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

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

HOW BRAIN’S ‘LISTEN’

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

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

– capture some portion of incoming sound vibrations,

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

– translate the remaining vibrations into signals that get sent to

– match ‘similar-enough’ existing circuits, which

– discard what doesn’t match.

The remainder is what we think we ‘hear’.

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

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

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

DIAGRAM OF HOW BRAINS ‘LISTEN’

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

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

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

INPUT (WORDS/VIBRATIONS) -> FILTERS (BELIEFS, MENTAL MODELS) -> CUE (CREATES SIGNALS) -> CEN (DISPATCH) -> OUTPUT (INTERPRETATION – WHAT WE THINK WAS SAID)

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

GUIDELINES TO MAXIMIZE UNDERSTANDING IN DIALOGUE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMPASSION, EMPATHY, AND RESPECT

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

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

______________________

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

August 29th, 2022

Posted In: Listening

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

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

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

THE ONE

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

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

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

BEST CUSTOMER SERVICE EVER

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

SD: I’M SO HAPPY I FOUND THESE I HAVEN’T BEEN ABLE TO FIND THEM ANYWHERE I’M SO HAPPY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE LOBOTOMY CAUGHT ON TAPE

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

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

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

___________________________

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

August 15th, 2022

Posted In: Communication, Listening

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

WHAT’S WRONG WITH SALES?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IS SELLING PREDATORY?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SALES IS SHORT-SIGHTED

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

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

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

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

Different from sales, which

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

To elaborate:

Aspiring to a win-win

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

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

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

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

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

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

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

There are several pieces to the puzzle here.

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

We are all here to serve each other

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

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

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

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

There is no right answer

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

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

No one has anyone else’s answer

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

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

THE NEW WAY

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

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

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

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

____________

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

August 8th, 2022

Posted In: Communication, Listening, Sales

Being Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

V: Hi Sharon.

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

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

SDM: Neither do I.

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

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

Here is where the assumptions get interesting:

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

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

ASSUMPTIONS RESTRICT AUTHENTIC COMMUNICATION

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

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

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

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

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

THE COST OF ASSUMING

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

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

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

LISTEN IN OBSERVER/COACH TO AVOID ASSUMPTIONS

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

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

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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.

July 25th, 2022

Posted In: Listening

What if most of our viewpoints, interpretations and assumptions are so unconsciously biased that we unwittingly restrict our ability to accurately understand, or act on, incoming information? And what’s accuracy anyway?

Our brains are the culprit, as they set the stage for the way we make sense of the world. With historic and automatic circuits that instruct our thoughts and actions, we don’t question what our brains tell us, what seems to be reasonable or wrong.

Responding from our historic personal norms and beliefs, we instinctively assume our perceptions, actions, interpretations, are based on reality. But we invent our own reality. As David Eagleman says in The Brain,

 

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

Our brains actually restrict us to hearing, understanding, and learning what’s comfortable and acceptable, causing deep seated biases. Our subjectivity maintains us. At all costs.

SUBJECTIVITY VS OBJECTIVITY

As a result of how our brains instruct our actions and thoughts and interpret incoming data, we live our lives subjectively, based on our personal, unique, and idiosyncratic beliefs, assumptions, and norms. We think we’re making good choices when we choose or consider one thing vs another, when we easily reject something because it makes no sense or annoys us. Or worse, when it’s ‘obvious’ to us that one thing should be valued differently than another.

We like to think we’re able to be objective. I’m here to tell you, we’re not.

The Wikipedia definition of objectivity is “… the elimination of subjective perspectives and … purely based on hard facts.” And “a lack of bias, judgment, or prejudice.” But is this possible? What are ‘hard facts’ when our brain rejects them as faulty? When our brains determine what ‘reality’ is? I suggest that objectivity is only slightly less biased than subjectivity.

Indeed, it’s pretty impossible to experience or interpret most anything without bias. We act, make decisions and choices, communicate with others, raise children and have friends, all from a small range of favored, habitual mental models that we’ve spent a lifetime culling and assume are accurate.

