lose prospects because they’re not ready, or cognizant of their need. They can become intermediaries between their clients and their companies; use their positions to efficiently help buyers manage internal change congruently, without manipulation; use their time to serve those who WILL buy – and know this on the first contact – and stop wasting time on those who will never buy. It’s time for sellers to use their knowledge and care to serve buyers and their companies in a win-win. Let’s make sales a spiritual practice.


Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. She can be reached at    

August 8th, 2022

Posted In: Communication, Listening, Sales

I used to live in Taos, New Mexico, where I bought everything I ate from a small grocery called Cid’s Market. Run by Cid and Betty Backer, they always offered fresh organic produce, freshly cooked healthy meals, and a health/vitamin section that had everything I wanted. The store environment was happy and very obviously committed to the Taos community. It felt like MY STORE each time I went in. Any question I had was answered; anything I needed was procured, even if it meant they went out and bought me the item at a different store! I was a rabid fan.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who loved them. In the 11 years I lived there (1989-2000) I watched as they grew from a small store to a three story building taking up half a city block. Their service to customers was exceptional. Every morning as the store opened, Cid held a brief meeting with the entire team. “Who pays your salary?” he’d ask. They’d respond “The Customer!” And then they’d start their day.

Everyone’s job was to take care of customers, whatever that entailed. They didn’t need to ‘follow the rules’: that WAS the rule. And creativity and service ensued: In the health department, the manager created free evening community programs for different groups – diabetes sufferers, parents with kids who wouldn’t eat veggies; the produce manager created free cooking classes and lessons on growing organic veggies. Everyone was trusted to make their best decisions and the customers felt their commitment and respect. And in 1993 that was unusual.

One year, on a plane to Mexico to give a keynote address about Servant Leadership, I noticed Cid and Betty.

“Are you going on vacation?” I asked?

“No. We’re going to a conference on Servant Leadership.”

“Oh. I didn’t think a grocery store would seek out that sort of thing.”

“We’re going mostly to learn what we need to learn to serve our employees. If we can’t give them the respect they deserve, and create an environment in which they thrive, we can’t run a business that will also serve our customers. We go to one conference a year to learn all the tools we can so we all have the best knowledge available to serve with.”

They understood that their success came from serving people, community, customers and staff. And they actively made it a priority.


When corporations consider what their jobs are, they sometimes think Profits, or Products, or Shareholders. But I think it’s something else. Think about it: there’s no job that doesn’t include serving:

  • Sell more? Serve customers.
  • Grow the business, be respected in the industry, and retain clients? Serve the company.
  • Retain and inspire good people with tools to inspire creativity? Serve employees.
  • Maintain optimal skills and health? Serve ourselves.
  • Maintain communication skills? Serve each other.

Without hiring and retaining good people that know how to lead collaboratively; without the skills to help managers, sales folks, team leaders, facilitate buy-in; without the creativity from an entire group that, working together, can develop top notch solutions that produce competitive and imaginative solutions; none of us are in business. No matter what our jobs, our core business is to serve.

Unfortunately, too many of us unwittingly follow trends that take us away from our core business of serving. For example, too many companies have chosen the trend of using their websites to collect names. They embed pop ups to retrieve email addresses, making it impossible to find answers to questions and rendering the site unusable (unless you agree to the cookies) and annoying folks with real interest who might even be customers.

Obviously they’re putting their own goals before those of a possible customer. Why would a company do that? Especially the smaller companies who truly depend on offering information as a sales strategy. Is acquiring my name to push out marketing materials that important? Don’t they know I’ll leave the site rather than agree to accept more spam? That they’ll lose my business because I don’t want my name captured? Those companies have lost their way: they are only serving themselves.


