Listening skillsThere’s been an age-old argument in the communication field: who’s at fault if a misunderstanding occurs – the Speaker communicating badly, or the Listener misunderstanding? Let’s look at some facts:

1. Speaking is an act of translation: putting into words what’s going on internally (the unspoken feelings, needs, thoughts) to enable others to understand what we wish to share. But the act of choosing the words is largely unconscious and may not render an accurate representation to our Listener.

2. Listeners translate what they hear through a series of unconscious filters (biases, assumptions, triggers, habits, imperfect memory) formed over their lives by their:

  • world view
  • beliefs
  • similar situations
  • historic exchanges with the same speaker
  • biases on entering the conversation (like sellers listening exclusively for need).

To make things worse, sound enters our ears as electrical and chemical vibrations (Neuroscience calls words ‘puffs of air’) that are turned into signals in our brains and then get matched for commonality with existing circuits that carry ‘similar-enough’ signals. Then our brains translate what’s been said according to our history, leaving us ‘hearing’ some fraction of what was intended.

Not only are we inadvertently listening subjectively (the only way we have of interpreting meaning is via our existing circuits), but because the brain discards unmatching signals without telling us, there’s no way of knowing what parts of what’s been said have been omitted or misconstrued.

So we might hear ABL when our communication partner said ABC! And because our brain only conveys ABL, we have no way of knowing it has discarded D, E, F, etc. and have no option but to believe what we thought we heard is accurate! No wonder we think others aren’t hearing us, or are misunderstanding us purposefully!

3. According to David Bellos in his excellent book Is That a Fish In Your Ear?, no sentence contains all of the information we need to translate it. And this, too, obviously provides a great opportunity for our brains to make stuff up…without telling us.

Obviously this results in impediments to hearing others accurately: even when we want to, even when we’re employing Active Listening, or taking notes, the odds are bad that we will accurately understand what our communication partner intends to tell us and instead hear a message we’ve unintentionally misinterpreted.

From the Speaker’s standpoint, Speakers may not be using the best languaging patterns for our communication partner, and wrongly assume we will be understood.

WHY WE CAN’T UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER

Since communication involves a bewildering set of conscious and unconscious choices, and so much activity is going on automatically in our brains, sharing mutually understood messages becomes dependent upon each communication partner mitigating bias and disengaging from assumptions. Each communication partner, it seems, can take responsibility, albeit in different ways.

While researching my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard?  I realized that the responsibility for effective communication seems to be weighted in the court of the Speaker. But given that Listeners are at the effect of their unconscious brains regardless of how carefully a Speaker chooses their words, what must Speakers do to be understood accurately?

It’s an interesting problem: since Listeners believe what they think they hear is accurate, they have no idea what the Speaker intends to convey and there’s no way they can know if what they’ve heard (through the fog of circuits, neural pathways, misunderstandings and misinterpretations) is accurate.

So, to answer my original question, because the Listener has no way of knowing what’s been mistranslated, the Speaker is the one who must notice through the words and verbalization of the Listener’s response, as well as body language where possible, that the Listener has misunderstood, and choose a different way to convey their intent.

If it seems the Listener might not have understood fully, the Speaker can then just say,

“Can you please tell me what you heard so I can say it better in case there’s a misinterpretation? It seems to me you might have misunderstood and I want our communication to be accurate.”

That way you can keep a conversation on track and not assume the person just isn’t listening.

And, if as a Listener you want to make sure you heard and responded accurately, ask:

“I’d like to make sure I heard you accurately. Do you mind telling me exactly what you just heard me say so I can make sure we’re on the same page going forward?”

Using these tactics, there’s a good chance all communication partners will go forward from the same understanding.

Here are the questions we must answer for ourselves in any communication: As Listeners, how can we know if we’re translating accurately? Is it possible to avoid bias? As Speakers, are we using our best language choices?

As you can see above, the odds of communication partners accurately understanding the full extent of intended meaning in conversation is unlikely. The best we can do is figure out together how to manage the communication.

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

May 2nd, 2022

Posted In: Listening, News


I’ve trained many coaches, all of them passionate about serving their clients, about helping them be their best selves. And yet sometimes they miss the mark through no fault of their own.

A client seeks a coach when they seek change, often after trying to make the change themselves, and the coach’s job is to facilitate them in achieving their goals.

One of the main skills they use is listening after they’ve asked questions to identify the problem. Then they provide solutions and often offer ways to make, and keep, any changes while maintaining a trusting relationship.

But sometimes, through no fault of their own, coaches don’t accurately hear what their clients tell them, making it difficult to achieve agreed-upon outcomes. It’s not their fault – it’s their brain’s fault. Let me explain.

EARS DON’T HEAR WHAT’S SAID

When words are spoken, they don’t get translated according to the Speaker’s meaning but according to the Listener’s existing neural circuits. In other words, sometimes what coaches hear is not exactly what’s been said. Yet to achieve excellence, it’s vital they do.

You see, to hear others accurately, we all must avoid our ear’s natural, unconscious listening filters that could prejudice an interaction. And that’s pretty hard to do when it’s all happening unconsciously.

As I write in my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? the problem lie in our brains. Words enter our ears as vibrations without meaning. They go on to become signals that eventually get dispatched to a ‘similar enough’ (the term used in neuroscience) circuits that have translated similar signals before. And – this part is the most disturbing – where the signals don’t match up, our brains kindly discard the differences!

In other words, incoming thoughts and meanings get translated in our brains according to our current biases and knowledge, often missing the client’s real intent, nuance, patterns, and comprehensive contextual framework and implications.

Below I’ll explain the downsides and I’ll end with ways to overcome them:

Bias. By listening specifically for issues – problems, hopes, missing skills or motivation – a coach’s brain will merely hear what s/he recognizes as missing. This causes a problem for a client: if there are unspoken or omitted bits, if there are meta patterns that should be noticed, if there are unstated historic – or subconscious – reasons behind the current situation that aren’t obvious, the coach may not find them in a timely way, causing the coach to begin in the wrong place, with the wrong timing and assumptions, leading to suggestions that may be inappropriate, potentially creating mistrust (best case) or harm (worst case).

Assumptions. If a coach has had somewhat similar discussions with other clients, or historic, unconscious, beliefs are touched that bring to mind questions or solutions they’ve used with others, coaches too often offer clients flawed or inadequate suggestions.

Habits. If a coach has a client base in one area – say, real estate, or leadership – s/he may unconsciously enter the conversation with many standard, automatic ways of handling similar situations and may miss the unique issues, patterns, and unspoken foundation that may hold the key to success.

WAYS TO HEAR MORE ACCURATELY

Disassociate

One way to have choice as to when, whether, or how to avoid filtering out possibility, we can disassociate – go up on the ceiling and look down – and remove ourselves from any personal biases, assumptions, triggers or habits, enabling us to hear all that is meant (spoken or not).

For those unfamiliar with disassociation, try this: during a phone chat, put your legs up on the desk and push your body back against the chair, or stand up. For in-person discussions, stand up and/or walk around. [I have walked around rooms during Board meetings while consulting for Fortune 100 companies. They wanted excellence regardless of my physical comportment.] Both of those physical perspectives offer the physiology of choice and the ability to move outside of our instincts. Try it.

For those wanting more information on disassociation, I explain in What? how to trigger ourselves to new choices the moment there is a potential incongruence.

Phrase to use

Given the possibility that you may not be ‘hearing’ accurately, the best way I know to get it right is to say this:

“In case there is a chance I didn’t accurately understand what you’re saying, I’m going to tell you what I heard. Please correct me where I’m wrong.”

That way you both end up on the same page. And to help you enter calls with fewer assumptions, I’ll pose these questions for you to consider:

  • What would you need to believe differently to assume every speaker, every call, is a mystery you’re entering into? One you’ve never experienced before? To start each call with Beginner’s Mind?
  • What can you do to trigger yourself beyond your natural assumptions, and use them to pose a follow up question to yourself: What am I missing here?
  • What will you hear from your client to let you know that you’ve made an assumption that may not be accurate?
  • How can you stay on track during a call to make sure you’ve helped them discover their own unconscious drivers and aren’t biased by previous calls?

It’s possible to increase your brain circuits by helping your brain go beyond its natural, automatic translation processes. I can help you do this one-day program on listening if you’re interested. Or read the book. The most important take-away is to recognize your brain’s unconscious activity, and learn how to override it.

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

March 7th, 2022

Posted In: Listening, News

disconnect

As influencers we aim to help Others achieve their own brand of excellence, using their own unique values and standards. Sadly, too many of us – coaches, leaders, sellers, consultants, doctors, parents – try to get Others to accede to our viewpoints and suggestions, believing we have information or solutions that offer ‘better’ choices than the ones they’ve made. We’re telling them, net, net, that we’re smarter, that we think our ideas are better than their own.

It’s not our intent, but due to the way we engage with others, and the way brains work, we inadvertently end up restricting possibility and creating resistance, conflict, antagonism, or disregard, regardless of the efficacy of what we have to offer.

In this article I’ll explain how we end up creating the very resistance we prefer to avoid, and introduce new skills to enable us to truly serve.

WE CONNECT THROUGH OUR OWN SUBJECTIVITY

Regardless of the situation, when we try to effect change using our own viewpoint or beliefs (even if they are valid), our unconscious biases and expectations cause us to inadvertently alienate those who might need us. As a result, we ultimately influence only a percentage of those who need our help – those who already basically agree with us.

