By Sharon Drew Morgen

communicate

As a Buddhist, I don’t understand why anyone would want to take another’s life or how it’s even an option. Yet so many in our country are feeling disempowered and ignored, targeted and disenfranchised and we haven’t yet created a dialogue to heal. In fact, we don’t even know how to hear each other. During this time of racial, class, political, gender, and education divide, of distrust and blame and victimhood, of killing and guns and violence, our inability to deeply hear each other is heartbreaking and costly.

I’m not going into the moral issues of Right/Wrong here. But I can offer my bit to make it possible to find solutions.

THE PROBLEM: HOW OUR BRAINS LISTEN

During the 3 years researching and writing a book on closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard, I learned how ubiquitous our challenge is: the distance between our subjective experiences and cultures makes it almost impossible to accurately hear others outside of our own ingrained biases, assumptions, and triggers. Indeed, words can’t be correctly translated when the intended meaning gets lost in another’s unfamiliar mind-set, culture, and history; the possibility of finding collaboration and reconciliation gets lost in our communication.

Heartfelt intent and tears aside, we’ve not been taught how to listen without bias. From the individual spots we each stand in, with our restricting viewpoints and hot-buttons, we pose biased questions and make faulty assumptions, overlooking the possibility that our Communication Partner (CP) may have similar foundational beliefs that we just don’t know how to recognize.

Unfortunately, our brain causes the problem. It translates what’s been said into what’s comfortable or inflammatory or habitual or or… and doesn’t realize it has misunderstood, or mistranslated the Speaker’s intent. So we actually hear ABL when our CP said ABC and we have no reason to think what we we’ve ‘heard’ is faulty. I lost a partnership this way. During a conversation, John got annoyed at something he thought I said. I tried to correct him:

“That’s not what I said.” I told him.

“I know what I heard! Don’t try to get away with anything here!

“But I didn’t say that at all!

“John, I was sitting right here. She’s right. She never said that,” said his wife.

“You’re both lying!!! I’m outta here!!” And he stomped out of the room, ending our partnership.

It’s pernicious: our brains select a translation for us, reducing whole conversations and categories of people to caricature and subjective assumption. But to distinguish what’s meant from what we think we hear, to experience what others want to convey when it’s out of our experience, we must recognize when it’s time to make a new choice.

HOW TO DO HOW

We need a way forward to choose behaviors that maintain our Beliefs, Values, and Identity AND find common ground to listen to each other and come to consensus with action steps to help us all heal. I’m going to offer some steps for us to dialogue and reach win/win consensus. But first I’ll a few foundational truths:

  • Everyone’s experience and history is valid, unique, and guides their choices.
  • Others cannot see or feel what you see or feel.
  • Everyone has a right to the same basics: health, a living wage, good work, safety for our families, education.
  • All change, including adopting new ideas, is threatening to the status quo and will cause resistance unless there is buy-in at the level of beliefs.

We must

  • recognize common beliefs and values we can buy-in to without impairing our individual values,
  • feel safe in conversations when it feels like we’re speaking with enemies,
  • override our resistance and biases to find common intentions, compassion and outcomes,
  • be able to hear another’s intended message without overlaying our biases, assumptions, and habits.

I’ve put together a few action steps to begin to dialogue with those we’ve historically sat in opposition to. I also recommend that our conversations must work toward win/win. I call this a We Space.

Get agreement for a dialogue: It’s likely that you and your CP have different goals and life experiences. Begin by agreeing to have a conversation to do nothing more than find common ground.

  • “I’d like to have a dialogue that might lead to us to an agreeable route forward 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 possibly find some 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: We all have similar foundational values, hopes and fears – they’re just different. Start by ‘chunking up’ to find agreement.

  • “I’d like to find a way to communicate that might help us find a common values so we can begin determining if there are places we can agree. Any thoughts on how you’d like to proceed?”
  • “It seems we’re in opposite mind-sets. What might be a comfortable way forward for us to discover if there is any agreement at all we can start from?”

Enter without bias: With limiting beliefs or hidden agendas, there’s no way to find commonality. Replace emotions and blame with a new bias, just for this conversation: the ‘bias’ of collaboration.

  • ‘I’m willing to find common ground and put aside my normal reactions for this hour but it will be a challenge since I’m so angry. Do you want to share your difficulty in this area, or are you ok with it and can help me? How do we move forward without bias?’

Get into Observer: In case you have difficulty overcoming your biases and filters, here’s a physiological ‘How-To’ that comes straight from NLP: in your mind’s eye, see yourself up on the ceiling, looking down on yourself and your CP. It will virtually remove you from the fray, and offer an unbiased view of your interaction – one step removed as it were. One way to do this is to walk around during the conversation, or sit way, way back in a chair. Sitting forward keeps you in your biases. (Chapter 6 inWhat? teaches how to do this.)

Notice body language/words: Your CP is speaking/listening from beliefs, values, history, feelings, exhibited in their body language and eye contact. From your ceiling perch, 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: The words emphasized by your CP hold their beliefs and biases. They usually appear at the very beginning or end of a sentence. 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 and don’t take it personally – it’s not personal. Don’t forget to notice your own triggers, or blame/victim words of your own. If their words trigger you into your own subjective viewpoints, get yourself back into Observer; you’ll have choice from the ceiling. 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 actually hear what your CP means to convey, it’s necessary to summarize what you hear 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. If that happens, make sure you get back up to the ceiling, and then tell your CP:

  • “I’m experience 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 the topics in the conversation: One step at a time; make sure you both 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.

Get agreement on action items: Simple steps for forward actions should 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 of each needless death or killing; 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, our conversations can begin. We must be willing to start sharing our Truth and our hearts. It’s the only real start we can make.

___________

Sharon Drew Morgen has been coding and teaching change and choice in sales, coaching, and leadership for over 30 years. She is the developer of Buying Facilitation®, a generic decision facilitation model used in sales, and is the author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity. Sharon Drew’s book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? has been called a ‘game changer’ in the communication field, and is the first book that explains, and solves, the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. Her assessments and learning tools that accompany the book have been used by individuals and teams to learn to enter conversations able to hear without filters. Sharon Drew is the author of one of the top 10 global sales blogs with 1700+ articles on facilitating buying decisions through enabling buyers to manage their status quo effectively.

She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com or 512 771 1117.

January 7th, 2019

Posted In: Listening, Sales

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Servent LeadershipI became enamored of the concept Servant Leadership in the 1980s. Developed by Robert Greenleaf, it’s defined thus: a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world. Greenleaf says, “The servantleader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve.”

Such an important concept, yet the skills to practice it elude us. I’d like to help change that.

THE BIAS PROBLEM

As a Buddhist, I deeply believe that serving one another is a necessary aspect of our lives. But the communication skill sets inherent in our culture don’t make it easy for influencers to truly serve:

  • Conventional questions are little more than interrogations based on the needs/biases of the Asker. They pull information to enable the Asker to create an approach that will generate specific results, thereby restricting the full set of possible responses to fit more closely with the needs of the interrogator. The real answers might lie outside the scope of the questions, potentially causing flawed data gathering, missed opportunities, resistance, loss of success, and damaged relationships. Certainly an enhanced opportunity for failure.
  • Normal listening practices listen for content, ensuring we hear mainly what our brains want us to hear as per our subjective listening filters, biases, assumptions, triggers, and habituated neural pathways. Obviously, our range of understanding is restricted accordingly. (See What? Did you really say what I think I heard?) In other words, we hear some portion of the full data set – and it’s biased, at that. This problem is exacerbated when our brain doesn’t tell us what it discarded or misrepresented during the ‘listening’, leaving us to act on what we believe we’ve fully understood – but is most likely some degree of wrong, a problem for both Asker and Responder.
  • Information – regardless of its accuracy, importance, or presentation – cannot be accepted or accurately interpreted when it flies in the face of the Other’s Beliefs. Information when used as a convincer strategy will succeed only when the listener already agrees with it. Our brilliant stories, pitches, rational data, and advice will not convince Others that change is necessary until the Other has already discerned how to make the appropriate changes internally, to ready themselves for the disruption a new idea might bring to the status quo. It’s just not possible for an outsider to elicit permanent change by pushing information of any kind, regardless of its efficacy.
  • We tend to focus on Behavior Change, forgetting that Behaviors are merely the transaction of our Beliefs – Beliefs in action if you will. Change occurs at the unconscious Belief level which when happens, will cause new Behaviors to emerge automatically. Think of it this way: a robot that only moves forward will not move backward if you tell it to, or explain why it should change, or provide a scientific reason why walking backward is best, etc. The only way the robot will walk backward is by changing the programming. And so it is with our approach: once we enable Others to change their own unconscious Beliefs, their Behavior will automatically change. And we will have served them.
  • As influencers (coaches, parents, sellers, leaders, etc.), we believe it’s our responsibility to cause Others to change in the way we believe they must. We find best methods to push our agendas using convincing, manipulating, explaining, advising, etc. strategies meant to lead, influence, manipulate, modify, correct, what we think Others should do, causing resistance in all but a few. But we’re never taught to trust they can – they must – design and discover their own best answers and route to change. We fail to fully understand that no one, no Outsider, can ever understand another’s unconscious system.

With our current skill sets, we end up pushing our own agendas (in the name of the Other, of course), according to our subjective needs, beliefs, and goals (using our ‘professionalism’ and ‘intuition’ to tell ourselves we’re ‘right’) and restrict the full set of possibilities – even potentially causing a rift in the relationship. We assume that because we have the moral high ground, that because our intention is honorable (or necessary, or dictated by above, or rational, etc.) the only missing piece is ‘how best’ to get Others to do what we think they should do. I once ran a Buying Facilitation® training for The Covey Leadership Center. They staunchly believed that because they were teaching The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, they were above manipulation and ‘healers’ who had the right to push and manipulate. And they absolutely believed that because they were ‘right’ they got to use any strategies they need to convince.

We forget that by assuming we have Another’s answers, and taking on the job of making sure the Other does what’s ‘right’, we end up taking their power away, assuredly biasing the direction of their growth journey, and not serving them at all. Not to mention it’s quite impossible to understand Another’s unconscious, that whatever they are doing has been part of their normal operating system and used habitually during the course of their lives.

Regardless of the efficacy of what we offer, our approach threatens the Other’s status quo. Our biased questions, the Other’s inability to hear us outside of their habituated listening filters (and our inability to hear them accurately), and the existing rules and Beliefs that have put the current (problematic) behaviors in place, will resist us. We are causing the resistance we receive and blaming them for their resistance – prospects who seem ‘stupid’, and patients who ‘don’t care’ about their health, students who ‘don’t want’ to learn, and clients who ‘won’t listen’ to us.

WHY WE CAN’T CHANGE OTHERS EVEN WITH GOOD MOTIVES

We know someone needs to stop smoking, or eat differently. We are certain the environment is in trouble. But we don’t seem to have the ability to get someone to change. We provide all the scientific evidence, relate a story of someone who has died, or offer different approaches to stop. And yet they persist. We know that a company or group really, really needs our solution, and yet they persist with failing results rather than buy.

What is going on? Why would anyone prefer to maintain failure rather than change? Seems that way, but it’s not entirely accurate. Everyone would prefer Excellence, but using conventional practices, change runs the risk of permanent disruption in our comfortable habits and status quo; outside-in push/behavior change approaches do not effectively manage the unconscious that would need to buy-in, and accomodate for, any change. Let’s start with our attempts to have Another change a behavior. The reasons we fail mount up:

  1. Threatening the system: Our status quo – our unique ‘system’ of rules, Beliefs, values, experiences, culture, etc. – has become habituated and normalized over time. This system that has developed the Behaviours we think need to be changed enable us to show up as who we are. We wake up daily, and maintain whoever we were yesterday without judgement. Our system just IS, good or bad, right or wrong. And it will fight to the death to maintain itself. Literally.
  2. Change Behaviors: Behaviors are merely the translations of, the action of, the underlying system of Beliefs that initiated them to begin with. They allow us to wake up every day and show the world who we are. When we try to change the Behavior, we push against the entire system they represent. Regardless of the efficacy of our solution or their dire need, unless the change comes from the within the system and the system is reorganized around the ‘new’, it will be resisted.
  3. Information doesn’t get heard: Our brains/ears hear subjectively, filtering out and misconstruing what’s not comfortable all on its own, failing to tell us that what we think we hear is most likely some fraction off of what the Speaker intended.
  4. Ignore the steps to change: As outsiders, we too often use our own intuition and professed knowledge to push the change we want. But for any change to occur, for Beliefs to shift in a way that causes Behaviors to change, the Other must take specific, albeit unconscious steps: the system would need to find a way to include the change into normal operating procedures, end up with minimal disruption, and achieve buy-in for any new behavior change.

So our entire approach leads to a high degree of bias, resistance, and failure as we promote the changes we think should occur in a way that challenges Another’s status quo. We don’t realize that whatever ‘new’ comes into an existing system must fit with the status quo or it gets rejected rather than be disrupted. We don’t realize we’re actually causing the resistance we receive.