What if our real jobs weren’t to collect data, or create content, or push products? What if our jobs were merely to serve? That requires a new skill set, a different viewpoint that produces very different results:

  1. Leaders wouldn’t be getting resistance because they’d attain buy-in and work collaboratively to engage all voices before making change.
  2. Sellers would only pitch to those ready to buy, and use the bulk of their now-wasted time to facilitate people them through their buying decision path as they figured out how to achieve their own type of excellence (and possibly buy solutions).
  3. Managers would hire people whose goal was to serve and retain them because the company’s practices facilitated their excellence.
  4. Coaches would use Facilitative Questions to guide folks to their own answers, trusting each person had their own type of excellence to achieve without the biases of an outsider.
  5. Tech folks would save a great deal of time on projects because they’d be curious without bias, gathering the most accurate data the first time and avoiding biased assumptions that caused flawed results and user complaints.
  6. Companies would be aware of the environment, the role they play in it, and factor in climate issues as a way to serve the planet while serving customers.
  7. Senior Management would dictate that each employee, as well as customers, be cared for respectfully. When an employee isn’t happy, it’s difficult for them to care about customers.

By maintaining focus on ourselves, on our individual needs, we miss the larger picture. By using our jobs and companies as the vehicle to serve others and the planet, we will all live in an excellent world.


Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. She can be reached at

August 1st, 2022

Posted In: News

Being Right

I used to think that if I showed up intentionally and listened carefully, I would accurately understand what someone was saying. I was wrong.

While researching my book What? I discovered that when listening to others, we naturally assume we understand what’s meant and don’t question that assumption. But due to the way sound vibrations enter our ears, we actually only accurately hear some unknowable percentage of what is being said. Turns out our listening is pretty subjective.

Here’s what happens that makes accurate understanding so difficult:

  1. We only retain words we hear for approximately 3 seconds, and since spoken words have no spaces between them, our brains must also listen for breaks in breath, tone, and rhythm to differentiate words and meaning.
  2. Throughout our lives, the neural pathways we use when hearing others speak become habituated and normalized, limiting and biasing what we hear as per our comfort and beliefs. What we think we hear has been interpreted by brain circuits that historically interpreted similar-enough incoming messages – hence, we interpret what we hear the same way we interpret what we’ve heard before, thereby restricting and misinterpreting new content accordingly.
  3. When listening, our brain automatically and haphazardly deletes incoming ideas that are foreign to our beliefs and our brains fail to tell us what’s been deleted.
  4. Whatever is left after being interpreted subjectively by familiar circuits (potentially different from what was said), and with some unknown number of deletions, is what we think we’ve heard.

A simple example of this just happened today when I was introduced to someone:

Joe: Hey V. I’d like you to meet my friend Sharon Drew.

V: Hi Sharon.

SDM: Actually, my first name is Sharon Drew and I always use them both together.

V: Oh. I don’t know anyone who calls themselves by their first name AND last name.

SDM: Neither do I.

V: But you just told me that’s how you refer to yourself!

Because my type of double first name (vs Mary Ann which already has circuits in most brains) was foreign to her, her brain used a habituated pathway for ‘name’, deleting both how Joe introduced us and my correction.

Here is where the assumptions get interesting:

  • She exacerbated the problem by then assuming – as per her habituated knowledge about names – I offered first and last name (which I never offered), again ignoring my explanation.
  • She went on to further assume she was right and I was wrong when I corrected her.

Like all of us, she believed what her brain told her, and acted on the assumption that she was ‘right’.


We all do this. Using conventional listening practices, using our normalized subjectivity that we’ve finely honed during our lifetimes, we assume our brain circuits offer us accurate interpretations, making it pretty difficult to know if what we’ve heard is accurate. We end up making assumptions based on our own mental models.

Although we prefer to hear accurately, our brains are just set up to routinize and habituate most of what we do and hear – it makes the flow of our daily activities and relationships easy.

But there is a downside: we end up restricting, harming, or diminishing authentic communication, and proceed to self-righteously huff and puff when we believe we’ve heard accurately, deeming any correction ‘wrong’. When I asked a magazine editor to correct the name Sharon Morgan that appeared under my photo he said (and I can’t make this stuff up!): “I didn’t get it wrong. You must have sent it to me wrong.” True story.

So: our brain tells us what it wants us to hear and doesn’t tell us what it left out or altered, potentially getting the context, the outcome, the description, or the communication, wrong.