I’ll explain, below, how we restrict our interactions and then offer new ways to approach influencing to enable others to find their own best solutions:

Biased listening: We each listen to Others unconsciously, through our brain’s unique and subjective filters (biases, triggers, assumptions, habitual neural pathways, memory channels), regardless of our concerted attempts to accurately hear what’s intended. As a result, what we think we hear is often an inaccurate translation of what was meant and not what the speaker intended.

So our Communication Partner (CP) might say ABC but we actually ‘hear’ ABD (And yes, we often hear something quite different than what was said although it shows up as ‘real’. Read my article on how this happens.) and our brains don’t tell us we’re misunderstanding. Unfortunately, it works both ways and Others also wittingly misconstrue what we’ve said.

I wasn’t fully aware of the extent of this until I researched my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? on how to hear others without bias. With the best will in the world we end up only accurately hearing, and thereby responding to, some percentage of the message our CPs intend. It’s outside of our conscious awareness. But it’s possible to remedy by listening with a different part of our brain. More on this later.

Fact #1. We hear Others through our subjective biases, assumptions, triggers, habituated neural pathways, and beliefs, causing us to unintentionally misinterpret the message intended, with no knowledge that what we think we’ve heard is mistaken. Obviously this effects both sides of a communication (i.e. Speakers and Listeners).

Subjective expectations: We enter into each conversation with expectations or goals (conscious or unconscious), often missing avenues of further exploration.

Fact #2. Entering conversations with very specific and self-oriented goals or expectations (conscious or unconscious) unwittingly limits the outcome and full range of possibility, and impedes discovery, data gathering, and creativity.

Restricted curiosity: Curiosity is both triggered and restricted by what we already know, i.e. you can’t ask or be curious about something you have no familiarity with to begin with. Using our own goals to pose questions that are often biased, assumptive, leading, etc. we inadvertently reduce outcomes to the biases we entered the conversation with; our subjective associations, experiences, and internal references restrict our ability to recognize accurate fact patterns during data gathering or analysis.

Fact #3: We enable Others’ excellence, and our own needs for accurate data, to the extent we can overcome our own unconscious biases that restrict the range and focus of our curiosity.

Cognitive dissonance: When the content we share – ideas, information, advice, written material – goes against our CPs conscious or unconscious beliefs, we cause resistance regardless of the efficacy of the information. This is why relevant solutions in sales, marketing, coaching, implementations, doctor’s recommendations etc. often fall on deaf ears. We sometimes unwittingly cause the very resistance we seek to avoid when we attempt to place perfectly good data into someone’s idiosyncratic, habituated belief system that runs different to our own.

Fact #4. Information doesn’t teach Others how to change behaviors; behavior change must first be initiated from beliefs, which in turn initiates buy-in.

Systems congruence: Individuals and groups think, behave, and decide from a habitual system of unconscious beliefs and rules, history and experience, that creates and maintains their status quo. We know from Systems Theory that it’s impossible to change only one piece of a system without effecting the whole. When we attempt to offer suggestions that run counter to the Other’s normalized system, we cause Others to risk incongruence and internal disruption. Hence, resistance.

Unfortunately for those of us trying to effect change in Others, it’s important to remember we’re outsiders: as such, we can never fully comprehend the ramifications of adding our new ideas, especially when every group, every person, believes it’s functioning well and their choices are normalized and habituated.

Just because it seems right to us doesn’t mean it’s right for another. Sometimes maintaining the status quo is the right thing to do for reasons we can’t understand; sometimes change can occur only when internal things need to shift in ways we cannot assist with.

Net net, we pose questions biased by our own need to know, offer information and solutions that we want to be adopted/accepted, and focus on reaching a goal we want to reach, all of which cause resistance: without buy-in and a clear route to manage any fallout from the potential change that a new element would cause (regardless of the outsider’s belief that change is necessary), congruent change can’t occur. When the ‘cost’ of the change is more than the ‘cost’ of the status quo, people will maintain the status quo.

Fact #5: Change cannot happen until there appropriate buy-in from all elements that will be touched by the change and there is a defined route to manage any disruption the change would entail.

Due to our standard questions and listening skills and assumptions that our terrific information will help, we end up helping only those few whose brains are set up to change (the low hanging fruit) and failing with those who might need us but aren’t quite ready.

INFORMATION DOESN’T FACILITATE CHANGE

We can, however, shift from having the answers to helping others achieve their own type of excellence (regardless of whether or not it shows up looking like we envisioned). In other words, we can help our CPs change themselves. Indeed, by thinking we have the answers, by driving our own outcomes, we lose the opportunity to serve, enable real change, and make a difference.

Don’t take the need to maintain the status quo lightly. Even patients who sign up for prevention programs have a history of non-compliance: with new food plans, or recommendations of exercise programs that challenge the behaviors they have habituated and normalized (for good or bad), they don’t know how to remain congruent if they were to change. (Note: as long as healthcare professionals continue to push behavior change rather than facilitate belief change first, non-compliance will continue.)

It’s possible to facilitate the journey through our CPs own hierarchy of values and rules, enable buy-in and agreeable change, and avoid resistance – but not by using conventional information gathering/sharing, or listening practices as they all entail bias that will touch only those with the same biases.

To enable expanded and managed choice and to avoid resistance, we must first help Others recognize how to congruently change their own status quo. They may have buy-in issues or resource issues; maybe their hierarchy of values or goals would need to shift, or their rules.

By focusing on facilitating choice/change first we can teach Others to achieve their own congruent change and then tailor our solutions and presentations to fit. Otherwise, our great content will only connect with those folks who already mirror the incoming data and overlook those who might have been able to change if they had known how to do so congruently.

THE SKILLS OF CHANGE

I’ve developed a generic Change Facilitation model, often used in sales (Buying Facilitation®) and coaching, that offers the ability to facilitate change at the core of where our status quo originates – our internal, idiosyncratic, and habituated rules and beliefs.

Developed over 50 years, I’ve coded my own Asperger’s systemizing brain, refitted some of the constructs of NLP, coded the system and sequence of change, and applied some of the research in brain sciences to determine where, if, and how new choices fit.

Using it, Others can consciously self-cue – normally an unconscious process – to enable them to discover their own needs for change in the area I can serve, and in a way that’s congruent with the rules and beliefs that keep their status quo in place.

I’ve trained the model globally over the past 30 years in sales, negotiation, marketing, patient relationships, leadership, coaching, etc. Below I introduce the main skills I’ve developed to enable change and choice – for me, the real kindness and integrity we have to offer.

It’s possible to lead Others through

  • an examination of their unconscious beliefs and established systems
  • to discover blocks, incongruences, and endemic obstructions
  • to examine how, if, why, when they might need to change, and then
  • help them set up the steps and means (tactically) to make those changes
  • in a way that avoids system’s dysfunction
  • with buy-in, consensus, and no resistance.

For those interested in learning more, I’m happy to chat, train, and share. Or feel free to use my thoughts to inspire your own model.

Listening for Systems: from birth we’re taught to carefully listen for content and try to understand the Other’s meaning (exemplified by Active Listening) which, because of our listening filters, often misses the underlying, unspoken Metamessage the speaker intends. By teaching the brain to disassociate and listen broadly rather than specifically, Systems Listening enables hearing the intended message at the root of the message being sent and supersedes all bias on either end. For those interested, read my article on how our listening restricts our worlds.

Facilitative Questions: conventional questions, used to gather data, are biased by the Speaker and interpreted in a biased way by the Responder. The intent of Facilitative Questions (FQ) is to lead listeners through a sequential discovery process through their own (often unconscious) status quo; not information focused and not biased, they are directive, and enable our CPs to discover for themselves the full range of elements they must address to achieve excellence. Here is a simple (out of sequence) example of the differences between conventional questions and FQs. Note how the FQ teaches the Other how to think:

  1. Conventional Question: Why do you wear your hair like that? This question, meant to extract data for the Speaker’s use, is biased by the Speaker and limits choices within the Responder. Bias/Bias
  2. Facilitative Question: How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle? While conventional questions ask/pull biased data, this question sequentially leads the Other through focused scans of unconscious beliefs in the status quo. Formulating them requires Listening for Systems.

Using specific words, in a specific order, to stimulate specific thought categories, FQs lead Others down their steps of congruent change, with no bias. Now we can be part of the process with them much earlier and use our desire to influence change to positive effect. We can actually help Others help themselves.

Steps of change: There is a habituated, idiosyncratic hierarchy of people, rules, values, systems, and history within each status quo. By helping our CPs navigate down their hierarchy they can discover and manage each point necessary to change without disruption or resistance. Until they know how to do this – and note, as outsiders we can NEVER understand this – they can take no action as their habitual functioning (their status quo) is at risk. Offering them our information is the final thing they’ll need when all of the change elements are recognized.

To me, being kind, ethical and true servants, being influencers who can make a difference, means helping Others be all they can be THEIR way, not OUR way. As true servant leaders and change agents we can facilitate real, lasting change and then, when Others know how to change congruently, our important solutions will be heard.

____________

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

February 21st, 2022

Posted In: Communication, Listening

During the three years I spent researching and writing a book on closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard, I learned how ubiquitous listening challenges are: we have a hard time understanding each other.

It’s not because we don’t try, or because we don’t care. It’s because we can’t. Our historic personal experiences, mental models, and cultures makes it almost impossible to accurately hear others outside of our own ingrained biases, assumptions, and triggers. Of course we want to, and we certainly try. But our brains actually keep us from translating another’s words accurately.

OUR BRAIN CIRCUITS INTERPRET FOR US

Here’s the deal: our brains won’t let us listen without bias. With our restricting viewpoints and hot-buttons, histories and assumptions we communicate using the only baseline we have – our world views. This causes us to pose biased questions and make faulty assumptions, overlooking the possibility that our Communication Partner (CP) may not have similar references and can’t translate our messages accurately. For some reason, we all assume that using the same words implies we’re defining them the same way. But that’s not true at all.