And resist they do – not because our data or goals aren’t worthy or necessary, and not because they don’t want to change per se, but because our good will, shared information, and ‘push’ tactics conflict with the Other’s unconscious system that protects itself from unknowable disruption. Indeed, any modifications to the status quo would have to be performed in a way would leave the system congruent. The system would rather be fine, as it is, than not exist. And the time it takes for the system to accept and make room for the ‘new’ is the length of time it takes for adoption. With the best will in the world we challenge their Systems Congruence.

And unfortunately, as doctors and sellers, trainers and consultants, parents and coaches – as influencers – we don’t have the full set of skills to do more than attempt to cause change, rather than elicit it. We don’t naturally possess the skills of Servant Leadership.

GIVE UP INDIVIDUAL NEEDS

True Servant Leadership enables others to elicit their own congruent change. Since our current skill sets won’t get us there, we need new skills that facilitate Others, and a switch in perspective to enabling Others to discover their own answers. We must change the trajectory of our efforts. There is a route to facilitating Another’s change that is congruent, highly successful, and offers real leadership with no resistance.

I’ve spent my life coding the unconscious route through to choice and change. Although I’ve often written about, and trained it, in the sales industry (Buying Facilitation®), it’s actually a generic Change Facilitation model that offers the tools to enable Others to discover and own their own Excellence, an Excellence that complies with the rules and history of their own Beliefs, an Excellence that can be eagerly, joyously adopted because it operates from within their status quo.

Servant Leadership assumes:

  1. Others have their own answers and routes to their own destination, and are the only ones who can enter their unconscious system to effect change. An outsider (regardless of intent, need, or efficacy of message) can never, ever, fully understand the inner workings of Another’s unconscious system that has defined them. It’s possible to facilitate Others to their own state of Excellence, using their own route to congruent change. Our responsibility is to lead them through the pathway to change themselves.
  2. We only have questions for Another, not answers. And since conventional questions are biased interrogations (biased by the wording, the intent, the direction, and the goal of the Asker) that may miss important, hidden, elements necessary for the Other to elicit their change criteria, I’ve designed a new form of question (Facilitative Questions) that, with specific wording in specific order, acts as a directional device to lead Others through their own systemic, unique trajectory of change. These questions teach Others to peruse persue their own unconscious to sequentially discover their own answers, in a way that causes new understanding and decision making.
  3. There is no way for an outsider to have THE ANSWERS. Often influencers are self-serving, using  their ‘intuition’ (a subjectively biased guess), professional knowledge, or best wishes, to push another to where they want them to be, having no knowledge of the systemic elements that created and maintain the problem and that must buy-in to any change.
  4. To listen without bias or missunderstanding, we must practice Dissociative Listening to avoid the filters, bias, assumptions, and triggers that are part of our normal listening. [Note: for those interested in learning Dissociative Listening, read Chapter 6 in What?.]
  5. We get credit for serving. That’s it.

Decades ago, I mapped the sequential steps of systemic choice, change, and decision making enabling people to discover their own best choices that match the rules and values of their internal system. These steps traverse a pathway from the unconscious, where their habituated behaviors and status quo originates through to buy-in and Systems Congruence so change is comfortably adopted, without disruption.

I have taught these skill sets to influencers in business, coaching, leadership, and healthcare to assist in facilitating permanent, congruent change: to help buyers buy, to help coaches, leaders, and doctors elicit congruent, permanent change, to help learners learn permanently – eliciting the core of the unconscious HOW to facilitate Another’s excellence their own way – to find their own answers.

So what would you need to know or believe differently to be willing to begin interactions as a Servant Leader rather than a coach, parent, seller, leader? How can you know, given the skill sets and foundations are so different, that it’s worth taking the time to add new skill sets to the ones you already use? Imagine having the skills that truly enable Others to find their own Excellence. Imagine being a true Servant Leader.

____________

Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, thought leader, and subject matter expert, as well as the author of 9 books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestsellers What? Did you really say what I think I heard? and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. Sharon Drew speaks, trains, coaches, and consults in sales, healthcare, coaching, and leadership. She is the originator of Buying Facilitation®, a Change Facilitation model that offers influencers the tools to facilitate congruent change in Others via Servant Leadership.  She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com

December 24th, 2018

Posted In: Listening

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questioning-questionsDecades ago I had an idea that questions could be vehicles to facilitate change in addition to eliciting answers. Convention went against me: the accepted use of questions (framing devices, biased by the Asker, that extract a defined range of answers) is built into our culture. But overlooked is their inability to extract good data or accurate answers due to the bias of the Asker; overlooked is their ability to facilitate congruent change.

WHAT IS A QUESTION?

Questions are biased by the expectations, assumptions, goals, unconscious beliefs and subjective experience of both the Responder and the Asker and limit responses accordingly. In other words, questions can’t extract ‘good’ data. They’re certainly not designed to lead Responders through to real change or accurate revelations. (What? Did you really say what I think I heard? offers a broad discussion of bias.) Here are the most prevalent ways we limit our Communication Partner’s responses:

Need to Know Askers pose questions to pull conscious data from the Responder because of their own ‘need to know’, data collection, or curiosity.  An example (Note: all following italicized questions are posed as a mythical hairdresser seeking business) might be: Why do you wear your hair like that?

These questions risk overlooking more relevant answers that are stored beyond the parameters of the question posed – often in the unconscious.

Pull Data Askers pose questions to pull a range of implicating data considered useful to ‘make a case’ in a ploy to obtain their desired results (i.e. sales, leadership, marcom, coaching). Don’t you think it might be time to get a haircut?

These questions run a high risk of missing the full range of, or accurate, responses. Certainly they offer no route to enabling choice, decisions, or collaboration/buy-in. They encourage resistance, partial/missed answers, and lies.

Manipulate agreement/response Questions that direct the Responder to find a specific set of responses to fit the needs and expectations of the Asker. Can you think of a time you’ve felt ‘cool’ when you’ve had short hair? Or Have you ever thought of having your hair look like Kanye/Ozzy/Justin? Or What would it feel like to have hair like Kanye/Ozzy/Justin? Wouldn’t you say your hairstyle makes you look X?

These questions restrict possibility, cause resistance, create distrust, and encourage lying.

Doubt Directive These questions, sometimes called ‘leading questions’ are designed to cause Responders to doubt their own effectiveness, in order to create an opening for the Asker. Do you think your hairstyle works for you?

These narrow the range of possible responses, often creating some form of resistance or defensive lies; they certainly cause defensiveness and distrust.

Questions restrict responses to the Asker’s parameters, regardless of their intent or the influencer’s level of professionalism and knowledge. Potentially important, accurate data – not to mention the real possibility of facilitating change – is left on the table and instead promote lost business, failure, distrust, bad data collection, and delayed success. Decision Scientists end up gathering incomplete data that creates implementation issues; leaders and coaches push clients toward the change they perceive is needed and often miss the real change needed and possible. The fields of sales and coaching are particularly egregious.

The cost of bias and restriction is unimaginable. Here’s an especially unfortunate example of a well-respected research company that delayed the discovery of important findings due to the biases informing their research questions. I got a call from one of the founders of Challenger Sales to discuss my Buying Facilitation® model. Their research had ‘recently’ discovered that sales are lost/delayed/hampered due to the buyer’s behind-the-scenes change issues that aren’t purchase-driven and sales doesn’t address – and yay for me for figuring this out 35 years ago.

Interesting. They figured this out now? Even David Sandler called me in 1992 before he died to tell me he appreciated how far out of the box I went to find the resolution to the sales problem (He also offered to buy me out, but that’s a different story.). The data was always there. I uncovered this in 1983. But the CEB missed it because their research surveys posed biased questions that elicited data matching their expectations. Indeed, even during our conversations, my Communication Partner never got rid of his solution-placement (sales) biases and we never were able to find a way to partner.

WHAT IS AN ANSWER?

Used to elicit or push data, the very formulation of conventional questions restricts answers. If I ask ‘What did you have for breakfast?’ you cannot reply ‘I went to the gym yesterday.’ Every answer is restricted by the biases within the question. I’m always disappointed when I hear sellers say “Buyers are liars” or coaches say “They didn’t really want to change.” Or therapists or managers or leaders say “They’re resisting”. Askers cause the answers they get.

  1. Because we enter conversations with an agenda, intuition, directive, etc., the answers we receive are partial at best, inaccurate at worst, and potentially cause resistance, sabotage, and disregard.
  2. There are unknown facts, feelings, historic data, goals, etc. that lie within the Responder’s unconscious that hold real answers and cannot be found using merely the curiosity of the Asker.
  3. By approaching situations with bias, Askers can only successfully connect with those whose conscious biases align with their own, leaving behind many who could change, or connect when their unconscious data is recognized. And conventional questions cannot get to the unconscious.
  4. Because influencers are unaware of how their particular bias restricts an answer, they have no concept if there are different answers possible, and often move forward with bad data.

So why does it matter if we’re biasing our questions? It matters because we are missing accurate results; it matters because our questions instill resistance; it matters because we’re missing opportunities to serve and support change.

When sellers ask leading questions to manipulate prospects, or coaches ask influencing questions to generate action, we’re coaxing our Communication Partner in a direction that, as we now recognize, is often biased. Imagine if we could reconfigure questions to elicit accurate data for researchers or marcom folks; or enable buyers to take quick action from ads, cold calls or large purchases; or help coaching clients change behaviors congruently and quickly; or encourage buy-in during software implementations. I’m suggesting questions can facilitate real change.

WHAT IS CHANGE?

Our brain stores data rather haphazardly in our unconscious, making it difficult to find what we need when we need it, and making resistance prevalent when it seems our Status Quo is being threatened. But over the last decades, I have mapped the sequence of systemic change. Following this route, I’ve designed a way to use questions as directional devices to pull relevant data in the proper sequence so we can lead Responders through their own internal, congruent, change process and avoid resistance. Not only does this broaden the range of successful results, but it enables quicker decisions and buy-in – not to mentiontruly offer a Servant Leader, win/win communication. Let’s look at what’s keeping us wedded to our Status Quo and how questions can enable change.

All of us are a ‘system’ of subjectivity collected during our lifetime: unique rules, values, habits, history, goals, experience, etc. that operates consensually to create and maintain our Status Quo; it resides in our unconscious and defines our Status Quo. Without it, we wouldn’t have criteria for any choices, or actions, or habits whatsoever. Our system is hard wired to keep us who we are (Systems Congruence).

To learn something new, to do something different or learn a new behavior, to buy something, to take vitamins or get a divorce or use new software or be willing to forgive a friend, the Status Quo must buy in to change from within – an inside job. Information pulled or pushed – regardless of the intent, or relationship, or efficacy – will be resisted.

For congruent change to occur – even a small one – appropriate elements within our Status Quo must buy into, and have prepared for, a possibly disruptive addition (idea, product, etc.). But since the process is internal, idiosyncratic, and unconscious, our biased questions cause the system to defend itself and we succeed only with those folks whose unconscious biases and beliefs mirror our own.

  1. People hear each other through their own biases. You ask biased questions, receive biased answers, and hit pay dirt only when your biases match. Everyone else will ignore, resist, misunderstand, mishear, act out, sabotage, forget, ignore, etc.
  2. Due to their biased and restricting nature, your questions will not facilitate those who are not ready, willing, or able to manage internal change congruently regardless of the wisdom of your comments or their efficacy.
  3. Without the Responder being ready, willing, and able to change, ACCORDING TO THEIR OWN CRITERIA AND SYSTEMS RULES, they cannot buy, accept, adopt, or change in any way.

To manage congruent change, align the Status Quo, and enable the steps to achieve buy-in – I’ve developed Facilitative Questions that work comfortably with conventional questions and lead Responders to

  • find their own answers hidden within their unconscious,
  • retrieve complete, relevant, accurate answers at the right time, in the right order to
  • traverse the sequenced steps to congruent, systemic change/excellence, while
  • avoiding restriction and resistance and
  • include their own values and subjective experience.

It’s possible to help folks make internal changes and find their own brand of excellence.

FACILITATIVE QUESTIONS

Facilitative Questions (FQs) employ a new skill set that is built upon systems thinking: listening for systems (i.e. no bias) and Servant Leadership. Even on a cold call or in content marketing, sellers can enable buyers down their route to change and buy-in; coaches can lead clients through their own unique change without resistance; leaders can get buy-in immediately; change implementations won’t get resistance; advertisers and marketers can create action.

Using specific words, in a very specific sequence, it’s possible to pose questions that are free of bias, need or manipulation and guide congruent change.

Facilitative Question Not information gathering, pull, or manipulative, FQs are guiding/directional tools, like a GPS system. Like a GPS they don’t need the details of travel – what you’re wearing, what function you’re attending – to dictate two left turns. They lead Responders congruently, without any bias, from where they’re at to Excellence. How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle?

This question is a guiding mechanism to efficiently enable a route through the Responder’s largely unconscious path to congruent change.

Here’s the big idea: using questions directed to help Others efficiently recognize their own route to Excellence, and change as appropriate vs. using questions to seek answers that benefit the Asker. This shift in focus alone creates an automatic trust.