Sometimes we assume the speaker meant something they didn’t mean at all and then act on flawed information. In business it gets costly when, for example, implementations don’t get done accurately, or people are deemed prospects’ and put into the sales pipeline when it could be discovered on the first call that they were never prospects at all.


Assumptions cost us greatly, harming relationships, business success, and health:

  • Sellers assume prospects are buyers when they ‘hear’ a ‘need’ based on their biased questions and end up wasting a huge amount of time chasing prospects who will never buy;
  • Consultants assume they know what a client needs from discussions with a few top decision makers while potentially overlooking influencers or influences, causing resistance to change when they try to push their outcomes into a system that doesn’t yet know how to change;
  • Decision scientists assume they gather accurate data from the people that hired them and discount important data held by employees lower down the management chain, inadvertently skewering the results and making implementation difficult;
  • Doctors, lawyers, dentists assume problems that may not be accurate merely because some of the symptoms are familiar, potentially causing harm – especially when these assumptions keep them from finding out the real problems; they also offer important advice that clients/patients don’t heed when the patients themselves hear inaccurately, or when offered advice runs counter to their assumptions that their self-care is adequate;
  • Coaches assume clients mean something they are not really saying or skewering the focus of the conversation, ending up biasing the outcome with inappropriate questions that lead the client away from the real issues that never get resolved;
  • Influencers and leaders assume they have THE solution, followed by matching reasons or rational behind their requests. They then blame the Other for resisting, ignoring, or sabotaging, when the assumed solution procures resistance.

Using normal listening habits we can’t avoid making assumptions. But by now that assumption has been proved wrong time and time again: The belief that sharing, pushing, presenting, offering ‘good’ (Rational! Necessary! Tested!) information will cause behavior change has proven faulty time and time again, across industries.


It’s possible to avoid the pitfalls of assumptions and hear what’s being meant by taking the Observer/Coach role (listening dissociatively from the ‘ceiling’). This will detach you from your triggers that set you off. When new information, a new relationship, collaborative dialogues, or fine data gathering is necessary, Observer helps understand what’s been said more accurately and we make fewer assumptions.

In my book What? there are chapters devoted to explaining how we make the assumptions we make, and how to resolve the problem. It’s an important skill set that we all could use. I don’t know about you, but I personally get so annoyed with myself when I make an assumption that proves wrong, and I lose the possibility of what might have been.


Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. She can be reached at

July 25th, 2022

Posted In: Listening

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about how hard ‘change’ is so I decided to write an article explaining what’s going on causing the difficulty. Take heart! Change only seems hard because of the way we’re going about it. I’ve been developing systemic brain change models for decades and I’d like to offer my two cents to explain the reasons there’s so much unnecessary failure.

You see, for new, permanent change to occur (new habits, behaviors, decisions, change management initiatives) it’s necessary for the brain to send out different instructions than the ones that instigated the original behaviors. Current change management/ behavior change models omit making the necessary alterations to the brain circuits.

In other words, we’re seeking change but not developing the new brains commands to cause it. Like expecting your bike to ride itself without you peddling, then blaming the bike.


Because all actions (thoughts, behaviors, opinions, habits) are a result – an output – of instructions received from the brain, without modified instructions we continue doing the same thing and getting the same results. Unfortunately, offering our brains reasons to change (as rational as they might be) doesn’t cause new circuit configurations. Let me explain.

While a known fact in neuroscience, most of us don’t realize that behaviors are merely responses – the outward manifestation, or outputs – to signals sent from brain circuits. Speaking physiologically, there’s no way to change a behavior by merely trying to change a behavior: to get a different output, new behavior or choice, it’s necessary to go directly to the source (the brain) and make the changes in the circuits themselves or create new ones.

Current change models try to fix the symptom and ignore modifying the initiation point they emanate from.

I’m currently writing a book (The How of Change) that goes into great detail about the mind-brain connection and how to construct the specific circuitry to generate the choice we desire. In this article I’ll explain the mind-brain connection so you’ll understand how our brains cause change, and why your attempts at permanent change aren’t more consistent.