Unfortunately, our brain causes the problem. It translates what’s been said into what’s comfortable or habitual for us regardless of how different the translation might be from the speaker’s intent.

Here’s what happens: Words enter our brains as meaningless vibrations (literally puffs of air) and get sent to synapses and circuits that are close-enough miracles. When there is any type of mismatch, our brain doesn’t realize it has misunderstood, or mistranslated the Speaker’s intent and actually discards the difference between what was said and how our unconsciously selected circuits interpret it! As a result, we might 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. The resulting misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and flawed presumptions cause communication and relationship problems throughout our working and personal lives.

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 the error, and make a concerted effort to connect. This begins with asking:

Did I hear you accurately? I’d like to repeat what I think I heard, and please tell me if it’s accurate or correct me. Thanks.

The next step is to make sure there is common ground. And here is where it gets tricky: how is common ground possible when folks are from different cultures and backgrounds? How is collaboration and mutual understanding possible, especially with folks outside of our normal personal or professional tribes?

HOW TO DO HOW

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

February 7th, 2022

Posted In: Listening, Sales

Customer buying decision pathI moved to London in 1983 to start up a tech company after spending years as a successful sales person. For years I had qualified prospects, created decks and wrote great content, chased appointments and networked, presented, and followed up. As I became an entrepreneur, I thought I understood buyers well-enough to become one. But I was wrong.

SELLING VS BUYING

My new role taught me the differences between selling and buying: I hadn’t realized the complexity of the Pre-Sales activity necessary to become a buyer.

As a sales professional my ultimate job was to place solutions; as a buyer, my main focus was to create and maintain Excellence in a way that caused the least stress on my company and team, and matched our internal norms.

As a sales professional I struggled to say/offer the right thing, at the right time, to the right prospects, in order to convince, persuade, and build relationships to close; as an entrepreneur and potential buyer I had to continually manage any change we needed using the most efficient, integrous, and least disruptive route to success to maintain happy employees and clients, and a great product.

As a sales professional, I sought to influence people who ‘needed’ my solution; as a buyer, I couldn’t fully define my needs, make adjustments, or resolve problems, until all voices (stakeholders) and impediments to change were factored in and until we were absolutely sure we couldn’t resolve our problems internally.

Selling and buying, I quickly realized, are two different activities: different goals, different behaviors, different communication and thinking patterns. And before becoming a buyer myself, I hadn’t fully appreciated how severely the sales model limits who will buy by seeking only the low hanging fruit – those who have come to the realization that they cannot fix their problem themselves and know, precisely, the sort of solution that would be acceptable with the least ‘cost’ of resource.

What I came to realize was that no one started off as a buyer but had to go through a change management process to figure out the best route to resolve a problem at the least ‘cost’ and least disruption. And because the sales model focuses on selling, it could only seek and close those folks who considered themselves buyers already. Let me explain.

THE JOB OF A BUYER

As a buyer, the very last thing I needed was to buy. Literally. But when I did buy, it was based on my ability to manage change without disruption, not on my need.

Indeed: the ‘cost’ of a fix had to be lower than the ‘cost’ of maintaining the status quo, regardless of my need or the efficacy of a solution. So if I needed a CRM system but had to fire 8 people to buy one, I had to weigh the ‘cost.’ And the time it takes to make this calculation is the length of the sales cycle.

What I hadn’t realized was that a decision to buy anything was a systems problem – a change management problem before it was a solution choice issue; figuring out how to modify the status quo in a way that maintained Systems Congruence. Any needs I had were secondary to maintaining consistency and team agreements. After all, we were doing ‘just fine’ without bringing in anything new.

As a seller, I hadn’t understood that change – and a decision to buy anything represents a change – is a systems issue. I had only thought of placing my solution; I had never realized that my biased questions (to ‘uncover needs’ of course), or listening for where my solution could be pitched, were restricting my success.

By limiting my search to folks with ‘needs,’ I overlooked an 8x larger audience of folks in the process of becoming buyers but not ready. Not to mention that my definition of ‘needs’ was often different from their definition, and ‘needs’ didn’t necessarily mean the person was a buyer.

As a buyer, I had more to worry about than solving a problem. I had to take into account

  • the rules and brand of the company,
  • the well-being of the employees and staff,
  • how the problem got created to make sure it didn’t recur,
  • the integrity of the product or service provided,
  • the congruence and integrity of the status quo,
  • the needs of the customers.

My challenge was to be better without losing what worked successfully, to ensure

– everyone involved agreed to a common solution,

– I had consensus and a route through to congruent change,

– we were all absolutely certain we couldn’t fix the problem with something familiar,

– I managed a range of idiosyncratic decision factors that involved my investors, my Board, my staff, my clients, and

– I made sure any change or purchase maintained our status quo.

Even though I was the Managing Director/Founder, it wasn’t totally up to me how, if, or when to resolve problems. I had a well-oiled machine to consider – great staff, great clients, fantastic ROI – one that had a few problems, but did a lot successfully; I didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

WHAT I NEEDED TO KNOW BEFORE BECOMING A BUYER

As someone with problems to resolve, here’s what I needed to know before I began looking ‘outside’ for answers for any potential change or purchase:

– Who did I need to get agreement from? And how would their combined voices inform our needs or a resolution?

– What would the ‘cost’ be to us, the downside, of bringing in something external? Was the downside worth the upside and could we recover?

– How could we fix the problem ourselves? At what point would we realize we couldn’t and needed outside help?

– How could we be certain upfront that the people, policies, rules, and goals we had in place would fit comfortably with anything new we might do, any solution we might purchase? And was it possible to know the downside in advance?

Once I shifted gears from selling to being an entrepreneur with problems to resolve, I realized that my first job was to consider how to change in a way that maintained us without destroying us. It was only toward the end of my change management process that I considered the downsides of bringing in something new if the only way we could fix our problems was to buy something.

I began annotating the process I was going through to figure out my best routes to fixing problems. I began discussing this with colleagues, with family members going through change, and realized everyone goes through this same change management process before deciding to do anything different.

I decided to get it all on paper to not only replicate my process, but make it possible for leaders and sellers and coaches and influencers to use it to facilitate change.

13 STEPS OF CHANGE

My process had very specific activities, from understanding the elements of a problem to ultimately ending up with a resolution. Turned out there were 13 steps for change. I took that knowledge and designed a Change Facilitation model (Buying Facilitation®) as a new tool kit for sellers to help folks facilitate the change issues they had to resolve on route to becoming buyers.

I couldn’t stop thinking what a huge opportunity for the sales industry to know who would be a buyer on the first call (simple, with a ‘change’ hat on instead of a ‘sales’ hat); shorten the sales cycle by half; and spend my time facilitating folks who were actually on route to becoming buyers – not merely names and guesses. I certainly ended up with a much larger pool of buyers to sell to.

By eschewing sales and entering as a Change Facilitator on the first call, I sought people seeking change in the area my solution could resolve, facilitated them through to their own conclusion, and then had real buyers to sell to.

As a seller I never realized that unless people tried to resolve their own problems and had buy-in for change, they’re not in the market to buy anything. They’re not even buyers! In fact, with all my awards for being a top producer, I never realized selling didn’t cause buying!

I taught Buying Facilitation® to my sales staff so they could help people on route to becoming buyers to

  • Assemble all the right people – decision makers and influencers of all types – to get consensus for any change at all. It was quite a challenge to figure out every one of the folks whose voices had to be heard.;
  • Enable collaboration so all voices, all concerns, approved action by a consensus. This was a systems-change issue, not a solution-choice issue;
  • Find out if there was a cheap, easy, risk-free way to fix problems with groups, policies, technology we had on hand or were familiar with;
  • Discover the risks of change and how we’d handle them;
  • Realize the point where there was no route to Excellence without bringing in a new/different solution;
  • Manage the fallout of change when bringing something new in from outside, and determine how to congruently integrate a purchase into our status quo.

For those who want to understand the process, my book Dirty Little Secrets lays out the 13 step Buying Decision Path or go to my site www.sharon-drew.com where I not only explain it but have hundreds of articles on the subject.

A WALK THROUGH THE BUYER’S JOURNEY

Take a look at this summary of my journey from a person with a problem to a buyer.

Like all people, I didn’t know what I didn’t know: I didn’t know who needed to be involved (It wasn’t obvious due to the hidden influence from some of the folks peripherally involved.); I couldn’t know if we could fix the problem ourselves; I didn’t know how disruptive a purchase would be and certainly couldn’t even consider bringing anything new in until there were no other options; I didn’t know what the ‘cost’ would be to bring in something from outside, and if the ‘cost’ was lower or higher than keeping the problem.

In other words, even though we had needs, buying anything was not the objective nor the first thought (and although I did research, I never paid heed to marketing or sales content). I needed to hear from my folks to flush out their issues before we’d have a complete fact pattern; we all had to agree to the goals, direction, outcomes, results, risks, and path to change – confusing because every voice and job title had different priorities, needs, and problems.

It was a delicate process, and there was no clear path forward until we were almost at the end.

Every buyer goes through some form of this; they never begin at the end where sales enters. And although sales does a great job of placing solutions when people are buyers and need them, it’s possible to enter during their decision process and lead them through to their buying decision. By entering at the end of the Buying Decision Path, sales restricts who buys to those who are ready.