An example is a question we designed for Wachovia to increase sales and appointments. Instead of seeking prospects for an appointment to pitch new products (i.e. using appointments as a sales tool), we designed questions to immediately facilitate discovery of need, taking into account most small businesses already have a banking relationship. After trialing a few different FQs, our opening question became: How would you know when it’s time to consider adding new banking partners, for those times your current bank can’t give you what you need? This question shifted the response to 100 prospecting calls from 10 appointments and 2 closes over 11 months, to 37 invites to meet from the prospect, and 29 closes over 3 months. Facilitative Questions helped the right prospects engage immediately.

When used with coaching clients, buyers, negotiation partners, advertisements, or even teenagers, these questions create action within the Responder, causing them to recognize internal incongruences and deficiencies, and be guided through their own options. (Because these questions aren’t natural to us, I’ve designed a tool and program to teach the ‘How’ of formulating them.).

The responses to FQs are quite different from conventional questions. So when answering How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle?’ the Responder is directed by word use, word placement, and an understanding of systems, to think of time, history, people, ego, comparisons, family. Instead of pulling data, you’re directing to, guiding through, and opening the appropriate change ‘boxes’ within the Responder’s unconscious Status Quo. It’s possible Responders will ultimately get to their answers without Facilitative Questions, but using them, it’s possible to help Responders organize their change criteria very quickly accurately. Using Facilitative Questions, we must

  1. Enter with a blank brain, as a neutral navigator, servant leader, with a goal to facilitate change.
  2. Trust our Communication Partners have their own answers.
  3. Stay away from information gathering or data sharing/gathering until they are needed at the end.
  4. Focus on helping the Other define, recognize, and understand their system so they can discover where it’s broken.
  5. Put aside ego, intuition, assumptions, and ‘need to know.’ We’ll never understand another’s subjective experience; we can later add our knowledge.
  6. Listen for systems, not content.

FQs enable congruent, systemic, change. I recognize this is not the conventional use of questions, but we have a choice: we can either facilitate a Responder’s path down their own unique route and travel with them as Change Facilitators – ready with our ideas, solutions, directions as they discover a need we can support – or use conventional, biased questions that limit possibility. For change to occur, people must go through these change steps anyway; we’re just making it more efficient for them as we connect through our desire to truly Serve. We can assist, or wait to find those who have already completed the journey. They must do it anyway: it might as well be with us.

I welcome opportunities to put Facilitative Questions into the world. Formulating them requires a new skill set that avoids any bias (Listening for Systems, for example). But they add an extra dimension to helping us all serve each other.

____________

Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker and visionary who has developed Servant-Leader models to facilitate change in sales, coaching, marketing, leadership, and negotiating. Her model Buying Facilitation® has been trained to over 100,000 people worldwide. She is the author of 9 books including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Amazon bestseller What? did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon Drew is a speaker, trainer, consultant, and coach. Her training model matches her beliefs: she enables learners to shift congruently to adding new thinking and skills permanently. sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com; 512 771 1117.www.sharondrewmorgen.com

December 17th, 2018

Posted In: Communication, Listening

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Can you think of any business paradigms that have stayed the same over the past 100 years? These days we run our businesses differently, with new models of hiring, training, leading, and executing; we have the use of unimaginable amounts of information and search capability to connect with new people and ideas. We now care more about diversity, gender and racial bias, and collaboration. We are far more visible, know our competition better, have greater reach, and possess an astounding capability to develop new solutions from any materials, from anywhere in the world that our imaginations can envision.

For centuries, sales has focused on placing solutions by seeking buyers with needs. Yet the environment buyers buy in has changed. Even with our new technology that finds, targets, and pursues a higher level of probable buyers, we’re closing less due to both the complexity of business environments and the stakeholder involvement in buying decisions. No more single decision makers; stakeholders have a say in all decisions; the buyer’s system – the rules, criteria, history, relationships and politics – is complex and must be taken into account before anything is purchased. As a result, since the 1980s when I began training sales people, closing ratios have gone from 8% to 5%.

YOU’RE FINDING THE BUYERS YOU SEEK

Believe it or not, you’re losing sales as a direct response to the way you’re selling. Your focus on finding ‘needs’ and placing solutions is limiting your audience to those who have already become ‘buyers’, which doesn’t occur until people are three quarters of the way through their buying decision path – a fraction of those who can/will buy.

Since its inception, sales has maintained the same focus – entirely appropriate until the days of global connections – and overlooked the change issues all people must manage before even identifying as buyers. And for some reason, even with the obvious decline in numbers (and increase in effort), we haven’t changed. Indeed sellers keep finding new ways to push every which way, becoming so desperate to close that you’re willing to lie, or hire 9x more sales staff, or wait months or years to finally close a sale that could be closed in a fraction of the time.

Has it never occurred that just maybe the 5% close rate is an indication of a problem? Would you go to a doctor with a 5% cure rate? Or fly a plane with a 5% safety rate? Why should sales be any different?

Indeed, even though your solution/product is most likely terrific, it gets lost in the inefficiency of the sales model: people who need your information aren’t reading it; people who would be helped if they purchased your solution aren’t buying. The problem is not the buyers or your content or your solution. The problem is the sales model itself; it’s so critically outdated and so mistakenly focused that you can’t ever get appreciably more closed sales.

  1. You’re aiming at the wrong goal (Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? Two different activities.), using
  2. the wrong criteria for discovering a buyer (First criteria is ability to change; people aren’t buyers for first ¾ of the buying decision path.),
  3. the wrong reason to approach/find someone (Seeking someone with a ‘need’ means you’ve got to be RIGHT THERE the very moment they become buyers, severely limiting the scope of possibility and ignoring those en route to buying who aren’t ready to read your messages.),
  4. using the wrong skill sets (Questions and data gathering based on trying to sell or find a ‘need’ biases the process to those who are ready NOW, and ignores the Pre Sales stages of buying or promoting Buyer Readiness.),
  5. with the wrong people (You’re connecting with a fraction of the stakeholder team involved in buying in to a purchase.)
  6. and making the wrong assumptions about needing to build relationship (Really? Because you and everyone else tries to ‘make nice’ and attempt a fake ‘relationship’ they’ll buy? How’s that working for you?) .

In a nutshell, you’re entering with the wrong focus, at the wrong time, with the wrong criteria and faulty tools, connecting with the wrong people, and closing a fraction of what you could be closing. It’s really easy to add some new skills to what you’re doing and change the equation. You could be closing 40% of the lists you’re now using, but not by using the sales model alone.

NEED IS THE WRONG FOCUS

The way you’re selling, regardless of the new tools for targeting and visibility, guarantees you can’t close all the sales you deserve to close because your focus restricts your buying audience to those ready, willing, and able to buy and are seeking the information you offer. And that’s fine – if you are happy with a 5% close rate (which means you’re wasting 95% of your time). But you can be closing 8x more. In pilot studies, folks who added my Buying Facilitation® model to the front end of their sales process closed 40% using the exact same list and product as the control group.

I’m curious: when was the last time you responded to a pop up, or a spam call? Why are you ignoring them? The products they’re selling are fine – you might even need them. How ‘bout the last time you went onto a gym website and read the content – all the course descriptions, trainer descriptions? Was it prior to your decision to join? Or did you just go on to read the content because you had nothing else do to even though you could lose 10 pounds and might need for a gym? So… given possible needs, you’re not reading the content being sent even though it’s been targeted for you? Hmmmm… maybe a need is not the criteria needed to buy?

One of the causes of lost or inadequate closed sales is your focus on finding buyers with a ‘need’ to sell your solution to. Here’s what’s wrong:

  1. Finding buyers: People don’t become buyers (step 10 of a 13 step decision process) until they have discovered they cannot fix a problem with known resources, and gotten buy in from stakeholders for change. No, not buy-in to buy your solution. Buy in to change. Because adding something new means the status quo shifts, and people’s jobs and relationships change. The time it takes for every element and person who will be touched by the final solution to buy in to change (i.e. bringing in a new solution) is the length of the sales cycle.
  2. Need: if the proposed buyer hasn’t yet fixed their problem, it’s because it’s either A. built into, and accepted by, their status quo and the ramifications of change are too considerable; B. being worked on; or C. they haven’t gotten the buy in. Need is never the issue. They only need to find excellence, and if your solution is the best vehicle to get them there with the least disruption, and everyone agrees, they’ll buy. Your solution is merely a means to an end, not the end itself.
  3. Sell solution: sales is so hell bent and habituated on placing a solution that it’s willing to overlook the crazy of how much failure is involved. Seriously? Hasn’t it become obvious that seeking someone with a need, trying to place a solution, is getting you less and less success?

Over the decades you find better and better ways to sell less, and yet you continue to use the same organizing factors of solution placement based on need. Has it not occurred to you that it’s not working? That just maybe you might try something different like, oh, I don’t know, maybe focus on facilitating the comprehensive buying decision path? Maybe realize that without buyers you can’t sell anything? Because the truth is, selling doesn’t cause buying.

WHY PEOPLE BUY

People buy your solution because they want to effect positive change, and they can’t do it using the resources in front of them. And it’s only once they’ve done the internal, idiosyncratic change work necessary to get the buy in – STRATEGIC – are they willing to bring in an external solution (i.e. buy). And your great solution, your terrific content, your nice personality and fake relationship – your TACTICAL approach – isn’t noticed or welcome if their status quo will be broken beyond repair if they buy, or if the cost of the addition is greater than the cost of the status quo.

In other words, people don’t buy because they have a need. They buy only when they need a different form of excellence that they cannot achieve without something from the outside – so long as whatever it doesn’t cause irreparable disruption (for systems theorists, this is called Systems Congruence).

I have a brief story I often use to explain this. Years ago I was training Buying Facilitation® at IBM. I was asked to speak with a customer who had an old version of a new system they’d just developed and they needed a local beta test site. In exchange for being a beta, the client would get to keep the new hardware for free. And my client knew the old version and model the client had purchased years before couldn’t be working effectively given the way the company had grown.

Two sales folks had already called on this client, and the client said ‘no’ to both. They asked if I could give it a try. Here was my conversation:

SDM: Hi. I’m Sharon Drew Morgen calling from IBM. I’m wondering how your current system is working.
CLIENT: Well, it’s ok. [Odd. They turned down a free brand new, fast, system and weren’t ecstatically happy with the old one?] SDM: I’m confused. I heard that we offered you a brand new system that would be much faster than your current one. What stopped you from taking it?
CLIENT: Dad
SDM: Excuse me? Dad? Could you explain?
CLIENT: Sure. We’re a Mom & Pop shop, and Dad is Pop. He’s 75 now, and he’ll retire in about 2 years. He handles all of the technology, so I don’t want to confuse him or upset him. He might as well keep doing what makes him comfortable, even if our system is a bit slow.
SDM: So Dad’s comfort is your criteria. From what I know, users find the new system as easy to use as the old one. What would you need to know about the new beta to know if it’s easy enough for Dad to stay comfortable?
CLIENT: Dad would have to try it and be comfortable with it.
SDM: We happen to have another beta site about a mile from you. Would you be willing to have me come by and pick you and Dad up for a trial?

And so we placed the beta. It had nothing to do with need, and everything to do with the system, the change management issues, the buy in issues.

Buyers don’t need your solution. They need excellence. 100 years after Dale Carnegie used ‘need’ as the criteria [and in 1937 it was!], ‘need’ is no longer the reason people buy. In fact 80% of your current prospects will buy your solution within the next 2 years (probably not from you) once they’ve gotten their ducks in a row. Which means they were always buyers, but not ready or able to buy. And instead of facilitating their buying decision (not possible using need or solution placement as a focus), instead of helping them find their own best answers, you spend your time and focus on need, demographics, and targeted marketing campaigns that couldn’t convince them.

YOU DON’T BUY THE WAY YOU SELL

Take a moment to think how you buy. Do you wake up in the morning after a wild dream and go straight to a Porsche showroom and spend $100,000 on a car that sort of looked like the one in your dream? Of course not. You think about it, discuss it with your spouse, talk to friends, go online, find out how much your car is worth to sell, look at your bank account, consider your timing. If you did take yourself to the dealership the first moment you thought about it odds are you wouldn’t have made a purchase that day until you did all of the other background work.

Same with your workplace. Are there communication problems? Leadership issues? Motivation, diversity, personnel issues?? Why hasn’t someone hired a consultant to help you fix it? You’ve got a need – but someone, something assumes you can either fix it yourself, or there are budgeting issues, or it’s not a big problem, or or or…

Since its inception, sales has overlooked the change issues all people must manage before even identifying as buyers – and continues to blame buyers for not knowing they need to buy. Has it never occurred that just maybe the 5% close rate is an indication of a problem?

A buying decision is a process that begins with some sort of stimulus, goes through a few rounds of discussion and examination against the rules, values, and stability of the status quo, some rounds of fixes with workarounds or tech solutions, some understanding of the downsides of change and consideration if the change can be tolerated or managed, and ultimately an agreement and considered preparation among all stakeholders that confirms they’re ready for something new to enter – the 5%, the low hanging fruit that finally, finally have completed their Pre Sales/change management work and become buyers. And yet you continue pushing pushing pushing your solution every which way in the hope that this set of words, this pitch, this website, will influence/inspire/manipulate/persuade people to buy.