Since the topic is far too complex for a short article I’ll put in some links at the end for those seeking further knowledge. And I’m always available to chat about it; I’ve spent my life unwrapping the elements necessary for permanent change, so I’m happy to discuss.


Sadly, change gets a bad rap. The perceived wisdom believes that ‘change is hard’ and ‘no one likes change’ because of the resistance that results when behavior-based models are used. When approached from the brain, not so much.

We’re a culture dominated by the mind. Information. Data. Content. Stories. Facts. Our minds certainly need data to think with, to learn from and weight decisions with. But it becomes a problem when we want to make a change. You see, information – the mind – doesn’t cause change. Brains do.

We begin with a flawed assumption: we assume we can effect change because we desire it or work at it. But when we neglect to involve the brain we fail: change is a brain thing; information is a mind thing. Changing the brain is the precursor to changing the mind.

The problem is our brain’s laziness. Because of the way our brains process data they prefer to send incoming content to the most used circuits that carry ‘similar enough’ signals for interpretation – and you end up with exactly what you’re trying to change or resistance.


Instructing outputs is what brains do: there is nothing we see, hear, do, think or feel that hasn’t been instructed from our brains. We rely on our brains for everything – thoughts, understanding from books, behaviors and activities, organ activity, colors, what we hear (sounds and words).

An easy way to realize this is to think about Alzheimer’s disease. My dad died from it; I watched while he lost his memory first, then slowly lost his physical functionality – muscles and organs failed when they stopped receiving instructions from his brain.

We forget this when seeking change. Using conventional change models – Behavior Modification, Cognitive Behavior Change – we attempt change by trying to change behaviors with mind-based mastery like discipline, regulation, rational thinking, habit creation, practice, and training.

But without specific instructions from our neurology, the mind has no way of carrying out our wishes. Attempts to change behaviors without reprogramming the brain will likely fail, regardless of dedication or will. The numbers concur: Organizational Development fails 97% of the time. Training fails 80% of the time. Diets and smoking cessation fail 97% of the time. Sales fails 95% of the time. Even in our own lives: With all the discipline in the world, we have difficulty making behavior changes permanent. Keep weight off? Get organized? Hard to do. Why?

All behaviors, decisions, habits and choices are outputs, end products, generated from instructions sent through specific, historic circuit configurations in our brains.


Since so much of what we want to change is behavioral, let’s look at what a behavior is. This will provide insight into how our brains instruct our choices and the problems involved with the way we’re currently addressing change.

behavior, or any sort of action, thought or choice, is an output arising from a string of brain processes. My Morgenism is ‘A behavior is a Belief in action.’

Simply, the mind sends our brain a signal to ‘do something’ (an input) and the brain complies by sending the signals to a ‘similar-enough’ set of existing, normalized circuits that translate the request into instructions for some sort of output.

These signals are mechanical, electro-chemical, and automatic. No meaning or intent involved. Meaning and intent are mind things. Brains, comprised of 86 billion neurons and hundreds of trillions of neural connections and synapses, are unconscious and just do what they’re told via signals; they don’t judge good/bad, right/wrong.

Here’s a simplified explanation of the string of events:

  • All incoming words, directions, ideas, promises, etc.
  • enter our brains as puffs of air (inputs without meaning!) and
  • get transformed into electro-chemical signals that
  • eventually get automatically dispatched to ‘similar-enough’ (historic, existing) circuits
  • for translation into action (outputs, such as new behaviors, decisions, ideas)
  • via our mind.

Again, there is no meaning, no intent, no thinking involved. Mechanical. Electro-chemical. Automatic. Take a look:

Notice that actions are outputswithout inputs, no outputs can exist. So behaviors are a result, an end product and cannot be modified as such.


All outputs that emerge are specific to that circuit: the brain always directs incoming signals/inputs to circuits with matching (‘similar-enough’) signals and will always produce the same output when the same/similar words, directives and thoughts are input. So a machine programmed (input) to make a chair will produce (output) the same chair each time. To make a table you must reprogram the machine.