This is where buyers go when they’re silent. They’re not dragging their heels or seeking lower prices; they need to traverse their entire Buying Journey to get to the point of even becoming a buyer. And it’s a confusing process. It certainly can’t be driven by knowing about, or considering, an external solution.

As an entrepreneur there was no one to guide me through this; not schooled in systems thinking, I had to figure out how to navigate this minefield on my own. I sure could have used the help of an unbiased sales professional who knew far more than I did about the environment.

This is the Buyer’s Journey – the route from the problem recognition, to the assembling of the appropriate people (idiosyncratic; not obvious), to the research and trials and workarounds to fix the problem with known resources, to the change management issues, to the point of defining the type of solution that will resolve the problem with least disruption.

NAVIGATING THROUGH THE ENTIRE JOURNEY

My own sellers used Buying Facilitation®. We had an eight-fold increase in sales and no longer wasted time following up those who would never buy as it was very obvious.

The time it takes buyers to navigate these steps is the length of the sales cycle. And buyers must do this anyway – so it might as well be with us. 

As part of Buying Facilitation® I coined the terms Buyer’s Journey, Buy Cycle, Buying Decision Path, Buying Patterns, Buying Decision Team, and Helping Buyers Buy between 1985 and 1993. Below I offer the terms as I defined them, vs the definition currently used by the sales industry:

Buying Decision Path represents the set of 13 steps from problem recognition and garnering consensus, through to recognizing and managing change in a way that enhances the status quo –  all before getting to the stage of purchasing anything. It’s possible to facilitate and discover those who could buy and efficiently help them navigate the steps to purchase and get into the Buying Decision Team. A buying decision is a change management process.

Buy Cycle represents the time it takes from recognition to Excellence, from seeking internal solutions to making a purchase. It’s a change management process, not a solution choice process.

Buying Patterns explains the unique and idiosyncratic actions each buyer takes along their journey to Excellence.

Buyer’s Journey includes the full fact pattern and set of decision and change issues between discovery and decision to buy anything and manage change. This is not merely a journey to a purchase. It’s a journey to Excellence.

Buying Facilitation® is a generic change facilitation model for influencers (sellers, coaches, leaders, managers) that helps buyers (and clients, etc.) traverse and uncover their hidden path to change with Systems Congruence and consensus. It includes a unique set of tools that includes Listening for Systems, a Choice Model, and Facilitative Questions.

Buying Facilitation® demands a systems thinking brain and eschews trying to sell anything until or unless the buyer knows exactly how they need to buy – the first 9 steps of their Buying Journey. After all, you’ve got nothing to sell until they have something to buy.

BUYING FACILITATION® FACILITATES THE BUYER’S JOURNEY

Here’s what we don’t know as sellers when we first reach out to buyers to understand need or find a prospect:

  1. Where buyers are along their decision path.
  2. How many, or if, the requisite Buying Decision Team is in place, and ALL appropriate voices have been heard so a full evaluation of the upsides and downsides to change can be considered.
  3. Until ALL voices have been heard, there is no way to recognize or define ‘need.’ As outsiders we can NEVER know who belongs on the Buying Decision Team because it’s so unique to the situation.
  4. Who is a real buyer: only those who know how to manage change, and get consensus that they cannot fix the problem internally are buyers. Need doesn’t determine ability to buy.
  5. The fallout of the risk factors, and the ability for any group to withstand change.
  6. The types of change management issues that a new solution would entail.

The sales model does a great job placing solutions, but expends too much energy seeking those few who have completed their Buyer’s Journey and consider themselves buyers. Sales believes a prospect is someone who SHOULD buy; Buying Facilitation® believes a prospect is someone who CAN/WILL buy efficiently facilitates the Buyer’s Journey from the first moment of the first call, and THEN sells, to those who are indeed buyers.

For less time and resource, we can actually lead buyers down their own change route; and we can easily, quickly, recognize who will, or won’t, be a buyer. In one conversation we can help them discern who they need to include on their Buying Decision Team; if we wish an appointment, the entire Decision Team will be eagerly awaiting us.

And with a Change Facilitator hat on, on the first call it’s possible to find buyers at early stages along their decision path who need our solutions but aren’t yet ready to buy. We just can’t use the sales model until after it’s established who is actually a buyer.

Let’s enter earlier with a change consultant hat on, to actually facilitate buyers to the point where they could be ready to buy – and THEN sell. We will find 8x more prospects, immediately recognize those who can never buy, and be true Servant Leaders. Otherwise, with a 5% close rate, we’re merely wasting over 95% of our time and resource seeking the low hanging fruit, and missing a vital opportunity to find, and close, those who WILL buy. And more will buy, and quicker.

I know that some of the recognized sales models talk about ‘buying’. But they are using ‘buyer-based’ terms in service to placing solutions, of finding ways to influence, persuade, or manipulate buying. But buyers don’t buy that way. They first need to navigate through their entire Buyer’s Journey. Help them. Then sell.

____________

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

December 13th, 2021

Posted In: Listening, Sales

Trust. The big kahuna. The sales industry seeks it; doctors assume it; couples demand it; change can’t occur without it. But what is it? Why isn’t it easier to achieve? And how can we engender it in relationships?

I define trust as the awareness of Another as being safe, similar, and sane enough to connect with, and occurs when they

  • have core beliefs that align and seem harmonious with mine,
  • feel heard, accepted, and understood by me,
  • feel compatible or safe as a result of our interacting,
  • believe their status quo won’t be at risk when connected to me.

Unless these criteria are satisfied, trust can’t occur no matter how kind, professional, necessary, or well-intended another person or message is. It’s a Belief issue.

BELIEFS DEFINE US

Every one of us has Beliefs unique to us. Our Beliefs are the norms and rules we live by, developed over our lifetimes to make decisions and act against. Right or wrong, everyone’s Beliefs are normalized, unconscious, and unique, certainly unknowable to an outsider.

We gravitate to, and trust, folks with similar foundational Beliefs and world views that match well-enough with our own to proclaim “safety”. The problem occurs when our world views collide.

Largely unconscious, illogical to others and hard to change, our Beliefs have been created during the course of our lives; they regulate us, define who we are and enable us to show up congruently in the world. We even listen through ears biased by our Beliefs.

Beliefs instigate our habits and assumptions, restricting our life choices such as our occupations, politics, values, mates – even our child rearing practices. And our Beliefs are the initiators of our behaviors – behaviors being Beliefs in action.

Sadly, because everyone’s Belief systems are unconscious and idiosyncratic, and because we each view the world through our own Beliefs and perceptions, it’s difficult to accurately perceive Another’s internal world view.

For those folks whose jobs are to influence, there’s an immediate problem. The content they share, or even their unique delivery style, may unwittingly offend the Belief system of the Communication Partner (CP). Bad news for sellers, coaches, managers, etc. who attempt to promote change or buy-in by expecting their ideas to be accepted, but instead cause resistance and distrust.

DRIVERS FOR TRUST

I’d like to offer thoughts on some of the ways we fail when trying to engage trust, then provide some ideas of how to stimulate it.

Relationship Building: We’ve been led to believe that having a relationship encourages buy-in to new ideas. But it’s a conundrum: polite as an interaction appears or how necessary our message, we can’t easily build a relationship with folks with divergent Beliefs, or fight their automatic filters that react to us immediately. In other words, “pushing in” doesn’t work, even if our data and intent are accurate, and even if we think we have a relationship that entitles us to ‘share.’ We might have a superficial connection, but not a relationship; “making nice” does not constitute a relationship, or engender change or trust.

Information: As influencers we often attempt to “get in” with the information we assume our CPs need, without accounting for how it will be perceived. Sometimes the “right” data inadvertently tells our CP that they’re wrong (and we’re right). We fail to realize that our CPs only understand our intent to the degree it matches their Beliefs, or how their listening filters translate it for them. With the best will in the world, even with good data to help folks who need what we’ve got to share, we aren’t heeded.

In fact, information is the last thing needed to facilitate change or buy-in since people unconsciously defend their status quo. It’s our brain’s fault! Because all incoming data is translated for us automatically by our historic neural circuits, new ideas aren’t always interpreted accurately and run the risk of causing resistance. (See my book on this topic.) So save the information sharing for when a clear path to mutual Beliefs and trust has been developed.

Think about it: if you’re an environmentalist, the “rational/ scientific” data you offer to “prove” climate change won’t persuade those who disagree; if you’re a proponent of the medical model, you won’t use alternate therapies to manage an illness no matter how strong the data for changing your nutrition.

Clear Communication: We all think we communicate clearly, yet we’re not as effective speaking in ‘Other’s language’ given our CPs unconscious, biased listening filters that end up preventing our “risky” data from being heard accurately. Certainly we believe we’re choosing the “right” words and approach to convey our intent. Yet our message is heard accurately only by those with similar Beliefs and resisted by the very people who need our information the most.

FACILITATE BELIEF CHANGE FIRST

Since our great ideas and eager strategies don’t engender trust in folks with different Beliefs, and without trust we can’t change minds, what should we do?

As coaches, sellers, and leaders, we must carefully initiate conversations based on them discovering their own excellence, with a goal to match their Belief criteria before offering new ideas. In this way we can help our CPs open up new possibility that actually creates trust:

  1. Enter each conversation with the goal of assisting your CPs in discovering how their Beliefs instigated their behaviors. Entering with the goal to offer information, or get your question answered, or extract promises of action will automatically engender distrust and resistance.
  2. Ask the type of questions that facilitate and enable internal discovery; conventional questions merely pull data biased by the needs of the Asker. I designed Facilitative Questions (see below) that enable congruent change without bias by leading the CP through their unique route to discovery.
  3. There is a specific series of steps that change entails. I’ve spent decades coding the steps of change for decision making and new habit generation. These promote congruent change by leading Others down their own choice points. Learn the steps, and help your CP traverse the steps to match Beliefs and encourage acceptance prior to mentioning your idea.
  4. Trust that your CP has her own answers and that she’ll shift toward excellence as appropriate for her. It won’t show up exactly as you’d hoped; but there will be a new opening for collaboration without resistance.
  5. Understand that until or unless your CP can recognize his own incongruences, there is no way he’ll welcome comments from you that sound like you’re saying he’s wrong or insufficient.