Given that a buying decision is a change management problem, unless there buy in by all stakeholders, unless they are certain they cannot fix the problem with a known solution, until they are certain the new solution won’t cause irreparable disruption, people cannot buy regardless of their need or the efficacy of your solution:

  • STAKEHOLDERS Along every buying decision path, there is a larger, more diverse stakeholder group than ever before; they all must buy-in to change, new decisions, or new purchases to make sure anything new coming in maintains the integrity of the system it will fit into. Because it’s a change management issue, the sales model is inadequate;
  • WORKAROUNDS Options for workarounds, partnering, or technology fixes that didn’t exist before can potentially take care of a prospect’s problems without buying anything. Until they ascertain through trial and error that a workaround doesn’t exist, they’re not buyers. The time it takes them to figure out if buying something external is obligatory AND will comfortably fit within their system is the length of the sales cycle. We can help them reduce this time dramatically, but the sales model doesn’t do this;
  • DISRUPTION The last thing – the last last thing – anyone wants is to buy something, as it reconfigures their status quo and causes disruption. Yet we’re not helping them navigate the change issues that come up when bringing in (buying) something new. This causes us to sell to the low hanging fruit – that 5% who have already determine they need to buy. Those en route, or who will become buyers when they figure it out (a whopping 40% of your lists are real buyers that aren’t even aware they might need you and ignore your information because they don’t yet recognize it’s important for them), are ignored because the sales model doesn’t address change facilitation;
  • INFORMATION You spend time and a whole bunch of money finding best practices to push information, desperately seeking (and paying for) the ‘right’ words, offered in the ‘right’ way, to the ‘right’ people, attempting to match their unknowable criteria, and being ignored a whopping, whopping percent of the time. In a nutshell, you’re using your own selling patterns and touching only those whose buying patterns match your selling patterns, alienating or entirely missing some who might soon buy;
  • CHANGE MANAGEMENT Buying is a change management problem, not a solution choice issue. But the sales model only sells to those who have already mapped out their route through the changes that will occur with a purchase. You are ignoring an entire subset of real buyers you can facilitate through change with a new skill set;
  • RELATIONSHIPS You mistakenly believe that a good ‘relationship’ will entice buyers because you seem to show up, I don’t know, more professional? Nicer? How’s that working for you? Everyone tries to be nice!
  • STEPS TO CHANGE There are 13 steps in a buying decision and people don’t identify as buyers until step 10. Since there are specific systemic tasks to be accomplished before getting buy in to make a purchase, these folks aren’t buyers yet, and as such, have no interest in your product content. Remember: if they cannot manage the change, they cannot buy regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution. The current sales model disregards the change management portion where 8x more real buyers live. It’s a great opportunity to sell without competition: they’re now doing these tasks without you. Might as well be with you.
  • BUYING DECISION TEAM There is always, always, some sort of Buying Decision Team (BDT). Whether a colleague, a friend, a partner or a team, the BDT are those involved with addressing the systemic issues that are quite personal, and outsiders can never understand regardless of need or the efficacy of the solution;
  • WRONG FOCUS It’s possible to recognize a buyer on the first call by shifting your focus from ‘need’ and ‘place solution’ to ‘ability to change’. Note: since the first 9 steps have absolutely nothing to do with need, your current strategies can never find these folks.
  • DISRUPTION People aren’t buyers if any disruption from adding your solution costs more than buying anything; it’s possible to add a few skills and help them figure out how to manage any potential disruption en route to become buyers. You’re waiting and pushing and waiting and pushing, only to waste 90% of your time. You might as well try something different.
  • CURRENT SKILLS Because sales focuses on placing solutions, it doesn’t employ change facilitation skills that lead people who WILL become buyer through the steps of change. Again: they must do this anyway, with you or without you. Sales uses the wrong questions (biased by your need to sell), the wrong listening (listening through filters biased by what you want to hear), the wrong assumptions (that need=buyer), the wrong focus (place solutions) and the wrong outcomes (5% close, and lots of annoyed people who might have bought). More on this below.
  • OUTSIDER STATUS You can never understand the specific politics or relationships going on in buyer’s environment because you don’t live there. Once they become buyers, of course you can understand how your solution matches their need. Before then, you can never know their historic relationships, problems, experience, or politics. Even if you attempt to query these you can’t ever have the same reference points to ask from, nor the appropriate unbiased listening filters to listen through. At the change management end, your current skill sets are useless.
  • BUYING PATTERNS VS SELLING PATTERNS Buyer use their own buying patterns; sellers use their own selling patterns (email/content marketing, websites that only offer fill-in boxes rather than phone numbers, pitches, information-push). People buy using their own buying patterns, not your selling patterns.

Here’s a wrap up of why your selling doesn’t cause buying: Besides narrowly listening for an inkling of ‘need’ (I wrote What? Did you really say what I think I heard? to teach you how to listen without bias), you’re overlooking the systems elements that must be managed before anyone can buy anything. You’re an outsider, using biased languaging, questions, and assumptions; your pitch merely represents what YOU think will inspire them to buy. But all that does is find those who 1. Have already done their Pre Sales change work, and 2. Seek exactly what you’re selling; it overlooks those who will shortly become buyers once they’ve traversed their route to congruent change. Got it?

ADD BUYING FACILITATION® TO YOUR SALES PROCESS

I invented Buying Facilitation® and successfully trained it to over 100,000 people in global corporations with consistent results. It is not sales. It does not focus on finding buyers but in facilitating those people who WILL become buyers down their decision steps so they can do what they need to do to be ready and able to buy. Using Buying Facilitation®, Kaiser Permanente went from 110 visits and 18 closed sales to 27 visits and 25 closed sales. You choose which is more effective.

As part of Buying Facilitation®, I developed a new form of question (Facilitative Question) that eschews information gathering or the Asker’s curiosity and instead uses brain science in conjunction with the steps of decision making to lead people through to congruent change. I also developed a new way to listen (see my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard?) that avoids bias and listens for systems. And I shifted the opening focus from ‘need’ to finding those who are willing and able to change – in the sphere I’m selling in, of course. I’m facilitating those who can/will buy to Pre Sales Buyer Readiness.

Buying Facilitation® works with marketing as well.By understanding all elements necessary in the buying environment of your industry, you can write articles that move prospective buyers through their decision path using the steps of change, not with product content, but with change thinking. To find an audience for my listening book, I wrote an article on meetings, for example, because I know the steps of groups needing communication tools. I got dozens of Thank You notes from team leaders who shared the article to hundreds of employees, giving me a 54% conversion rate. And I did not discuss my book or even mention it until the footer.

As long as your sales model is focused on placing solutions and searching and listening for need, you will only close the low hanging fruit – those who have done their change management work, know a new solution won’t change their status quo beyond repair, and have gotten the buy in to proceed. It’s time to add Buying Facilitation® to the front end of sales, sell 8x more, and really help buyers buy.

For those of you who want to read more about this, here are some articles I’ve written:

The Real Buyer’s Journey

Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy?

Sell to those who WILL/CAN buy

Buying Facilitation® and Sales

How, Why, and When Buyers Buy

Why We Get Objections

If you’d like to discuss this with me directly, call or email: 512 771 1117; sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

____________

Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, sales thought leader, and NYTimes Bestselling author of Selling with Integrity, and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. She is the inventor of Buying Facilitation®, a skill set that facilitates decision making along each stage of the Pre Sales buyer’s decision path, and assembling all decision makers and addressing all elements subject to change, pre purchase. Sharon Drew has trained global corporations, using pilot studies that consistently prove that adding BF to sales is 8x more effective at closing sales. Sharon Drew is also the thought leader behind the game changing book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon Drew speaks, trains, and consults in Communication, Sales, Listening, Buy-In. She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

December 10th, 2018

Posted In: Sales

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How to Listen to be successful

The problem with accurately hearing what others mean to convey is not that we don’t hear their words accurately. The problem is in the interpretation. During the listening process, our brains arbitrarily filter out, or reconfigure the uncomfortable, unknown, or confusing, to make what’s been said match something we’re more familiar with. And it fails to inform us of its creative editing.

As a result, we’re left understanding some fraction of what our Communication Partner(CP) meant to convey. So if I say ABC and your brain tells you I’ve said ABL, you not only have no way of knowing that you’ve not understood my intended message, but you’re thoroughly convinced you heard what I ‘said’. Obviously, this interpretation process puts relationships and communication at risk.

CASE STUDY OF PARTNERSHIP LOST

While at a meeting with co-directors of a company to discuss possible partnering, there was some confusion on one of the minor topics:

John: No, SDM, you said X.
SDM: Actually I said Y and that’s quite a bit different.
John: You did NOT SAY Y. I heard you say X!!!
Margaret: I was sitting here, John. She actually did say Y. She said it clearly.
John: You’re BOTH crazy! I KNOW WHAT I HEARD! and he stomped out of the room. [End of partnership.]

As our brains haphazardly and unconsciously interpret for us, we naturally respond according to what we think we heard rather than what’s meant, restricting creativity, collaboration, and relationships.

How, then, do we have unrestricted conversations? Find ways to expand possibilities? Hear what others mean to say? Know how to take appropriate action, or negotiate creatively? I found the topic so interesting that I wrote a book on the gap between what’s said and what’s heard, the different ways our brains filter what’s been said (triggers, assumptions, biases, etc.), and how to supersede our brain to hear accurately (Read First 2 chapters of What Did you really say what I think I heard?).

CASE STUDIES OF PROSPECTS LOST

One way our brains restrict our conversations happens when we enter with a preset agenda and unconsciously tell our brains to ignore whatever doesn’t fall outside the category. So when sellers listen only for ‘need’ they miss important clues that would exclude or enlist the CP as a prospect. A coaching client of mine had this conversation:

Seller: Hi. I’m Paul, from XXX. This is a sales call. I’m selling insurance. Is this a good time to speak?

Buyer: No. it’s a horrible time. It’s end of year and I’m swamped. Call back next week and I’ll have time.

Seller: ok.iwanttotellyouaboutourspecialsthatmightsuityourbusinessandmakeyoumorerevenue.

And the prospect hung up on him. Because the Seller used the traditional Buying Facilitation® opening for a cold call which welcomes prospects into a collaborative conversation, the prospect was willing to speak. But he lost interest when the Seller ignored his invitation and switched to taking care of his own needs with a pitch.

SDM: What happened? He told you he’d speak next week. And why did you speak so quickly?

Paul: He had enough time to answer the phone, so I figured I’d try to snag him into being interested. I spoke fast cuz I was trying to respect his time.

And this is a very simplistic example. Here is another one:

Halfway into a sales call, my client got hooked on his own agenda and didn’t hear reality:

Prospect: Well, we don’t have a CRM system that operates as efficiently as we would like, but our tech guys are scheduled 3 years out and our outsourcing group’s not available for another year. So we’ve created some workarounds for now.

Seller: I’d love to stop by and show you some of the features of our new CRM technology. I’m sure you’ll find it very efficient.

And that was the end of the conversation. He should have heard his intent and replied:

Wow. Sounds like a difficult situation. We’ve got a pretty efficient technology that might work for you, but obviously now isn’t the time. How would you like to stay in touch so we can speak when it’s closer to the time? Or maybe take a look at adding a few bells and whistles now to help out a bit while you wait?

By hearing and respecting the prospect’s status quo the seller would have created a ‘We Space’ where they both shared the same goals, and kept them speaking over time. Not to mention it would have been respectful. But the sellers, in both instances, only listened for what they wanted to hear and misinterpreted what was meant, and followed their own agenda at the cost of a real prospect.

We restrict possibilities when we enter calls with an agenda. We:

  • Misdefine what we hear so messages mean what we want them to mean;
  • Never achieve a true collaboration;
  • Speak and act as if something is ‘true’ when it isn’t and don’t recognize possibilities;
  • Limit our reactions and never achieve the full potential.

Here is a short list of ways to alleviate this problem (and take a look at What? for more situations and ideas):

  1. Enter each call as a mystery. Who is this person you’re calling? What’s preventing her from achieving excellence?
  2. Don’t respond immediately after someone has spoken. Wait a few seconds to take in the full dialogue and its meaning.
  3. Don’t go into a pitch, or make an assumption that a person has a need until they have determined they do – and that won’t be until much later in the conversation.
  4. Don’t enter a call with your own agenda. That leaves out the other person.

Prospects are those who will buy, not those who should buy. Enter each call to form a collaboration in which together you can hear each other and become creative. Stop trying to qualify in terms of what you sell. You’re missing opportunities and limiting what’s possible.

____________

Sharon Drew Morgen is the NYTimes Business Bestselling author of Selling with Integrity and 7 books how buyers buy, including Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. She is the developer of Buying Facilitation® a decision facilitation model used with sales to help buyers facilitate pre-sales buying decision issues. She is a sales visionary who coined the terms Helping Buyers Buy, Buy Cycle, Buying Decision Patterns, Buy Path in 1985, and has been working with sales/marketing for 30 years to influence buying decisions.