All this occurs in five one-hundredths of a second. Given there are billions of bits of data coming into our brains every second (most of it unconsciously) our mind ignores, overlooks, forgets, most of it. It only alerts us to obvious changes that are incongruent with our personal belief system.

When we request an action that differs from the similar-enough circuit that receives it, or input wholly new requests that don’t yet have a circuit, we end up getting resistance. It’s why we fail when we try to do something different. Without changing the input we’re trying to turn the chair into a table.

When our brains are asked to do something that they have no circuits to interpret we resist or fail or misunderstand: incoming instructions get converted to a potentially inappropriate existing pathway or get lost in translation, misinterpretation, or assumption.

This is what happens when we decide to go on another diet for example: our brain references the existing DIET superhighway and we get the same results we got previously. Hence the 97% failure rate. We can force the behavior part for a while, and possibly even lose the weight, but we don’t have the circuits to maintain it.


For any action, any change, any new behavior, habit or choice, we need both the mind and the brain: The mind directs requests to, and carries out instructions from, the brain but doesn’t instigate the activity itself. Think of it like a car’s engine: you turn the car on (i.e. the mind) and it moves (the mind) but needs the engine (i.e. the brain) to make it work.

And herein lie the problem. Because our outputs emerge from established circuits (called Superhighways) that have been created and sustained during our lifetime, our choices emerge from whatever we’ve done or believed before regardless of any differences we desire. We do what we do because it’s how our circuitry is programmed, obviously limiting us to choices that embrace our unique histories and mental models and… here is the annoying part… maintains the status quo.

It rules our lives: We live around people of similar political beliefs; our friends share ideas and lifestyles similar to ours; what we read, the TV news we watch, where we take vacations, are largely similar to those in our sphere. Even our curiosity is restricted accordingly. Sadly, we either don’t notice unfamiliar content or have problems accepting ideas foreign to us.

But, in general, this works well for us and keeps us comfortable – until we want to do something ‘different’, or try to change/create a habit, or when we’re involved in a change management process in our companies that requires new activities.


One more bit I’d like to mention: the way brains ‘listen’. The problem begins as soon as we hear requests to change and come up against the way our brains interpret incoming words/sounds/ideas.

The listening process in and of itself causes problems: incoming sound vibrations traverse the same neural pathway as incoming instructions and ideas: the vibrations get turned into signals that eventually get sent to ‘similar enough’ (existing) circuits for translation.

Obviously, this limits what we think was said to what we’ve understood before. (I wrote a book on this and how to fix it.) Our outputs (what we understand or misunderstand) will be skewered accordingly.

Let me say this another way as it’s important. Since words are merely puffs of air with no meaning until our brain translates them, incoming ideas or instructions will be defined by the circuits we’ve used before. In other words, what we think was said is a subjective translation, possibly some degree off the intended message.

Of course that makes communication and understanding difficult: regardless of how carefully we listen, how much Active Listening we use, or how passionately we buy-in to making a change, we listen with ears that interpret what’s said by the circuit configuration that received the input and sort-of matches. And it’s totally, completely, out of our control.

As you know by now, any misunderstanding or confusion that occurs has nothing to do with ‘reality’ and everything to do with subjective, unique brain circuitry. This makes it virtually impossible to understand anyone else fully, especially difficult for those in the helping professions trained to ‘understand’ and advise accordingly: everything Others say and do is received and translated through our subjective filters and circuits. I always suggest people say: ‘I want to make sure I understand you accurately, so I’ll tell you what I think I heard and please correct me where I got it wrong.’


And that brings up another item that causes us to fail: we seem to think there is something called ‘rational’ and we try to do ‘what’s right’. But there is no reality. Basically, our brains – yes, back to the culprit – make up our reality from the lives we’ve lived. As David Eagleman says in The Brain,

“..our picture of the external world isn’t necessarily an accurate representation. Our perception of reality has less to do with what’s happening out there, and more to do with what’s happening inside our brain.” [pg 40]

“Each of us has our own narrative and we have no reason not to believe it. Our brains are built on electrochemical signals that we interpret as our lives and experience… there’s no single version of reality. Each brain carries its own truth via billions of signals triggering chemical pulses and trillions of connections between neurons. [pg 73-74] [bold mine]

Indeed, everything we think, hear, decide, and choose is an output, an interpretation made by, and directed from our brains. We’re not in control.