In other words, create a Beliefs-based bond that will open the possibility of you offering information later, once they’ve discovered exactly where they need it and how to use it.

FACILITATING TRUST THROUGH QUESTIONS

I’ve developed a new form of question (Facilitative Questions) that teaches others to scan their own internal state. These questions are unbiased, systemic, formulated with specific wording, in a specific order, and based on systemic brain change, not information gathering. They also take our CPs into a Witness state, beyond their automatic responses, and from which they can have a neutral, unbiased look at their status quo to notice if it’s operating excellently, and consider change if there might be a more congruent path.

Take a look at a conventional question vs a Facilitative Question:

Conventional: Do you think it’s time for a haircut? or Why do you wear your hair that way?

Telling someone they need a haircut, or asking them if they noticed they need a haircut, or giving them an article on new types of hair styles – all based on your own need to convince your CP to change – will cause defensiveness and distrust.

Facilitative Question: How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle?

This leads your CP

  • into a Witness state,
  • beyond their resistance and reaction,
  • outside of their normal unconscious reactions,
  • to notice the exact criteria they need to consider change and
  • to open the possibility for new choices that match their own Beliefs.

By using this type of question we offer a route for the CP to discover their own best answer that aligns with their Beliefs and engenders trust. No push, no need for a specific response. Serving another by helping them discover their own Excellence.

I designed these questions as part of my Buying Facilitation® model, a generic change facilitation model (often used in sales) that enables congruent change. Sounds a bit wonky, I know, and it’s certainly not conventional. But worth researching. I’ve trained large numbers of sales folks and coaches over the past 40 years against control groups and consistently have a 40% success rate. When we facilitate our CPs down their path to conscious choice, we

  • help them discover their incongruencies,
  • help them understand the areas at risk,
  • help them develop their own route to managing risk (i.e. change) and where they can’t do it themselves,
  • enable buy-in from the elements that will be effected.

Until your audience is able to accomplish this in their own way, using their own Beliefs, they will hear you through biased ears, maintain their barriers, and engender trust only with those who they feel aligned with – omitting a large audience of those who may need you.

Stop using your own biases to engender trust: facilitate your CPs in changing themselves. Then the choice of the best solution becomes a consequence of a system that is ready, willing, and able to adopt excellence. And they’ll trust you because you helped them help themselves.

____________

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

November 15th, 2021

Posted In: Change Management, Listening

Did you ever wonder why training fails more often than not? Why important material, meant to improve or educate, is not learned or acted upon? Why perfectly smart people keep doing the same things that didn’t work the first time when they have the opportunity to learn something new to be better?

The problem isn’t the value of information or the eagerness of the learner but a problem with both the training model itself and the way brains learn. In this article, I’ll explain how to design training to facilitate learning.

HOW WE LEARN

Learning is a systems/change problem, and our brain is in charge. It unconsciously translates incoming messages automatically as per our history, which doesn’t include the new content. And herein lie the problem.

We all operate out of unique, internal systems comprised of mental models (rules, beliefs, history etc.) that form the foundation of who we are and determine our choices. Our behaviors are the vehicles that represent these internal systems – our beliefs in action, if you will.

Because anything new is a potential threat to our habitual and carefully organized internal system (part of our limbic brain), we instinctively defend ourselves against anything ‘foreign’ and automatically resist when there’s no buy-in.

Indeed, to maintain system’s balance (homeostasis), our brains are programmed to maintain our status quo and resist anything new regardless of the efficacy of the required change. With the best motivation in the world, learners may not be able to congruently make the change the new information requires.

The other problem is a pure brain thing. Because the new doesn’t enter with an infrastructure, our brains have no place to store it uniquely. Hence learners practice well during the experiential portions of a program, but they can’t continue their proficiency after they leave.

But there’s a way to design training programs that incorporates change with new neural circuits. Let’s begin by examining the training model itself.

HOW WE TRAIN

The design of most training is information-transfer based and potentially poses problems when

  • learner’s brains don’t recognize the need for anything new,
  • the new material opposes long-held beliefs.
  • there are no existing circuits that accurately translate the incoming information.

The current training model assumes that if new material is important and useful, offered in a logical, informative, interesting way, and offers experiential learning, learners will accept it. But this assumption is faulty.

At an unconscious level, this model attempts to push something foreign (i.e. new knowledge) into a closed system (our status quo) that is perfectly happy as it is. While new, incoming data might be adopted briefly, if it opposes our habituated norm, if it flies in the face of the beliefs and values that represent the status quo, the new will show up as a threat and be resisted.

The unconscious system that holds our beliefs, values and habits in place must be ready, willing, and able to adopt the new material be permanent. Effective training must change the existing system.

LEARNING FACILITATION

Training must enable

  1. buy-in from the belief/system and status quo;
  2. the system to discover its own areas of lack and create an acceptable opening for change;
  3. the system to develop new circuitry to ‘translate’ and hold the new material so it will be available when called upon

before the new material is adopted and available for habitual use.

I had a problem to resolve when designing my first Buying Facilitation® training program in 1983. Because my content ran counter to an industry norm, I had to help learners overcome a set of standardized beliefs and accepted processes endemic to the field.

My job was to help learners first recognize that their habitual skills were insufficient and higher success ratios were possible by adding (not necessarily subtracting) new ones.

Since change isn’t sought out until the system finds an incongruence, I had to help learners self-recognize where they had gaps in their automatic choices, then try to resolve the problem with their current skills, and then seek out new learning as their best option if they couldn’t first fix the problem themselves.

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

Here’s how I design courses:

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

Courses are designed with ‘learning’ in mind (rather than content sharing/behavior change), and looks quite different from conventional training. For example because ‘information’ is the last thing offered, Day 1 uses no desks, no notes, no computers, no phones, and no lectures. I teach learners how to enlist and expand their unconscious to facilitate buy-in for new material, then when there are new circuits in place, offer the new information.

Whether it’s my training model or your own, just ask yourself: Do you want to train? Or have someone learn? They are two different activities. To enable learning, it’s necessary to first facilitate brain change before offering content. I’m happy to discuss my training model or help you develop training programs that enable learning. sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

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

November 1st, 2021

Posted In: Listening, News

Tags:

Listening to your customerI got to the gym yesterday only to find that my regular treadmill had been replaced by a new-fangled computer machine. I asked the young woman next to me how to start the damn thing as it wasn’t obvious. Here was the conversation:

SDM: Where’s the start button on this thing?
Woman: Over there. You’ll want to start on 2.3 miles and…
SDM: Thanks for showing me. I’m good now. Thanks.
Woman: You’re starting too high! Plus, you’ll want to put it at an incline of 1% to start, then …
SDM: No. Really. I’m good.
Woman: I’m telling you the right way to do this! I’m a professional trainer! I know what I’m talking about!
SDM: I’m sure you do. But I’m good. Thanks.
Woman: What’s your problem, lady??? You asked me for my advice! I’m just responding to your question! I’M A PROFESSIONAL!

That woman converted my simple request into a request for her expertise and she couldn’t hear my attempt to disengage from the conversation – three times! But we all do this sort of thing. And it’s our brain’s fault.

BIASES

Far too often, we interpret what someone says with the filters of what we’re listening for and end up limiting the scope of what’s possible. We actually inadvertently restrict our listening in most conversations as our unconscious biases filter out what doesn’t match. Let me introduce you to some of the more common ones out of the hundreds of recognized biases:

Confirmation bias: we listen to get personal validation, often using leading questions, to confirm to ourselves that we’re right; we seek out people and ideas to confirm our own views and maintain our status quo, and unwittingly mistranslate what’s been said according to our beliefs.

Expectation bias: we decide what we want to take away from a conversation prior to entering, causing us to only notice the bits that match and disregarding the rest; we mishear and misinterpret what’s said to conform to our goals.

Status quo bias: we listen to confirm that we’re fine the way we are and reject any information that proves us wrong.

Attention bias: we unconsciously ignore what we don’t want to hear – and often don’t even hear, or acknowledge, something has been said.

Information bias: we only gather the information we’ve deemed ‘important’ to push our own agendas or prove a point. When used for data analysis, we often collect information according to expectation bias and selection bias. (This biases scientific and social research, and data analysis.)

And of course, we all have a Bias Blind Spot: we naturally believe we’re not biased! And anyone that doesn’t believe we’re Right is Wrong.

OUR BRAINS BIAS AUTONOMOUSLY

When researching my book on how to close the gap between what’s said and what’s heard, I discovered that our brains only allow us to understand a fraction of what others mean to convey (Note: the fraction depends on familiarity, triggers, history, beliefs, etc.).

Here’s what happens: Sound enters our ears as puffs of air (literally!) that get turned into signals that then seek out similar-enough circuits that will translate the incoming signals as per the content already there (i.e. subjective, biased, restricted to what we already know).

The bad news is that where the incoming signals don’t match the old circuits, our brains discard what doesn’t match – and doesn’t tell us what it has discarded! And we’re left ‘hearing’ what our brains tell us – some fraction of what was said!  So the woman in the opening story actually heard me ask her for advice.