More recently, Morgen is the author of What? Did You Really Say What I Think I Heard? in which she has coded how we can hear others without bias or misunderstanding, and why there is a gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She is a trainer, consultant, speaker, and inventor, interested in integrity in all business communication. Her learning tools can be purchased: www.didihearyou.com. She can be reached at
sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com 512 771 1117 www.didihearyou.comwww.sharondrewmorgen.com

December 3rd, 2018

Posted In: Listening, News

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I’ve read that there are leaders and project managers who prefer not to collaborate, when engaging in an initiative, because of needs for control. And decision makers who start their information gathering before fully involving those who will implement. What sort of success is possible when one source is driving change and

  • may potentially sabotage a project because of their own biases,
  • restricts outcomes and creativity to a specific set of possibilities,
  • potentially gathers biased or insufficient data from a restricted set of sources,
  • risks alienating those involved with the ultimate fulfillment because there’s insufficient buy-in?

Without:
* real collaboration * gathering data from the best set of sources * consensus and buy-in procedures in place
* understanding the full impact from a proposed decision * front-loading for change management (to avoid failed implementations) we risk falling far short of excellence in our decision making and subsequent execution.

WHY COLLABORATION IS NECESSARY

To ensure the best data is available to make decisions with, to ensure all risk issues managed, to ensure consensus throughout the process, we must have these questions in mind:

  • How will we share, collect, and decide on the most appropriate ideas, choices, and alternatives? How will we know we are working with the most relevant data set?
  • How can a leader avoid prejudicing the process with her own biases?
  • How are collaborators chosen to ensure maximum representation? Are some stakeholders either absent or silent? How can we increase participation?
  • How can we recognize if we’re on the path to either a successful outcome, or the route that sabotages excellence? What markers should we be looking for along the way?

Let me define a few terms (albeit with my own bias):

  1. Collaboration: when all parties who will be involved in a final solution have a say in an outcome:
    a. to offer and share ideas and concerns to discover creative solutions agreeable to all;
    b. to identify and discern the most appropriate data to enable the best outcome.
  2. Decision making:
    a. weighting, choosing, and choosing from, the most appropriate range of possibilities whose parameters are agreed to by those involved;
    b. understanding and agreeing to a set of variables or decision values.

I’ve read that distinctions exist between ‘high collaboration’ (a focus on “understanding needs or managing an implementation”) and ‘low collaboration’ (defined as “putting time or control before people and possibility”, and leading from the top with prepared rules and plans). Since I don’t believe in any sort of top-down initiative (i.e. ‘low collaboration’) except when keeping a child safe, and believe there are systems issues that must be taken into consideration, here’s my rule of thumb: Collaboration is necessary early in the process to achieve accurate data identification and consensus for any sort of implementation, decision, project, purchase, or plan that requests people to take actions not currently employed.

THE STEPS OF COLLABORATION

Here are the steps to excellence in collaborative decision making as I see them:

  1. Assemble all representative stakeholders to begin discussions. Invite all folks who will be affected by the proposed change, not just those you see as obvious. To avoid resistance, have the largest canvas from which to gather data and inform thinking, and enhance the probability of a successful implementation, the right people must be part of the project from the beginning. An international team of Decision Scientists at a global oil company recently told me that while their weighted decisions are ‘accurate,’ the Implementation Team has a success rate of 3%. “It’s not our job. We hand them over good data. But we’re not part of the implementation team. We hear about their failures later.”
  2. Get buy-in for the goal. Without buy-in we lose possibility, creativity, time, and ideas that only those on the ground would understand. Consensus is vital for all who will touch the solution (even if a representative of a larger group lends their voice) or some who seem on board may end up disaffected and unconsciously sabotage the process later.
  3. Establish all system specifics: What will change? Who will manage it? What levels of participation, disruption, job alterations, etc. will occur and how it be handled? What are the risks? And how will you know the best decision factors to manage all this? It’s vital to meld this knowledge into the decision making process right up front.
  4. Specify stages to monitor process and problems. By now you’ll have a good idea of the pluses and minuses. Make a plan that specifies the outcomes and probable fallout from each stage and publish it for feedback. Otherwise, you won’t know if or where you’ve gone wrong until too late.
  5. Announce the issues publicly. Publish the high-level goal, the possible change issues and what would be effected, and the potential outcomes/fallout. Make sure it’s transparent, and you’re managing expectations well in advance. This will uncover folks you might have missed (for information gathering and buy-in), new ideas you hadn’t considered, and resisters.
  6. Time: Give everyone time to discuss, think, consider personal options, and speak with colleagues and bosses. Create an idea collection process – maybe an online community board where voices are expressed – that gets reports back to the stakeholder team.
  7. Stakeholder’s planning meeting. By now you’ll know who and what must be included. Make sure to include resisters – they bring interesting ideas and thinking that others haven’t considered. It’s been proven that even resisters are more compliant when they feel heard.
  8. Meet to vote on final plans. Include steps for each stage of change, and agree on handling opposition and disruption.
  9. Decision team to begin gathering data. Now that the full set of decision issues and people/ideas/outcomes are recognized and agreed to, the Decision Making team is good to go. They’ll end up with a solid data set that will address the optimal solution that will be implemented without resistance.
  10. Have meetings at each specified stage during implementations. Include folks on the ground to weigh in.

These suggestions may take more time upfront. But what good is a ‘good decision’ if it can’t be implemented? And what is the cost of a failed implementation? I recently heard of a hospital that researched ‘the best’ 3D printer but omitted the implementation steps above. For two years it sat like a piece of art without any consensus in place as to who would use it or how/when, etc. By the time they created rules and procedures the printer was obsolete. I bet they would have preferred to spend more time following the steps above.Here’s the question: What would stop you from following an inclusive collaboration process to get the best decisions made and the consensus necessary for any major change? As part of your answer, take into account the costs of not collaborating. And then do the math.

____________

Sharon Drew Morgen teaches decision making, change facilitation, and collaboration for sellers/buyers, leaders/followers, change agents/groups to corporations such as Kaiser, KPMG, IBM, Wachovia, etc. Her most recent book What? breaks down the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She’s written 7 books on her unique model Buying Facilitation® including the NY Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell which teaches sellers how to facilitate change and consensus for buyers.
www.sharondrewmorgen.com.
sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com

November 19th, 2018

Posted In: Communication

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hand-944306_960_720For years I’ve written about how sales suffer because the sales model, designed to seek buyers and place solutions by information sharing and gathering, ignores the vast opportunity to close more sales by adding the function of facilitating Buyer Readiness (i.e. systemic change). The absence of this capability restricts sales to searching for those ready to buy, and causes objections en route:

You’re getting objections not because of your terrific solution, your professionalism, your lists, your competition, the buyer’s need, or your price (It’s never ever about price.). Nor because buyers are liars (David Sandler once told me he never meant the take-away that that expression has evolved into.), stupid, or connivers.

You’re getting objections because you’re using content push and various methods of information sharing as your main vehicle to selling, before buyers are ready or able to buy, before they know why, or when, or if to hear your message. As a result, you’re getting objections because you end up merely seeking those who SHOULD buy, ignoring the vastly larger group who CAN buy but haven’t yet gotten ready (and who won’t object once they get their ducks in a row).

You’re getting objections because you’re reducing your entry points, and along the way, annoying those who don’t (yet) know how to respond to what feels like an invasion.

Sales is designed to

  • find those ready to buy: the low-hanging fruit – those who have already recognized that making a purchase is the only way to resolve a problem, have the buy-in to proceed, and know how to manage any change a new purchase would demand;
  • seek those who are ready, willing, and able to listen to/hear you;
  • ignore those who haven’t yet decided on bringing in an external solution but will ultimately be buyers (Read my article on the 13 step Buying Decision Path.);
  • make information/content the preferred focus with which to close sales, and as a result,gather needs (as per your biased criteria), understand (as per your biased criteria), pitch/place data (which often overlooks their real internal change challenges), and/or seek appointments (based on who’s willing to spend time with you) to pitch solutions without recognizing an additional entry point might be to find/facilitate far more real buyers through the Pre-Sales, change management portion of their decision path (causing countless wasted appointments with those merely seeking data to use internally, or using your content to try to persuade other team members);

and as a result you’re getting objections. With a function limited to using solution-based information as the route to placing solutions and searching for those who SHOULD buy – and getting objections from those who don’t find relevance in your offering, or may feel insulted or made ‘stupid’ – sales overlooks the possibility of facilitating the far larger group who CAN buy. It’s only when they’re certain they can’t fix the problem themselves AND get buy-in, do buyers consider going ‘external’ for a solution. And objections are merely a reaction to feeling pushed by your content and goal to place a solution.

WHY YOU GET OBJECTIONS

I define ‘buyer’ as a person/group who has discovered they can’t fix a problem internally, traversed their change management issues, and has gotten agreement to seek an external solution. The very last thing buyers need is your solution – literally.

So here, in no particular order, is a list of reasons why you get objections, and why/how the limited solutions-push focus of the sales model merely handles a small fraction of a Buying Decision Path instead of actually enabling buying. And fyi: by adding the functionality to help potential buyers traverse their systemic change management issues first, you’ll never get objections.

  • Selling doesn’t cause buying. Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? Two different activities and mind-sets.
  • Buying involves both systemic change AND (when there’s no other option) solution choice. Using solution data as the main skill to make a sale restricts possibility, getting you objections from those who don’t know how to hear it (Remember: we all listen through biased filters.)
  • Buyers buy according to their buying patterns, not your selling patterns.
  • Pushing solution data too early causes objections, regardless of need or the efficacy of your solution.
  • Until buyers recognize how to solve a problem with maximum buy-in and minimum fallout to their status quo (i.e. when they have their ducks in a row), they aren’t buyers regardless of what you believe to be their ‘need’. If they buy without first managing congruent change, they’ll cause internal disruption.
  • Until buyers are certain they can’t solve a problem themselves with their own resources, they can’t recognize, and don’t have the full data set to understand, what they might need to buy and will resist/object when having seemingly pointless content shoved at them.
  • Sales and marketing pitches use biased language to describe solutions, further restricting the buying audience. Until buyers can handle their change, and know the full extent of internal givens (i.e. personal, systemic) they have to deal with, they don’t know how to listen to your content details effectively, and object when pushed. It’s possible to design unique pitches that facilitate change and Systems Congruence for each stage of their non-solution-based, Pre-Sales Buying Decision Path.
  • By restricting the sales model to finding interest using the solution data, you’re only handing the last 30% (steps 1-9) of the 13-step Buying Decision Path. The first 9 steps (Pre-Sales) are a change management exercise, focused on fixing their problem in a way that minimizes disruption and maximizes buy-in, recognizing a need for an external solution only at step 10. When sellers try to place solutions before they’ve gotten to step 10, buyers object.
  • Sales ignores the possibility of influencing the path of (Pre-Sales) change that is driven by the buyer’s system of unique rules, people, history, etc. that protects itself at all costs (i.e. objects).
  • Your sales and marketing efforts seek those who you’ve determined will have a likelihood of buying (the low hanging fruit), and you’re competing for this small percentage, ultimately closing only 5% of a much broader set of possible buyers.
  • There is an entirely different goal, focus, solution, thought process, skill set, necessary to become part of, and facilitate, the Pre-Sales, systemic, Buying Decision Path that must, as per the laws of Systems Congruence, enable change congruently before any purchase is considered.
  • You’ll avoid objections when you first facilitate and expedite the change that those who CAN buy must handle, and THEN use your information-centric approach to sell to those you’ve helped be ready to buy. The time it takes buyers to get buy-in for congruent change is the length of the sales cycle, regardless of their need or the efficacy of your solution.
  • Pitching, content marketing, presentations, cold calling, etc. get objections because they push solution data into a ‘closed system’ that feels compromised by the push, and must resist until there is systemic agreement to go external for a fix.
  • Judgements regarding the reasons buyers offer objections are subjective, biased interpretations contrived by sellers to make buyers ‘stupid’ when they aren’t getting the outcome they sought. Sellers rarely consider that they’re entering at the wrong time, in the wrong way, for a situation and unique set of internal, systemic dysfunctions they really (really) have no understanding of, or that the buyer is in the early steps of change and hasn’t yet recognized a need to buy.
  • You can accelerate a buyer’s route to decision making by helping them traverse their route to congruent change, but not with a restriction that begins by using solution-based information as the vehicle to influence buying. It’s possible to close five times more than you’re currently closing.

You’re actually causing your own objections. You get no resistance when facilitating prospects through their own steps to congruent change first, get them ready to change, and continue on to placing your terrific solution content with those specific prospects who CAN buy. (Read my article on the Buyer’s Journey that lays out the entire Pre-Sales buying decision process.) But you’ll need to take a different – additional – path through a different lens. You’ll need to understand the change management issues within your industry. And no, you cannot use your current sales skill to accomplish this.

FOCUS ON FACILITATING BUYER READINESS FIRST

Here is the deal. Until now, you’ve waited while buyers do this change stuff: they must do this anyway (with you or without you). So you can continue pushing your content and getting objections, or you can add a new function to your outreach to connect with the right ones sooner: enter their decision path, get onto their Buying Decision Team, and facilitate the ones who CAN buy through to buying. Just recognize the sales model doesn’t do the facilitation portion as it’s solution-placement based.