So one last reminder: Since all activity is an output from directions our brains give our mind, you can’t change a behavior (mind) by trying to change a behavior (mind) as there are no accompanying brain circuits to generate new directives for new outputs.

Got it?


Now that you know exactly why change seems hard, I’ll mention the models I’ve developed to forge a conscious route into the unconscious for permanent and congruent change – great additions to tools given to coaches, docs, leaders, and change agents. It’s taken me decades to identify the elements to include, then create models to apply them.

All of my models hinge on a systems orientation, given we are all systems and systems seek congruence. For any change to occur, for us to do something different and our brain to send out new/different instructions, we must end up congruent (i.e. Systems Congruence and homeostasis). This is how we remain who we are; no matter what want to do, our brains maintain our values. Even our brain’s neuroplasticity is informed by our individual, unique, and systemic norms.

That means any requested change must be at least equal to or less than the cost/risk of staying the same. Too often, when we input directions to make a change, we inadvertently provoke unconscious elements within our systems. This is especially true when change is being requested without collaboration and consultation from initiatives designed and directed by Others.

Here are the models I’ve developed that generate permanent brain circuit change while maintaining our Systems Congruence.

1. Change Facilitation. Often used by sales professionals (i.e. the generic model Buying Facilitation®) this model facilitates the capture and recognition of the appropriate and congruent criteria necessary for new decisions, behaviors, and choices, using

a. Facilitative Questions – A brain-directed facilitation model that uses specific words in a specific order along a very specific sequence to get into the unconscious circuits necessary to recognize the full set of systemic choices for new outputs.

b. 13 steps of change – I’ve unpacked each of the decision stages that all new decision making requires for congruent change.

c. Listening for patterns – Standard listening hears content, but content gets translated into our ears subjectively. To hear what someone intends to say, it’s necessary to listen from a different place in our brain, without the automatic circuits we unconsciously prefer to listen and interpret from that bias incoming data according to existing circuits.

Ultimately, change facilitation is used by influencers, coaches, sellers, change agents, trainers, managers, to enable Others to discover their own answers, using their own criteria, and governing their own systemic change while maintaining Systems Congruence and with no bias from outside.

In sales, my clients close 8x more in half the time using this process as it finds would-be prospects such earlier and serves them around their own change issues rather than through the needs of the sale. I’ve trained Buying Facilitation® to 100,000 sales people, coaches, lawyers, and leaders in many global corporations (i.e P&G, DuPont, KPMG, Morgan Stanley, Kaiser, IBM, GE, ATT, etc.). The model is generic and independent of initiative or product.

Using Change Facilitation in OD and change management, resistance is almost non-existent and the length of the initiative is a fraction of standard change management models as all – all – stakeholders/elements are discovered and included from the start, and systems are set up to avoid potential resistance.

2. The How of Change ™. I’ve decoded the conscious route to getting into the unconscious to either repopulate the internal components of the status quo to enable new/different outputs, or create a wholly new circuit for new choices. It resolves habits people try to break, resistance, and confusion.

I’ve created a 5 session program to lead folks through to brain change and to new, permanent habits and behaviors. Here is a video of the first session with me explaining what the brain does and how it’s possible to get to the unconscious:

The How of Change™ is used by folks seeking to change habits: diets, smoking cessation, routinization (i.e. exercise, organization). I would very much like to get this into healthcare so doctors can use it instead of telling patients what to do (and face resistance and misunderstanding, or non-compliance).

If anyone has interest in designing a model for a change initiative in their company, or licensing the material to train, please contact me.

Here are links to articles/podcasts on change:

The HOW of change

Change Without Resistance

Influencing Congruent, Unbiased Change

You Can’t Change a Behavior by Trying to Change a Behavior.


Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. She can be reached at

July 18th, 2022

Posted In: Change Management

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