I believe our success is regulated by our listening biases and our ability – or not – to recognize when/if our biases are getting in the way (I wrote a chapter in What? that offers a skill set on how to do this). Certainly our creativity and opportunities, our choices of jobs, mates, friends, etc. are restricted. The natural biasing we do is compounded by the tricks our brains play with memory and habit, making the probability of factual interpretation pretty slim.

If we can avoid the trap of assuming what we think has been said is accurate, and assume that some portion of what we think we heard might contain some bias, we could take more responsibility for our conversations.

  • At the end of each conversation, we’d check in with our Communication Partner and get accuracy agreement.
  • Whenever we hear something that sounds like an agreement or a plan, we’d stop the conversation to check that what we think we heard is accurate.
  • At the end of meetings, we’d check in that our takeaway plans and their outcomes are agreeable.
  • When we hear something ‘different’ we won’t assume the other person wrong, but consider the possibility that we are the ones who heard it wrong.

Knowing the difference between what we think others are saying vs what they actually mean to convey takes on great importance in meetings, coaching calls, negotiations, doctors, and information collection for decision analysts.

Let’s get rid of our egos. Let’s put our need to collaborate, pursue win/win communication, and authentic Servant Leadership into all our communication. Otherwise, we’re merely finding situations that maintain our status quo. And we lose the opportunity to be better, stronger, kinder, and more creative.

________

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

October 25th, 2021

Posted In: Listening, News

Conversation

In these trying times, one thing has become clear: the biases we live with restrict our choices. Certainly no one ever wants to harm anyone. And yet, because of the unconscious nature of them, we are too often unaware that we even have them. It’s not our fault, but we must learn to take more responsibility for them.

Our biases have been developed through the stories of our lives. From birth, our parent’s beliefs and life trajectory become part of our unconscious, very personal, ecosystem made up of our habits, behaviors, and identity; the schools we attend or the gangs we join introduce us to the way our world works and how to behave accordingly; our professions are chosen to allow us to comfortably maintain our norms.

These norms – unique for each of us – create the status quo we make unconscious choices from. Net net, our lives are inspired by our unconscious biases, causing us to live and work, marry and spend time with, people whose norms, interpretations, and beliefs are very similar to ours.

Our normal skill sets aid and abet us: we listen through biased filters and hear and respond to, basically, what our biases tell us was said (I wrote a book on this: What? Did you really say what I think I heard? ); we play and read and watch according to what we already believe and rarely venture far afield; we notice what we notice in response to our nucleus of personal norms, values, and learned habits. All our decisions, actions, choices, are ruled, restricted, and biased by our unique predispositions.

Indeed, we trust our unconscious biases and interpretations, and the resulting responses, so thoroughly that we are often unaware that our actions – built in, normalized and habituated, accepted by our family, peers, and profession – may harm others.

WE CANNOT UNDERSTAND OTHERS

We believe, with certainty, that what we see, hear, and feel is ‘real’ because it IS our reality; we restrict our lives accordingly, making it difficult, if not impossible, to fully understand another’s reality. What we might hear as powerful might be heard as insulting by another person; an incident might be noticed by one person, ignored by another, and an excuse for violence by another. We cannot help but judge others according to our reality.

I, for one, never lock doors. My car is always unlocked. My house is always open even when I travel. Many people would find this unthinkable. I find it safe. As an incest survivor and a rape victim, I always need a quick way in and out. If a door is locked around me, I hyperventilate. Terrifying. My choices, of which locks on doors are only a subset of the aftereffects of my early life, have affected my communication, my lifestyle, my choice of friends and mates, my political views, my unconscious triggers, and my choice of professions even after decades of therapy. There is no way you can understand my interpretation of anything, or the resulting behaviors I exhibit, unless you’ve lived in my shoes. And yet my differences might cause you to judge my actions against your own and find them wanting.

And herein lie the problem. When we run into others with different lifestyle choices, or communication styles, or education, or assumptions, or race, or political beliefs, we may not have the skills to connect with them in ways they understand; we may wrongly misinterpret their intent; we may judge them against our own standards which they could never understand. Certainly we may not notice we’ve harmed someone with our actions or words and behave automatically in ways that inadvertently harm another.

I believe that most people don’t intend to harm anyone. But without common ground, the best we can do is act from our habituated interpretations and assume because we ‘mean well’ that we’re not causing harm.

NEED FOR CHANGE

Historically, we’ve done a bad job caring about resolving the problems of inherent bias that may ultimately harm others. I think this might be changing. Companies and public servants are now taking unconscious bias seriously and requiring unconscious bias training in the hopes of giving people new choices and eradicating harm. Good. But I have a concern.

As someone who has spent decades coding and scaling the stages of how human systems change, I know it’s not possible to push change from the outside; each individual must find a way to evaluate and reconsider their own core norms and biases to make any necessary corrections that only they can make, from within (i.e. inside/out). I don’t believe we’re doing that.

Current training approaches are based on helping folks recognize and change behaviors by offering information, practice, scientific data, videos, etc. from the outside (outside/in), hoping to create new triggers, new behaviors, and new awareness. This approach cannot fix the problem permanently because it:

  • doesn’t get to the root of someone’s unconscious, and very subjective, biases;
  • demonstrates subjectively chosen hypothetical situations believed (from the outside) to trigger bias and may miss specific issues and habituated norms of an individual;
  • has no way of knowing if the offered visuals or stories or trial experiences address the full range of potential biases within each individual learner;
  • doesn’t teach how to transcend someone’s habituated ‘unconscious triggers’ that go off in real situations;
  • fails to install permanent, instinctive, alternative, appropriate behaviors.

Current unconscious bias training assumes people can change if they understand the ‘good, rational’ reasons behind it. The training offers videos, discussions, practicing ‘real’ situations, etc. showing examples of unconscious bias, hoping this creates the awareness to recognize a problematic situation as it’s happening and know exactly what behaviors need changing – and what to change them to!

In other words, just when our brains are unconsciously registering ALERT, we want it to tell itself ‘Nope. Wrong thinking. Don’t do that. Don’t think that. Stop responding that way. Do something different. NOW!’ just as it’s occurring. It’s possible to do so, but not with the training offered. For real change to occur it’s necessary to get to the root of the bias: beliefs. And unfortunately, as you’ll see, information doesn’t teach anyone how to change, even it attempts to explain the reasoning behind the need to do something different. Sharon Drew’s rule: change cannot occur because of any outside rational, regardless of the need or the efficacy of the solution.

WHAT IS BIAS? AND WHY IS IT SO HARD TO CHANGE?

Bias is the unconscious, habitual, involuntary, and historic reaction to something deemed ‘different’ (skin color, gender, lifestyle choices, etc.) that negatively triggers someone’s largely unconscious beliefs and values – going against what the person deems ‘right’ or ‘good’ – causing an automatic feeling of, and defense against, some sort of violation.

Our reactions to external stimuli are unconscious and automatic, and follow our brain’s historic and habituated neural pathways whenever our unconscious triggers go off. In other words, we do what we do, react the way we react, in a split second as per our historic responses logged permanently into our brain circuitry.

To alter these, it’s necessary to go to the source; it’s not possible to permanently change behaviors by merely trying to change behaviors. Offering behavior-based training that merely offers examples and experiences of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviors, and expecting people to undo their habituated triggers because they ‘admit’ to, or recognize ‘bad’ behaviors, uses the wrong thinking.

Changing core biases permanently is not a behavior change issue; it’s a core Identity/Belief problem that must be resolved, within the system that created it. I’ll lay the problem out for you piece by piece, then introduce a solution for permanent change. Basically, this level of change is a systems problem.

WHAT IS A SYSTEM, AND WHY IS IT NECESSARY TO ADDRESS IN BIAS TRAINING

A system is a conglomeration of (historic, unique) elements (consisting of our norms, culture, history, beliefs, dreams, etc.) that we hold largely unconsciously and are a foundation of who we are. They are formed during our lifetimes starting from birth, and as in all systems, are made up of elements (values, cultural norms, ethics, morality, etc.) that operate from the same set of rules. Indeed, we live our lives in cities alongside others of similar political beliefs, marry people of similar education, and even listen with biased filters that keep out uncomfortable ideas.

Systems are congruent (Systems Congruence) entities that always seek stability (Homeostasis); they define our politics, our mate selection, even where we live and how we listen to others. Because systems seek to maintain congruence, they avoid situations that make them uncomfortable or they find incongruent. Attempting to shift them, to change in any way, causes resistance because they seek to override the norms of the system that hold them in place, without getting buy-in.

As a result, trying to change from the outside in, by trying to change behaviors without getting the necessary buy-in, threatens stability. As a result, by attempting to push change without the system’s agreement, we’re threatening the system’s internal congruency, regardless of the seeming need to do something different or the efficacy of a new/better solution. In other words, our status quo shows up every day to maintain itself and we will do whatever it takes to maintain it. It’s who we are.