I designed a new methodology to facilitate the front end of the decision path (Buying Facilitation®). It’s a change facilitation model that works with sales to help buyers congruently and

  1. Recognize all of the elements they must assemble to get appropriate input for problem solving and change;
  2. Figure out if they can/cannot fix it themselves (You can facilitate this on the first call so long as you avoid discussing need or solution.);
  3. Pull together all of the systemic elements that must be in place for any change (i.e. purchase) to happen to ensure a minimal disruption;
  4. Be ready to choose your solution.

Buying Facilitation® is a generic change facilitation skill set, with no content focus, no bias, and is systemic in nature. It involves facilitating change (vs pushing content) with a new form of question (Facilitative Question) that enable systems to recognize their own criteria and manage change congruently; a new form of listening that involves Listening for Systems; and Presumptive Summaries to enable people to move outside of their subjective experience and view the entire situation as an Observer/Coach. I’ve trained it to about 100,000 sales folks globally, in several industries and product price points, and generally get a close rate of 5x the control group.

Right now, you’re closing 5% and wasting a lot of resource to find them. You’re hiring too many people to close too few; ignoring real prospects on route to making an appointment – and then going to appointments with a fraction of the appropriate people present, to push content they don’t know how to listen to, and fighting with competitors for the same restricted group of buyers – when if you could enter differently, with a willingness to add a new skill set, you could find/close more buyers.

There are a lot more REAL buyers suffering from lengthy Buying Decision Path confusions as they fumble through change. They really could use your help. Read Dirty Little Secrets; why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and learn about the systems involved in buying (or any change), and add this to your sales initiatives. You’ll have more clients, shorter sales cycles, meaningful relationships built on trust, and no objections.

____________

Sharon Drew Morgen is a Change Facilitator, working with sales (Buying Facilitation®), coaching, leadership, buy-in, implementations, and consultants. She has trained sales and management teams in global corporations for 35 years. She is the author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon best sellers Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon Drew is also a coach, speaker, and consultant. She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com

November 12th, 2018

Posted In: Communication

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I started up a tech company in London in 1983. I never meant to. And I certainly didn’t know what I was doing.

I was brought across the pond by a tech company as a sales director. But after a few days and a few conversations with my husband Ben (brought over by the same company to do contract tech work), I realized there was a far greater opportunity than just selling services for the first Fourth Generation Language (4GL) Database Management software FOCUS we supported: programming support, of course. But what about users? Since it was a user-focused tool, and users weren’t techies, I envisioned two problems: they might not have the knowledge to cull, organize and manage their data; they might not have the skills to communicate effectively with the techies they had to collaborate with. (As a non-techie married to a techie, I was well aware of the communication challenges of different types of brains.) What if we could be a decision support group that provided a broad range of services for users?

I somehow convinced my new manager to let me ‘go’ with my ideas. But truth be told, I didn’t know what I was talking about. That wasn’t a problem: because I think in systems, I had a high-level understanding of the problems but none of the details. In other words, I understood the structure but not the content (and it’s always easy to find the right content once you’ve got the structure). Never occurred to me I wouldn’t succeed.

None of us were smart enough to know what we didn’t know, although they must have known something: I became their most successful group, bringing in 142% of the gross profit of their 5 companies. Me? I ended up an entrepreneur, starting a tech group (which became its own company) in two countries (UK, Germany), with no experience; making a whole bunch of money for me and my investors; serving a large, diverse client base; traveling extensively around Europe; having full expression of my creativity; and living in London. But it didn’t start that way.

As I share my experiences, I’d like you to consider that this was the early 1980s: there was no internet, no Google, no email, and no websites with phone numbers and names. It was necessary, in general, to call Information to get a phone number, and they needed the address before they gave you the number. True story. Computers weren’t even used for much – think Commodore, with floppys; Macs weren’t even introduced until 1984; Google not until 1996. So in the pre-internet,pre-information age, selling and marketing were decidedly different than today. And yet I found a way, in a country strange to me, in an industry I knew nothing about, selling a product I didn’t understand, to be quite successful. Just a bit of old-timee caring, trust, and integrity. Let me begin.

WHAT I DIDN’T KNOW

I’d never been an entrepreneur. With only 5 years as a successful salesperson (and 12 years prior as a social worker and journalist), I had no idea what ‘business’ meant. In fact, I didn’t know:

  1. How to hire anyone.
  2. How to find anyone – to hire, to sell to.
  3. The rules: of tech, London, business, corporate politics, start-ups. Nothin’.
  4. What was going on in the field, what the field was comprised of, the nature of my competition.
  5. What I was selling – what my service provided, what it did differently than my competition.
  6. What clients needed, how they took care of the problems without my solution, why they would buy anything rather than keep doing what they were doing.
  7. How to explain, pitch, or present what I was selling (because I didn’t understand it).
  8. How to run a business – the jobs needing to be done, how they got apportioned.
  9. How to manage staff; how to recognize when I needed to hire/fire staff.
  10. What success or failure looked like and how to know in advance if either was happening.
  11. How to put together a budget, how much money I needed to run a company (I didn’t know I could run on a loss, so I thought I’d need to earn money before spending it.)
  12. Expectations, time frames, problems, problem resolutions.

I was ignorant. But I did understand people, systems, structure, hard work, risk-taking, communication, and integrity. And I knew who, what, and why to trust. I was on my way.

I began in a tiny, tiny office (Obviously once a closet, it was so narrow I had to move the chair so the door would open; the ‘desk’ was a plank of wood attached to the wall.) in a group office space. I sat, that first day, and stared at a British phone not even knowing how to dial out or get Information. I had to hire people, obviously. But for what? And how did I find them? I had to get revenue, but from who? This was in 1983 before the ‘tech’ boom. No one knew what was going on; I had no one to even ask these questions to.

Should I start selling first to bring in revenue? or hire support staff? Should I hire techies to go into client environments – for when I made a sale? But how could I hire anyone before I knew what prospective clients needed? What criteria should I use to hire techies – since the 4GL was for users, techies needed both tech skills and people skills, no? What percentage of each was necessary? How would I know what to pay them?

It was a conundrum. I couldn’t pay anyone until I was getting revenue; I couldn’t get revenue until I got clients; I couldn’t get clients until I had people to do their work. Where to begin? I could design a path forward once I figured out the elements. And as I later realized, starting with no expectations, no biases, no knowledge, and no comparators, was a blessing. I was given a clear road on which to travel, using any means of transport I could develop within a miasma of confusion, to get wherever I wanted to go. Best fun ever.

EMPLOYEES RUNNING THE COMPANY

I took on all the tasks concurrently: afternoons interviewing techies and hiring staff, mornings on sales calls. I decided to be my own salesperson so I could learn the components of the underlying system and understand the full range of givens going forward. I needed to know where I was at so I could get where I was going. (Did you ever try to get directions when you didn’t know the address where you were?)

I solved the ‘which comes first’ problem by initially hiring contract techies (who I later made permanent). This also solved my cash flow issue so I needn’t lay out money until I landed a client. But who was a good hire? I had Ben design a tech test I could score myself using an overlay with answers; I personally added some client service questions to understand their people skills. Between this test and the interview, I knew exactly the pluses and minuses of each person.

To hire staff, I had to determine the job scope and potential outcome that each hire would offer, certainly hard to do when I had no way of knowing what jobs were necessary; it was a year before we realized we needed a training group, for example. So I made a lot of (mostly good but not always) guesses. Before our interviews, I told prospective hires to determine how much they wanted to earn (I trusted people knew how much they were worth; I sure didn’t.) bring a P&L (Someone said I needed that. No idea what it was.) to the interview with a plan to illustrate how they could earn their salary, cover their costs, and make a profit. The ones who came in with creative ideas were hired. I didn’t know until years later what a crazy idea this was. But not that crazy, turned out.

Since I didn’t know the difference between a cost center and a profit center, I hadn’t realized ‘obvious’ things, like you can’t make Reception a profit center. But I didn’t know I couldn’t, so I did. A bit more about that in a moment. Suffice it to say, by making each person their own profit center, everybody ran their own companies and became wholly committed to being successful because that’s how they got paid. Plus they were having such fun creating. Sounds silly now, but it worked: I hired people who wanted to be creative, take responsibility, and work from the same parameters of ‘excellence’ that I wanted the company to exemplify:

  1. Take whatever risks you deem necessary, so long as you stay within the parameters of integrity and have a good shot at succeeding.
  2. Always trust clients, care for their well-being, never never never lie.
  3. Always do what you say you’ll do.
  4. Never leave clients compromised, regardless of time or situation. And always stay on top of how clients are doing.
  5. If you’re going to fail, tell me before you fall so I can get involved; if you are already failing, there’s nothing I can do but watch you fall. Note: my team always, always told be well before a potential failure, and together we always fixed the impending disaster. We didn’t mind making mistakes.
  6. I don’t believe in giving people X weeks vacation. If you’re running your own company, you take the time off as needed to be healthy, creative, and happy. Ultimately, I had to pry folks from their seats to get them to take time off. Sometimes I had to call their wives (and they were all men, except the sales team), tell them to send the kids to Grandma, and keep the tired husbands in bed for a few days. I even sent meals to the house so no one had to cook. This small thing alone kept my folks loyal enough to not take other job offers of twice the salary. I really cared about them.

So now I knew how to hire staff and techies when I needed them. But that was the tip of the iceberg.

SELLING AN UNKNOWN

Because I had a successful history of taking on challenges without knowing anything, I didn’t think twice about selling something I didn’t understand. And truly, although I had very general knowledge, I knew nothing of the specifics – what I was selling, who used it, the need for it, or the buying environment for it. I didn’t even know how to get phone numbers or company names (1983, remember? No Google, no information ‘online’. Think about it.). Reception gave me a phone book to look up American companies that I knew had offices in London and who possibly might be using FOCUS. But it was all a guess; I was flying blind. My first call was to the Receptionist at American Express:

SDM: Hi. I wonder if you could help me. This is a sales call, and I have a product that will help the folks using a new Fourth Generation Language get better reports. But I’m new in London, and new in the business, and haven’t a clue what groups are using this or who to ask for. Do you have any ideas for me?

REC: Interesting. I’ll give you the names of a few group heads and you can call and see if they fit. If these don’t work, call me back and I’ll keep digging. My name is Ann.

First on her list was Jim. No idea what he did or his title; I just had a name and extension number.

SDM: Hi Jim. My name is Sharon Drew Morgen. Ann gave me your name and suggested you were a good person to speak with but neither of us was sure. This is a sales call. I’m selling support services for the Fourth Generation Language FOCUS, and I wonder if you’re using the language or need any help. Is this a good time?

JIM: How refreshing! Thanks for telling me it’s a sales call. Can you tell me more about what you offer (No idea.) because we are using FOCUS but because it’s so new I don’t know what I don’t know (Hahahaha. That made two of us).

SDM: (I was in trouble here. My only option was to keep putting the focus on him.): I have an idea. Rather than me tell you what I can do for you, tell me exactly how you’re currently using the software, what your target goal is and if you’re reaching it, where you’re not, and I’ll put it all together in my head (with Ben’s help!) and see if there is anything I can do to support you, then get back to you if I can. I do have a curiosity: what’s stopping you from knowing more than you do about using the software to its fullest capability? (This was curious to me. As a systems thinker, I always want to know the parameters of any problem. What was going on that Jim didn’t know them?)

JIM: Wow. I should know more, right? Let me tell you how I’m using it (and so began my learning!) and we can schedule another call once you’ve had time to think. And if you don’t mind, I’m going to give you the names and phone numbers of my colleagues so we can all be on the same page here. I also havea friend at DEC with the same problems I’m having, so I’ll give you his number as well. I suspect you can help us all.

And so began my journey to success. Helping people figure out how to take care of their own needs first, and then helping where I could add something, was so much easier than pitching what I thought would be meaningful, especially since I had no earthly idea how to discuss a product I didn’t yet have.

GROWING THE COMPANY WITH PEOPLE

I soon began selling contract services for systems engineers, programmers, project leaders, and managers. When visiting them in the field at their new jobs, I began to understand the ‘need’ not only for technical support but as I had originally guessed, for ‘communication management’ within their teams and with the users who had no clue how to manage or direct techies. I quickly realized that merely putting techies into client teams wouldn’t keep the core communication issues, inherent in this first report tool, at bay.

I needed to hire someone with tech skills, communication skills, and people skills. A tall order that few could do. But unless someone could take that on, I could foresee plenty of innate problems that could crop up and cause fires and lost time and business.

Thankfully, I found John to hire as a ‘Make Nice Guy’. John had it all; I paid him a fortune (around $100,000, which in 1984 was a huge salary – just about broke the bank) and gave him this job description:

  1. Make sure the code in every program, on every client site, is good so there are no systems failures. A shut down at any time of day or night, at any site, would be his to fix;
  2. Make sure our techies fit into the client teams and the relationships were smooth. If our techies stayed in their position for the length of the contract John got a bonus;
  3. Make sure the client is happy, and check to see if they need additional help on other teams;
  4. Find other groups on client sites bringing in FOCUS before the vendor sent in their own contract team. (I had a team already sitting and waiting to begin as the vendor implemented the new software before they even pitched their consulting services.)
  5. And oh – take as much holiday time you need, so long as I have no fires.