For permanent change to occur, for new behaviors to be exhibited and chosen, there must be a change in core beliefs before new skills or situations are offered. Current bias training uses methods don’t facilitate this change:

  • Listening: our habituated listening filters and neural pathways automatically bias whatever anyone says to us; we set up our lives to avoid discomfort, and uniquely interpret differences in what has been said so our brains can keep us comfortable. When information is offered as evidence, our historic, habituated, biased listening filters kick in and uniquely interpret incoming data, often differently than the intended meaning. Indeed, it’s not even possible to hear anyone without bias; when what we hear (or see, or feel) makes us uncomfortable, we react historically.
  • Questions: all normal questions are biased by the Asker’s subjective curiosity, thereby restricting the Responder’s replies to the interpretation of what was heard, and potentially overlooking real answers.
  • Historic: biases are programmed in from the time we’re born. Every day we wake up with the same biases, kept in place by our choice of friends, TV, neighborhoods, professions, reading materials, etc. To permanently shift our biases, we’d have to change our historic programming.
  • Physiological: who we ‘are’ is systemic; our beliefs and norms, character and values have been programmed in and become our Identity, creating the behaviors and responses that will unconsciously maintain our status quo in everything we do and every action we take.
  • Triggers: because of our lifetime of inculcated beliefs, values, norms and outlook, our brains react chemically, unconsciously, and automatically when there is an untoward activity.
  • Information: our training programs typically tell, show, explain, offer stories, videos, etc. etc. using the biased choices- languaging, presentation style, chosen information – of the trainer in hopes that their information triggers a new response. But since people can’t even listen without bias, they can’t accurately make sense of whatever we’re telling them: they have no brain circuitry already set up to listen through, and the process of ‘telling’ does not develop new circuitry. All it will do is get misinterpreted or misunderstood according to historic beliefs already in place.
  • Behaviors: as the expression and execution of our beliefs and status quo, behaviors translate our core systemic beliefs and norms into daily action. Behaviors represent us; they are not ‘us’. And since behaviors are merely outputs, they are fixed by the time they show up. Change must happen at the input, at our beliefs.

And herein lie the problem. Because of the complexity and sophisticated combination of the elements above, merely doing something different because we are told to, or even want to, won’t change our behaviors or our systems permanently. It’s the equivalent of trying to get a forward moving robot to move backwards because we tell it it needs new options, or think it would be better if it did, or show it pictures of other robots who do move backward. To change behaviors permanently it’s necessary to change the system, the programming, which created them to begin with. And this cannot be accomplished by trying to change the output of the problem itself. Remember Einstein? Trying to change behaviors with the system that created them won’t permanently change behaviors.

CHANGE IS A SYSTEMS PROBLEM

Change is the alteration of something that has existed in a certain way, using specific and accepted norms, in a specific configuration, for a period of time. To amend our responses to bias, we must first recognize, then modify, the specific triggers (historically produced for a reason) that have been developed to operate unconsciously as the norm.

It’s basically a systems problem: for permanent change to occur, we must reconfigure the system that has created and maintains the status quo, and has operated ‘as is’ for some amount of time. Anything new coming in to our system (any problem to fix, any new information that creates disruption, any new activity) demands changing the status quo. Indeed, any new decision is a change management problem. The way we are addressing the problem of changing people’s unconscious biases is not enabling permanent change.

Change means that a system (by definition stable) must go through a process to become something different:

  • a trigger alerts the status quo that something may be awry;
  • a careful examination by all elements within the status quo must occur to find any incongruence;
  • agreement within the system (rules, stakeholders, identity, etc.) that change is necessary and that a fix won’t cause permanent disruption;
  • an initial attempt to fix anything missing (using the same elements that created the problem to begin with);
  • the realization that the problem cannot be fixed from within the system;
  • an examination by everything that created the problem of any new possibilities that will create Systems Congruence;
  • an understanding and acceptance of the downside and disruption of a change (i.e. if politics change, how do we speak with family? If same-sex relationships, what happens with our church group?);
  • a fix is found that is agreeable, with full knowledge of how to circumvent any disruption it will cause;
  • new habits, new triggers, new neural pathways, etc. are developed in a way that incorporate the ‘new’ with the old to minimize disruption.

Does any element of the original need to be kept in place? How will the system know? How would any change effect the whole? How will the bits that need change shift while still maintaining its core values? The system will fight to maintain itself.

If all of the above aren’t managed, the system will fill in the blanks with something comfortable and habituated (regardless of its efficacy). In other words, if there is not systemic agreement, no known way to resolve the problem using its current givens, no known way to incorporate something new to the existing system so the system doesn’t implode, no change will happen regardless of the need or the efficacy of the solution.

Indeed, you can’t change a behavior by trying to change a behavior. And all of the current bias training involves a focus on getting behaviors changed without addressing the source that created the behaviors and triggers to begin with.

WHAT IS A BEHAVIOR?

Current Bias Training attempts to get behaviors changed by using ‘rational’ means: showing learners biased situations, offering data and research, and playing videos to learn what bias looks like. In other words, offering Information: showing and telling people what’s wrong with what they’re doing and what ‘right’ would look like – all of which can be misinterpreted, misread, or objected to, regardless of our intent.

While it certainly can make people more aware, and might, if remembered, offer different choices of actions, these attempts will not cause permanent change: they develop no new habituated triggers or neural pathways to set off a new response to a stimulus. Let’s delve into this a bit.

If asked in a vacuum if we want to harm anyone, few of us would want to. And yet in small and large ways, our unconscious behaviors too often end up unjustly ignoring, being mean to, or harming someone because of their gender, or race or or… I once heard Malcolm Gladwell, who is bi-racial, say that when tested for unconscious racial bias, he came up biased.

We all carry some biases. The question becomes 1. Do we notice when, or before, problems occur, and if not what would we need to know or believe differently to notice, and 2. Once we notice (or not) can we have choice over our actions and avoid biased behaviors or make adjustments at the time, or just before, they occur. To permanently change a behavior, a system must:

  • shift the core beliefs that inform any habituated, unconscious bias and develop additional beliefs, assumptions and triggers;
  • create new neural pathways to the brain that lead to choosing more respectful outputs, habits, behaviors;
  • listen with a different listening filter than the habituated ones;
  • enable the person to change themselves, using their own unconscious system of norms to design new behaviors that won’t offend the system;
  • interpret another’s actions in a neutral way that doesn’t offend our own beliefs – or change our beliefs.

To change our unconscious, automatic responses that cause us to respond defensively, the system that has created and maintains the status quo must be reconfigured to produce alternate outputs while still maintaining Systems Congruence. And unfortunately, information-based training (showing, feeling, telling, explaining) is ineffective because it only seeks to change behaviors.

CHANGING BEHAVIORS DOESN’T CHANGE BEHAVIORS

Offering any sort of information before the system knows why, how, when, or if to do anything different – a belief change – will only inspire resistance as the system won’t know how to apply it as it’s ‘just fine, thanks.’ It’s a belief change issue. We’re asking the system to repopulate its status quo that created the problem to begin with, design new behavioral responses, and develop a new set of triggers to tell the system it’s time to behave differently. Initially the system doesn’t know what it doesn’t know and has no inherent desire to do anything different.

As per my robot example, if you think the robot should have the option of moving backwards, telling it when and how to know when or if to move backward, giving it scientific data as to why it should move backward, or pushing it backward, will not cause the robot to change. The programming must be changed. And so it is with all of us: when we change our habituated beliefs and norms (our programming), our behavior will automatically change.

Real change demands a systemic shift to create new triggers, new assumptions, new neural pathways, and ultimately, as an outcome, new behaviors. No one, no information, no person, from outside is able to go into someone’s unconscious to (re)create all these things. And permanent change will not happen until it does.

The goal is not to train someone to rid themselves of unconscious bias; it’s to teach the system itself how to discover where its beliefs are restricting understanding and teach it how to add new beliefs to decide with and facilitate it through to new behaviors a way that maintains the foundational norms of the system.

Basically, to alter the foundation that will develop new behaviors, the brain must change itself. Over the past decades, I’ve coded the 13 steps that constitute the route to systemic, human change so people can make their OWN internal changes that will lead to new choices, i.e. new behaviors. I’ve taught this model in sales as Buying Facilitation® to global corporations (KPMG, Morgan Stanley, IBM, P&G, Kaiser, etc.) for over 30 years, and written several books on it. The book that details each of the stages is Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell.

We must become Facilitators, not Influencers. We must teach folks to create and habituate new neural pathways and filters.

  1. Listening: We must avoid habituated neural pathways when listening to others. In your mind’s eye put yourself on the ceiling and listen from above. From above, you can observe what’s going on without bias or reaction. I have a whole chapter on this in What?. Not difficult – you just need to want to do it and develop triggers that will alert you to the need to do something different.
  2. Questions: I developed a new form of question that doesn’t interrogate and is not biased by the needs of the questioner, but instead acts like a GPS to guide people through their own unconscious. These Facilitative Questions are systemic, use specific words, in specific order, that traverse through the steps of change sequentially so others can note their own incongruencies. So: What would you need to know or believe differently to be willing to spend time with me so we could both learn, together, how to listen from a ‘different ear’?
  3. Beliefs: by shifting the focus from changing behaviors to first changing beliefs and systems, we end up with permanent core change, new triggers and habits.
  4. Information: we make several types of information available for the learner to choose from, to fit their own learning criteria and styles.

I’ve developed a new way to train that facilitates self-learning and permanent change from within the system. For those wishing a full discussion, I’ve written an article on this that appeared in The 2003 Annual, Volume 1 Training (I’m happy to send you a more specific discussion of this if you’re not already bored) Just note: my process leads people, without any bias, to those places in their brains, into their system of beliefs and cultural norms, which made the decisions to employ their biased behaviors to begin with, and teaches them how to reconfigure their system to adopt something new (so long as its aligned with their beliefs). We are making the unconscious conscious and developing more appropriate triggers and behaviors.

How will you know that by adding systemic change elements to your training that you can enable more people to make more appropriate behavioral choices around their bias?

If you would like my help in designing a program that resolves unconscious biases permanently, I’d love to help. I believe it’s an important task. I believe it’s time we had the tools to enable learners to permanently change and become non-judgmental, accepting, and kind. And above all, cause no harm. All of our lives depend on it.

_____________________________

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

September 13th, 2021

Posted In: Change Management, Communication, Listening

inside-curiosityCuriosity is a good thing, right? But what is it? Wikipedia defines curiosity thus: a quality related to inquisitive thinking such as exploration, investigation, and learning, evident by observation in human and animal species.

What, exactly, does this mean? What’s ‘inquisitive thinking’? Does it matter that everyone’s inquisitiveness is subjective, unique, and limited by their biases? ‘Evident by observation’? Evident to whom? And by what/whose standards? And ‘observation’? Really? We all see, hear, feel the world through our subjectivity – so what standards, what criteria, are the observer using – or doesn’t it matter? And what makes one piece of information the correct answer – or a wrong answer?

The problem is that our natural curiosity restricts our ability to acquire a complete data set to little more than an extension of our current knowledge and beliefs: the way we seek, accept or dismiss incoming information may glean only a subset of the knowledge available due to

  • the nature of our subjective viewpoint, biases, and intractable Status Quo,

  • our own conscious/unconscious existing beliefs and existing knowledge about the subject,

  • the direction, word choice, hidden agenda and prejudice built into our queries.

Sure, we’re told to ‘be curious.’ But how do we know that the information we seek, find and retrieve is accurate, complete, or the most useful data available? How do we know that found learning is important, even though it ‘feels’ uncomfortable and we dismiss it? How do we know the best source to use to get answers? Who or what to believe? Can we supersede our biased judgments (or intuition, as some would call it) that restrict/influence the standard all is compared against?

The limits of our curiosity define our results: the broader the range of possible answers the higher the likelihood of an accurate outcome. And herein lie the problem: we unwittingly severely restrict the range of possible, acceptable answers because of our existing beliefs while continuing to believe we’re Intuitive, Investigative, and Clever. Hence, I pose the question: can we really ever be entirely curious?

Once during a conversation with a colleague, he complained that he had just gotten a cold, and that now he’d be ‘down’ for 2 weeks. How did he know it would be 2 weeks? As a doctor himself, he’d been to doctors over the years and followed protocol: lots of rest and liquids, and wait two weeks. The following conversation ensued:

    SD: I hear your conclusions about a cold cure come from parameters set by your medical colleagues and that you’re comfortable restricting the full set of possible treatments accordingly. What would you need to believe differently to be willing to expand your parameters to some that may be outside your current comfort zone, in case there might alternate, reliable cures you’re not aware of?

    H: Hm… I’ve always used the medical model as my choice criteria. Well, I guess I’d need to believe that the source of the new data was trustworthy.

    SD: I have useful data that has helped me and my family cure a cold in 2 days, but it’s very far outside the conventional model. How would you know it would be worth trying, given it doesn’t fit within your medical criteria?

    H: That’s sort of easy, but scary. I’ve known you a long time. I trust you. If you have a different cure, I’d love to hear it.

I offered him a simple vitamin-based remedy (large quantities of Vitamin C and simultaneous Zinc lozenges). He used it; he called 2 days later to tell me his cold was gone. And, btw: this man is a famous Harvard McArthur Genius. See? Even geniuses restrict their curiosity according to their biases.

WHY ARE WE CURIOUS

There are several different reasons for curiosity:

  1. Need to know something we don’t know. Sometimes we need to know something we have no, or skimpy, knowledge about. How do we know the difference between the ‘right’ or the ‘wrong’ answer? How do we know the most effective resources? How do we know that the way we position our query will lead to the broadest range of answers?

  2. Desire to expand current knowledge. We need more data than we possess. How will we recognize when the available, additional data is the appropriate data set? How do we pose an inquiry that offers the broadest range of relevant knowledge? How can we keep from resisting new data if it runs counter to our beliefs (given that any new data gets compared against our unconscious judgments)?

  3. Achieving a goal. Our brain is missing data to achieve a goal. How can we know the extent of what we’re missing if we can’t be certain of the full range of possibilities?

  4. Interest in another person’s knowledge. We suspect someone has knowledge we need, yet it’s not possible to find data we don’t know how to look for. How do we know it’s accurate data? Or how to adopt/adapt it so it doesn’t face internal resistance? How can we position our inquiry to avoid limiting any possibilities?

  5. Complete internal reference points. Influencers (coaches, leaders, consultants, sellers) seek to understand the Other’s Status Quo so the Influencer can formulate action points. How can we know if our ‘intuition’ (biased judgment) is broad enough to encompass all possibilities – and be able to go beyond it when necessary?

  6. Comparator. We want to know if our current knowledge is accurate, or we’re ‘right’. But we pit our query and accept responses against our subjective experiences, running the risk of acquiring partial data or blocking important data.

We just can’t seek, find, or receive what we don’t know how to consider:

  1. Resistance: By the time we’re adults, our subjective beliefs are pretty much built in and determine how we organize our worlds. When we hear something that goes against our beliefs – whether or not it’s accurate; whether it’s conscious or unconscious – we resist. That means whatever answers we find will be accepted in relation to what we already know and believe, potentially omitting important data.

  2. Restricting data: What we’re curious about is automatically biased and limited by our subjective experience, ego needs, history, and current data set. We have no way to know if we’re posing our search query in a way that will include the full range of possible answers.

  3. Restricting knowledge. Because our subjectivity limits the acceptance of new knowledge to what fits with our current knowledge and acceptable expectations (we’re only curious about stuff that is tangential to current knowledge), we automatically defend against anything that threatens what we know. So we choose answers according to comfort or habit rather than according to accuracy.

  4. Intuitive ‘Red Flag’. When our egos and professional identity causes us to ‘intuitively’ have curiosity about answers we assume or expect, we’re limiting possibility by our biases. How do we know if there aren’t a broader range of solutions that we’re not noticing or eliciting?

CASE STUDY

I just had an incident that simply exemplifies some of the above. I’ve begun attending life drawing classes as an exercise to broaden my observation skills. I took classes 30 years ago, so I have a very tiny range of skills that obviously need enhancing. Last session I had a horrific time trying to draw a model’s shoulder. I asked the man next to me – a real artist – for help. Here was our conversation:

SDM: Hey, Ron. Can you help me please? Can you tell me how to think about drawing his shoulder?

Ron: Sure. Let’s see…. So what is it about your current sketch that you like?

SDM: Nothing.

Ron: If I put a gun to your head, what part would you like?

SDM: Nothing.

Ron: You’ve done a great job here, on his lower leg. Good line. Good proportion. That means you know how to do a lot of what you need on the shoulder.

SDM: I do? I didn’t know what I was doing. So how can I duplicate what I did unconsciously? I’m having an eye-hand-translation problem.

Ron: Let’s figure out how you drew that leg. Then we’ll break that down to mini actions, and see what you can use from what you already know. And I’ll teach you whatever you’re missing.

Ron’s brand of curiosity enabled me to make some unconscious skills conscious, and add new expertise where I was missing it. His curiosity had different biases from mine. He:

  • entered our discussion assuming I already had all of the answers I needed;

  • only added information specifically where I was missing some;

  • helped me find my own answers and be available to add knowledge in the exact place I was missing it.

My own curiosity would have gotten me nowhere. Here was my Internal Dialogue:

How the hell do I draw a twisted shoulder? This sucks. Is this an eye/hand problem? Should I be looking differently? I need an anatomy class. Should I be holding my charcoal differently? Is it too big a piece? I can’t see a shadow near his shoulder. Should I put in a false shadow to help me get the proportions right?

Ron’s curiosity – based on me possessing skills – opened a wide range of possibilities for me. I never, ever would have found that solution on my own because my biases would have limited my curiosity to little more than an extension of my current knowledge and beliefs.

HOW TO EXPAND YOUR CURIOSITY

In order to widen curiosity to the full range of knowledge and allow our unconscious to accept the full data set available, we must evolve beyond our biases. Here’s how to have a full range of choice:

1. Frame the query: Create a generic series of questions to pose for yourself about your curiosity. Ask yourself how you’ll know

a. your tolerance for non-expected, surprising answers,
b. what a full range of knowledge could include,
c. if your answers need to be within the range of what you already know or something wildly different,
d. if you’re willing/able to put aside your ‘intuition’, bias, and annoyance and seek and consider all possible answers regardless of comfort,
e. if you need to stay within a specific set of criteria and what the consequences are.

2. Frame the parameters: Do some Google research. Before spending time accumulating data, recognize the parameters of possibility whether or not they match your comfortable criteria.

3. Recognize your foundational beliefs: Understand what you believe to be true, and consider how important it is for you to maintain that data set regardless of potentially conflicting, new information.

4. Willingness to change: Understand your willingness to adopt challenging data if it doesn’t fit within your current data set or beliefs.

5. Make your unconscious conscious: Put your conscious mind onto the ceiling and look down on yourself (and whoever is with you) from the Observer position.

6. Listen analytically: Listen to your self-talk. Compare it with the questions above. Note restrictions and decide if they can be overlooked.

7. Analyze: Should you shift your parameters? Search options? What do you need to shift internally?

Curiosity effects every element of our lives. It can enhance, or restrict, growth, change, and professional skills. It limits and expands health, relationships, lifestyles and relationships. Without challenging our curiosity or intuition, we limit ourselves to maintaining our current assumptions.

What do you need to believe differently to be willing to forego comfort and ego-identity for the pursuit of the broadest range of possible answers? How will you know when, specifically, it would be important to have greater choice? We’ll never have all the answers, but we certainly can expand our choices.

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

August 2nd, 2021

Posted In: Listening

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