I never wanted my phone to ring with problems; I had a company to grow. John’s job was to run all operations. And he was so good at everything that our projects almost always got done ahead of schedule and under budget, causing clients to keep us around for far longer than the initial contract as their trust grew. And because we were so reliable, clients began giving us whole projects to do on our own, freeing up their own people for more creative work. We were in Bose, British Airways, Amdahl, DEC, for years, causing me to hire more and more tech staff. We grew to about 43 techies in under 4 years. And there was very little ‘beach’ time.

I had very high criteria around keeping staff happy; without them, I didn’t have a business. Since so many folks were in the field and I couldn’t see them regularly, I called each and every techie at least once a month to check in, discuss birthdays and holidays, share gossip. I offered current staff a new job opening before seeking anyone from outside to fill it. I let them trial the job for 3 weeks, and if they wanted it and we all agreed, it was theirs. And because I thought it important that those in the field didn’t feel isolated, once a month I treated the whole team of techies and staff to a darts night with a few pints at a local pub. I always lost. I still can’t play darts.

As we grew, my growing group of employees were coming up with their own ideas, certainly better than mine. One of the running jokes became the ability to get me to say “WE’RE DOING WHAT?????” When I said those words, someone would gleefully shout out, “SHE SAID IT! SHE SAID IT!” It was never little stuff either. They sure took risks.

SDM: Hey Harold. Nice seeing you. I’ve not seen you for days. Where’ve you been?

HAROLD: We needed to expand our training programs so I was scouting out new venues. I’m just getting ready to sign a contract to rent about 1000 feet of space in an adjoining office.

SDM: WE’RE DOING WHAT????”

Damn if he didn’t rock out. He’d put together user training, tech training, and even a manager training that he somehow got me to teach (I’M TEACHING WHAT????). Harold figured that since I did such a good job managing techies with no technical experience myself, I could teach user managers how to work with techies. He was right. And it was a very popular program. Who knew!? All I had to do was do what I was told.

The other prominent wish I heard from the managers was an admonishment: “Please, please don’t sell anything we don’t have today please!” Yeah, right. As a salesperson, I always can think of things I can sell someone when I hear what I think is a need. And once I knew how flexible our services were, I could promise something could be delivered. Immediately.

STAFF PERSON SEEING MY FACE AS I RETURNED TO MY OFFICE: She’s done it again!!

SDM: [as the team hustled into my office, arms crossed, scowling, knowing]: I couldn’t help it. Sorry guys. It’s not a big deal. We only need to do X. Won’t be bad.

STAFF: And when did you promise we’d deliver this?

SDM: Monday.

STAFF: BUT IT’S WEDNESDAY!!!!! We’ll need to work all weekend!!!! My wife will kill me!!!!

SDM: I’ll run the Xerox machine, keep you in Pizza and Coke, edit while you’re writing. I’ll buy the beer! I’ll help you!

And so we stayed up to the minute in our offerings and program designs and had a steady flow of new solutions. What a blast we had, albeit a missed birthday or two. Sorry kids.

One more fun thing. The technical training guy wanted to be able to see into the work the students were doing at their desks and correct their errors from his front computer. He needed a computer with a large screen, capable of connecting to, and viewing, multiple computers at once. You might shrug at this now, but in 1985, no one had ever heard of such a thing. Julian made a bazillion calls and actually found a man in Amsterdam to come over, raise our training room floor to organize all the cables, and built Julian the computer he wanted. Done and done.

THE PROFIT CENTER RECEPTION AREA

I promised you this story. And it’s quite wonderful. Shows what can happen when you really trust your staff.

I hired a woman named Anne-Marie as the receptionist. She had run a car dealership and was accustomed to dealing with aggressive men, without an ounce of need for any social relationships.

Anne-Marie’s pitch to me during our interview for the job of Receptionist was that she wanted a percentage of our net profits (and this was in 1984!); for this, she would create an environment run like a well-oiled machine, with everyone intent on taking care of customers with nothing getting in the way. I didn’t know what that meant; I just trusted her.

She was imposing in every way: very tall – about 6 feet – and wore very tidy, officious, crisp suits. She wore bright red, severe lipstick; she walked with lowered eyes, with a sort of strut; her brown hair was tied up in some 1920s hairstyle that increased our perception that she knew what she was doing. And I can’t say often enough that she was terrifying. It was like having a dictator around all the time, watching, watching. We did whatever she said. Seriously. No one, no one, messed with her. We didn’t even want to find out what the ‘or else’ was.

Anne-Marie figured out what needed to be done within a month on the job. As the person in the front, Anne-Marie overheard staff gossiping about each other, obviously taking time away from their work and her profit; she noticed phones being unanswered, which didn’t serve customers; she overheard people saying they ‘didn’t know’ something, which didn’t serve customers either. She wasn’t having it.

She put us to work. EVERY DAY Anne-Marie made us write up what was going on with our clients, problems with our job and caseload, our conflicts with each other. We had to leave these pages on her desk before we left at night, and she would come in early and distribute them by 7:00 A.M. She wanted everyone to have all the knowledge necessary to serve clients and each other, every day.

She called these things TOADS. Take what you want and destroy…. I don’t remember what the blasted acronym was, but trust me, I still have nightmares. Those bloody TOADS. We hated them. EVERY DAY we all had to stay an extra hour at night to write the damn things – and remember, there were no computers and many of the staff couldn’t type on the typewriters, so mostly we wrote them by hand. Pages. They went on for pages. And in addition to staying late EVERY NIGHT to write the dratted things, we had to come in early every day to read the ten or twelve sets of TOADS that Anne-Marie left on our desks from our teammates. One of the things I did when designing our new offices was to install glass walls so we could all see each other (Open plan offices weren’t a Thing yet.). We would glumly look up from our writing at 6:30 or so at night, see each other sitting there writing, give each other grim smiles, chuckle, and put our heads back down to write. We suffered together.

What happened was astonishing. All internal conflicts stopped, since everyone knew, and aired their grievances. Office communication became more intimate. Staff knew each other’s challenges and shared resources and ideas, creating a collaborative environment filled with new possibility. We all got a much deeper appreciation of our clients and their challenges. And any time a phone rang, whoever was closest picked it up.

Oh Hi, Mr. Jones. I’m SO sorry that happened to Martin! How’s he doing! Jane isn’t here now, but is there something I can help you with? I know our folks are just finishing up your project. Is there a problem?

We fixed problems immediately. We all had all the information we needed to see a problem coming and fix it before it happened. Clients trusted us even more and gave us more business. She’d accomplished her goal: customers were happy, and we all made money. Between Anne-Marie taking care of the inside, and John taking care of the field, I had absolutely nothing to do but grow my company.

HAPPY CUSTOMERS, SAD COMPETITION

But in truth, my clients grew my company for me. I did whatever it took to keep them satisfied. And this became my brand. One month in 1986 or so, I decided to place a full-page ad in The Financial Times of London. Very expensive. But I wanted to be on record as a company with a commitment to serve. Instead of writing copy, I left the page blank except for these words written right in the middle of the empty page:

The Quality Is Free

and at the bottom of the page, in small print, my company contact details. One day after submitting the copy, I got a surprise visit from the Times Editor. He brought with him a page of copy that he’d written for me (He assumed I wasn’t smart enough to write my own copy?).

EDITOR: You can’t have just an empty page. But don’t worry. I wrote you some content.

SDM: Naw. I’m good, thanks. Want some tea?

An hour after he left, I got a call from the big big boss in the States who suggested I take the Editor’s offer for content (The Editor went around me to call the big boss? Awwww what a silly woman! Obviously she needs a man! With brains! Awwww.).

SDM: I got a better idea

Geoff: Why not fly over, take my job, and you can do anything you want. No? You don’t want that? So what else would you like to discuss. How the hell are you?

In those days, Brand Marketing wasn’t a thing. I certainly had no idea what it was. I just wanted potential customers to know what we stood for and elevate my brand in the larger market. One thing I quickly learned: let the people who knew what they were doing ‘go’ and learn whatever I could from them. My wonderful team, my lovely customers, taught me everything. They certainly all had their own answers so long as I helped them figure out how to figure it out. In fact, this process of helping others figure out their own answers was the foundation of my Buying Facilitation®model that I’ve taught to 100,000 sales folks globally since 1987. How naïve I was as a salesperson before that to ever think I had an answer for prospects.

Ultimately, our customers were so happy the following resulted:

  1. We captured 11% of a field with 26 competitors. You do the math.
  2. Our pricing was much higher than any of our competitors; clients never minded because we were known to be meticulous. (Price is never a selling point. My pricing actually put me into my own market, which obviously changed our competitive standing. After I left the company I heard that my nickname was Sharon Drew Blood J)
  3. Remember Mr. Make Nice Guy? What a good job he did! We avoided user, programming, and relationship problems. Hiring us was problem-free for clients.
  4. We had a revenue of $5,000,000 in just under four years. Remember: no email marketing, no websites, no social media. Just good work and lots of referrals. And gobs of integrity and care.
  5. We had a 42% net profit. Anne-Marie was very happy. See? Reception as a profit center!
  6. I didn’t have to send tech resumes to clients. I was able to carefully listen to what they needed after asking the right questions, and say something like:

I can send you someone with those exact specifications in seven weeks, or I you must have someone sooner, I can send someone with the X skill set but not the Y skills, and you’d need to get that part covered yourself.

I never ever lied or hyped and my track record was perfect. Clients trusted us. I even had situations where our team got to a new client site to begin a project and the client was on vacation (“Dave where are you???” “Sharon Drew, your folks are so good they’ll figure it out. Talk in two weeks when I’m back.”). I once got a call from someone who said, “What, no resume? You’re going to tell me who I need, and you think you’re going to get it right?” Yup.

My revenue doubled every year. I lost no staff in four years even though they were approached regularly from my competitors and offered higher salaries. I was as successful in Germany as I was in England. And I learned a lot: how to run a company; how to choose staff – and let them do their thing and get out of their way; to trust that clients had their own best answers; to trust my ignorance to find the most integrous route to a solution.

CONCLUSION

My years in London gave me the ability to exercise my own creativity, serve a bunch of people, and get paid for it (difficult for a woman to achieve in America still). And I never had so much fun in my life. One more personal note: while in London I also started up a non-profit (The Dystonia Society) that served kids with my son’s disease. I set up local support groups around the United Kingdom and Europe and raised money for mobility implements. By day I was an entrepreneur, by night I ran a non-profit, and on weekends Ben and I traveled around Europe (and simultaneously brought in a bunch of new clients) and hiked in the Lake District.

After I left my company in 1988, I was contracted by the vendor of FOCUS to get the business back that I had taken from him. True story. In England, that was called ‘Getting money for old rope.’

And after I left my company, it went downhill. During my years there, the big boss regularly tried to get me to lower my prices so I’d be ‘competitive’. “But I’m not IN a price competition, I’m in a quality competition.” Didn’t stop him from haranguing me: “You’d get a lot more business if your prices were reasonable.” He was thinking mainstream, but I wasn’t running a mainstream company. Different rules. When I left, he not only put up blinds on the glass walls so no one could see each other, stopped the ‘time wasting’ TOADS and dart games, and fired John Make Nice Guy because of his ‘exorbitant’ salary, AND he lowered our prices.

Guess what happened. You got it. In a short time, the company actually became mainstream like the others: From having our own 11% market share to sharing the market equally among the 27 competitors – each company getting their 4%. Lesson: when the magic sauce has a recipe, don’t change it.

I then moved back to the States to a ranch in Taos, N.M. After sleeping for a year (Seriously.) and traveling a bit, I wrote my first book (Sales on the Line) published in 1992 followed by 8 more (one, on the NYTimes Business Bestseller’s list called Selling with Integrity, one on the Amazon bestseller’s list called What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), and developed my Change Facilitation model Buying Facilitation® that I’ve trained globally to sales folks, coaches, and leaders ever since. And while many of my coined terms have become part of mainstream sales thinking (buy cycle, buying patterns, buyer’s journey, helping buyers buy, buying decisions – coined to define the change management steps necessary before people become buyers) I’ve done it all my own unique way, never trying to be, or compete against, the mainstream.

I hope that my story offered some ideas to budding entrepreneurs. And I do realize the environment is different in 2018 than it was 35 years ago. But maybe parts of it are not that different.

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

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Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, and author of 9 books, including the New York Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets – why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? She is the developer of Change Facilitation, used in sales (Buying Facilitation®), coaching, leadership, and management – any influencing situation in which integrity, ethics, and collaboration are involved. Sharon Drew is a speaker, trainer, consultant, and coach for sales and listening. She can be reached atsharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com; her award-winning blog has thoughtful articles on change, systems, decision making, and communication. www.sharondrewmorgen.com

November 5th, 2018

Posted In: Communication, Listening

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

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

WHY IS OUR COMMUNICATION PROBLEMATIC?

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

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

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

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

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

WE CANNOT KNOW HOW ANOTHER’S REALITY DIFFERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GUESSES AND HABITS

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

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

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

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

CAN I HELP?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 29th, 2018

Posted In: Communication, Listening

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How many times have you tried to sell an idea to a colleague, only to have it be misunderstood or ignored? Or offered important knowledge in a marketing piece or sales pitch meant to encourage or educate a prospect to buy, only to have it overlooked? Why don’t patients follow new healthcare regimens prescribed by doctors they trust, to heal an illness they know they have?

I began thinking about this recently when I heard a noted leader in healthcare say: “There is a persistent consensus that insufficient evidence exists that behavior can be modified.” Hmmm. And yet the industry is throwing hundreds of millions of dollars researching Behavior Modification (without a parallel model to test it against! So much for the scientific method.). This is similar to my own aphorism, after decades of facilitating prospect buy-in in the sales industry: “Selling doesn’t cause buying.” Both recognize that the outside-in push method for causing compliance isn’t an effective way to elicit permanent change. Indeed: as outsiders, we’re trying to cause behavior change, rather than elicit it.

WHO’S INSANE?

The common thread behind both is the enduring belief (even with a 5% success rate in sales, and a only  fraction of patients complying with necessary health-based regimens) that with the ‘right’ idea and the ‘best’ data, offered by someone who is ‘trustworthy’ and ‘credible’, written, offered, or spoken in a way that ‘inspires’ action, that people will act as they ‘should’ and make the ‘right’ choices we’re ‘certain’ they need to make.

But they’re not. And instead of recognizing that maybe we’ve got it wrong, that maybe we’re looking at the problem from the wrong angle while doing the same thing over and over hoping to get the results we want, we’re calling THEM irrational?? Seems to me we’re the very definition of insanity.

Is it any wonder people aren’t compliant? Pushing OUR ideas, OUR beliefs, OUR biases, OUR assumptions, onto another, in the format WE’VE chosen, assuming because we’re right, or smarter, or caring, or ‘scientific’ or or or, that they’ll do what WE want them to do! And then we’re surprised at the paucity of compliance?

We know this doesn’t work. For decades, if not centuries, sellers, coaches, leaders, and now healthcare providers, have bemoaned the lack of success we’ve achieved (even building failure into our expected results) with our push methods. And yet we continue, hoping that we’ll say it right this time, or offer impeccable research data, or use terrific apps, or pitches, or marketing that will instigate permanent change or decisions in our favor. Has it never occurred that just maybe outside-in push doesn’t work? Or is it just that we don’t know what else to do?

THE FAILURE OF PUSH

Selling doesn’t cause buying. Good content creation doesn’t cause action. Behavior Modification doesn’t cause behavior change. Do you see a pattern here? As reflected in our failed attempts across industries and time, an external push – regardless of how trustworthy, or researched, or ‘rational’, or necessary as it may be – cannot cause another person to change permanently.

As outsiders, we forget: change is an inside job. Yet our activity – all sales models and healthcare apps, coaching models and leadership trends – focuses on attempting to cause change from the outside. With our reports and regimens, proof and advice, stories and examples, we try to convince others to change before teaching them how to, and then complaining they’re not listening to us.  Let me offer the reasons it’s not possible for people to change merely because we offer them terrific reasons why they should.

1. Subjective Listening: This is the main hurdle with information push: people don’t hear the intent of a message, when it falls outside of their conditioned, subjective listening filters and habituated neural pathways, regardless of the efficacy of the information offered. When our clients, or children, or patients, ‘mis-hear’ us, it’s not their fault; their brains actually tell them something different from what was intended.

We all listen unconsciously, through our biases, assumptions, triggers, habits, and normalized neural pathways. I’ve written a book about the gap between what’s said and what’s heard (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?) and it’s formidable: our brains ‘kindly’ keep us comfortable and safe by hearing what they want, discarding bits of meaning and intent at will, without letting us know that what we end up ‘hearing’ is highly subjective and some unknowable percentage removed from what the speaker (or article, or app) intended. Try as we might – the best wording, or clever text/apps – whatever we say will be interpreted uniquely and not necessarily as we wish it to be interpreted; we’ll be heard more accurately only by those who already think exactly as we do.

So: information-in will probably not be heard as intended and translated according to some unconscious filtering that we outsiders cannot control. And this is compounded by our assumption that because we believe we’ve said something clearly it should be understood, i.e. ‘they’re not listening’. They are. To the very best of their unconscious ability. And it’s a good reason to not rely on sharing information as the way to influence change.

2. Status Quo: Every day we wake up being who we were yesterday. We live our lives and make decisions according to our unique Identity, our personal system of rules, experience, hopes, goals, culture, education, etc. developed over a lifetime, that cause us to operate in the world uniquely. This is how we wake up knowing how to brush our teeth and drive our cars, vote the way we prefer, and love who makes us happy – all regardless of the way others would like us to be.

When any change is required of us our entire habituated, unconscious system/status quo faces disruption: to be willing and able to change, we must find a way for our personal system to buy-in to the new, get rid of the old, and find a way to maintain the habits and beliefs that keep us stable. Indeed, when we ask someone to change, regardless of the need, benefits, or the efficacy of the solution, we are asking people to unravel their status quo and do something different before they know if change would threaten who they know themselves to be. Their system, their status quo, is sacrosanct, and we are asking them to risk who they are.

3. Trust: When we assume we have answers for another, we are basically telling them we know more than they do, that we’re ‘right’ and they’re wrong, that we don’t trust them to find their own best route to excellence. So with the best will in the world, we push against their personal, habituated, normalized system (and yes, it’s the same system that caused the problem in the first place), and get… wait for it… resistance. And then we call them ‘stupid buyers’ or ‘non-compliant patients’. By not trusting our clients, by not enabling them to traverse their OWN route to congruent change, by assuming we have their answers and working at getting them to comply, we’re causing the very resistance we blame them for.

4. Beliefs: For some reason, outsiders attempt to change someone’s behaviors without realizing that behaviors are merely the transactions of our beliefs. It’s like trying to get an app to do something it’s not meant to do without changing the underlying programming. This is why Behavior Modification largely fails: it seeks to cause behavior change; only belief change, and systems buy-in, can elicit behavior change.

5. Bias: Even when accurately assessing another’s needs and have solutions that could resolve problems, our own needs for specific results bias our interactions. We’re outside the Other’s system, using our own preferred languaging, our own biased choices of stories and examples, our own approaches, posing biased questions meant to pull the data we want to understand (often regardless of how the Other uses or hears language i.e. biased) and assuming we’ll be heard and heeded! By choosing the words and story line we adhere to, by choosing activities or making requests according to our own need to get our suggestions recognized, we’re unintentionally biasing our interactions and restricting success to those who think, act, assume like we do.

So with the best will in the world, with solutions that can actually save lives and fix problems, we’re inhibiting success. We must stop pushing the change WE want to have happen, and begin facilitating others through their own behavior change, from within. We must elicit change rather than attempt to cause change. We must trust that everyone has their own answers and lead them through, and design, their own route to discovery and change, within their own norms and identity, so they remain congruent.

ELICIT CHANGE

We’ve not been given the tools to facilitate permanent change, depending instead on many ways to push information/change in. Yet information – heard through subjective filters, chosen, offered and presented in formats designed by biased do-gooders – doesn’t teach someone HOW to change congruently, from the inside. Inside-out. Pushing data in merely causes resistance. Here are the skills necessary to facilitate others through permanent, congruent change from the inside.

1. The Steps of Change: There is a specific set of sequential steps that human systems follow unconsciously en route to change, starting with enabling Others to rise above the weeds, into an Observer position, so they can get into an unbiased and disassociated state to begin dispassionately noticing, assembling and assessing the elements that caused the systemic problem to begin with. [Note: information-in, and push models, cause people to dig in and defend.] I’ve coded the steps of change that every human system – i.e. every person, group, etc. – must traverse sequentially to remain congruent through change. Change will not occur until a person recognizes

  • all of the elements of how they got where they’re at and the systems that hold them in place;
  • they know without a shadow of a doubt that they cannot fix the problem with their known resources;
  • that any proposed change could be factored into the existing system without fallout – i.e. the status quo would buy-in to change and be willing to do something different because it recognizes it won’t be harmed.

It’s possible to lead people down their own steps of change to make their unconscious beliefs conscious and enable them to consider if it’s time to change. No one, no one, from outside can ever, ever understand what’s going on in other’s personal system.

2. The Direction of Change: People think in habituated patterns; to find the elements that maintain their status quo they must go beyond their habituated thinking to seek out bits of their unconscious that aren’t necessarily obvious. How to do this? By being Neutral Navigators, Change Facilitators, that guide the brain to its own answers. I’ve been thinking about this problem since 1980, understanding that conventional questions are biased by the Asker, and responded to accordingly. Repeat: any time we ask a question of another, it’s biased by our own need to know and word choices, and will be heard with biased ears.

To overcome bias, to help people find their own answers, and knowing that conventional questions are biased by the Asker, I’ve developed Facilitative Questions that actually direct the brain sequentially, through its own givens, to discover best answers (often unconscious) and avoids the bias of influencers who net/net seek answers/pull information THEY think relevant. (Definition: Facilitative Question – a systemic, action-based, directive question, (not information-pull) that uses specific words, in a specific order, to lead people through sequential steps of discovery and buy-in without bias.) These questions can be used in surveys, questionnaires, and research to elicit ‘good’ information, without bias. I know this is a bit outside of mainstream thinking, but I’ve been successfully teaching the formulation of these questions for decades, in sales with Buying Facilitation®, coaching, and leadership – any place congruent change is required. Sometimes new ideas are needed, right?

3. The Who of Change: By taking on the mantel of Change Agents, Facilitators, Influencers regardless of field (i.e. in apps, in sales, in coaching), we must begin by trusting Others to discover and design their own change, not attempt to cause change with wizzy content, Behavior Mod approaches, pricing ‘deals’ or any other outside-in push techniques. They don’t work – hence a 95% failure rate in sales, and patients regularly not completing regimens that would help them heal. Once people recognize how to change themselves in a way that’s congruent with their personal system, they will then need outsiders to supply relevant information. First facilitate change for Others; then supply necessary data according to THEIR needs.

4. Testing for Change: By only doing research on Behavior Mod or other behavior change approaches, we’re ignoring the real problem and not helping people make permanent change. Let’s begin doing research on Change Facilitation practices in side-by-side experiments with behavior change approaches. Then we’ll have real answers.

SUMMARY

For those who want to think about the inherent problems of pushing change from the outside, below I’ve summarized the baseline beliefs in this article so you can begin thinking of why an inside-out approach is the only way to elicit successful change (Note: I’ve designed a Change Facilitation approach to handle this; design your own, or call me to discuss.):

  1. We can never have answers for others, regardless of their need or the efficacy of their solution. Think about how you can enable others to address their internal beliefs to come up with their own answers that will normalize and habituate a new, more beneficial, habit pattern.
  2. People (or groups, etc.) won’t change until they can go beyond their habituated patterns, recognize that their current unconscious system is flawed and they cannot resolve a problem themselves; bringing in a ‘foreign’ solution is initially avoided as it would disrupt the status quo.
  3. Systems (i.e. people’s status quo) won’t change if the cost of the change is higher than the fallout from continuing the problems in the status quo. The system must discover this itself; telling only gets resistance.
  4. If offered information or activities run counter to the existent beliefs and entrenched, normalized habits within the system, they will be resisted, regardless of efficacy.
  5. Information is unnecessary, not understood, ignored, not accepted, until or unless the system has recognized it’s ready, willing, and able to change and knows exactly what it needs to assist it – and can hear the intended message without bias or resistance. That’s why we have success only with the low hanging fruit – those who have already gone through their own internal change process. So information last, Change Facilitation first. By asking them biased questions based on our need for information, by offering them our regimens, pitches, stories, reasons, proof, etc., we restrict success to those who need that specific piece of information at that moment, and ignore those who may need to change but otherwise resist.
  6. There is a sequence of change that all systems go through unconsciously to open a place for congruent change that avoids resistance. It is not information based, but belief-change. Focus first on leading patients and prospects through discovery before offering data.

It’s possible to develop healthcare apps that first enable Others to be ready for change prior to offering Behavior Mod. It’s possible for sellers to first facilitate prospect buy-in, notice those who WILL buy and are ready for change on the first call. It’s possible to facilitate coaching clients through permanent change. And I know that influencers like to be the pivot point, the arbiter of change. But if an outside-in line of questioning or directing is used, only people who have done their own change work first will be compliant. Let’s elicit change; let’s stop pushing.

I’m happy to discuss the above with anyone, and seek situations to test, use, offer my stuff to enhance excellence. Sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com

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

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Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker and change agent. She is the developer of a unique Change Facilitation model currently used in sales (Buying Facilitation®) and trained to many Fortune 500 companies globally. Sharon Drew is the author of nine books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestseller’s Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers don’t buy and sellers don’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard?. She uses her original ideas as a foundation for thoughtful essays and articles on topics such as decision making, change, listening, trust, systems, and collaboration. All of her models and thinking are based on Servant Leadership, and how we – as companies and individuals – can serve each other to become Excellent. Sharon Drew lives on a floating home in Portland OR. sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com www.sharondrewmorgen.com

October 22nd, 2018

Posted In: Communication, Listening

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