  • We hear and understand through our brain’s existent neural pathways, causing incoming information (incoming via electrical and chemical signals devoid of meaning) to flow down historic brain routes developed through a lifetime of beliefs, norms, experiences. Regardless of how ‘factual’ it is, when incoming data doesn’t jive with our existing beliefs, our brains ‘do us a favor’ and resist and re-interpret whatever falls outside of what we ‘know’ to be true. Obviously, anything new has a good chance of not being understood accurately. Bias is just cooked in; we don’t even think twice about trusting our intuition or natural reasoning.
  • Whether we’re in a conversation, listening to media, or even reading, we listen through biased filters, and hear what our brains tell us was said – likely to be X% different from the intended message. Unless we develop new neural pathways for the new incoming data, we will only hear what our brains are already comfortable with.

Indeed, our worlds are very tightly controlled by our unconscious and habituated biases, making it quite difficult to objectively hear or understand new idea-based incoming information that is different. It takes quite a bit of work to act beyond our perceptions.

WHY CAN’T WE BE OBJECTIVE?

Each of us interpret incoming messages uniquely. Have you ever spoken with folks who believe that ‘9/11’, or the moon landing, was a hoax or conspiracy? What about people who smoke, and interpret the health data uniquely, believing that because their grandfather smoked until he died at 95 that it’s not going to happen to them? Objectivity is not, well, objective. Here’s what happens: Sometimes

  • the way the new information comes in to us – the words used, the setting, the history between the communication partners, the distance between what’s being said and our current beliefs – cause us to unconsciously misinterpret bits of data;
  • we have no natural way of recognizing an incongruity between the incoming information and our unconscious thoughts;
  • our brain deletes some of the signals from incoming messages when they are discordant with what’s already there, without giving us the deletions to let us know what we missed (My book What? Did you really say what I think I heard?explains and corrects this problem.);
  • our beliefs are so strong we react automatically without having enough detachment to notice;
  • what we think is objective is often merely a habitual choice.

We each live in worlds of our own making. We choose friends and neighborhoods according to our beliefs and how our ears interpret ‘facts’, choose professions according to our likes and predispositions, raise our kids with the same norms and beliefs that we hold. In other words, we’ve created rather stable – certainly comfortable – worlds for ourselves that we fight to maintain regardless of how our biases may distort.

When communicating with others, ‘objective facts’ might get lost in subjectivity. In business we connect with different viewpoints and attempt to convince other’s of our ‘rightness’, and either they don’t believe us or they feel we’ve made them ‘wrong’. Our children learn stuff in school that we might find objectionable regardless of its veracity, or we might disagree with teachers who have different interpretations of our child’s behavior. What about the ‘fake news’ claims these days? What, exactly is true? I contend the difference between ‘fake news’ and factual reporting is in our perceptions. Either can be objective or subjective given our underlying biases, and separate from the ‘reality’ of facts.

And of course, most scientific facts we deem ‘objective truth’ may just be opinions. Folks like Curie, Einstein, Hawking, and Tesla were considered to be cranks because their ideas flew in the face of objective science that turned out to be nothing more than decades and centuries of perceived wisdom/opinions.

The problem shows up in every aspect of our lives. Sometimes there’s no way to separate out objective fact from subjective belief, regardless of the veracity.

I remember when my teenage son came home with blue hair one day. Thinking of what his teachers would say (This was in 1985!) or his friend’s parents, I wanted to scream. Instead I requested that next time he wanted to do something like that to please discuss it with me first, and then told him it looked great (It actually was a terrific color!). But his father went nuts when he came to pick him up, screaming at both of us (“What kind of a mother lets her son dye his hair blue!!!”), and taking him directly to the barber to shave his head. For me, it was merely hair. Objective reality.

CASE STUDY IN OBJECTIVITY VS SUBJECTIVITY

I once visited a friend in the hospital where I began a light conversations with the elderly orderly helping her sit up and eat. During our chat, the orderly asked me if I could mentor him. Um… Well, I was busy. Please! he begged. Not knowing what I could add to his life and having a bias that folks who asked me to mentor them just wanted me to give them money, I reluctantly, doubtfully, said ok.

He emailed me and invited me to dinner. Um… well, ok. I’d donate one night. He lived in a tiny room in a senior living center, on the ‘wrong’ side of the tracks. It was very clean and neat, and he had gone out of his way to prepare the best healthy dinner he knew how to offer. Shrimp cocktail. Nice salad. Hamburger and beans. Ice cream. During dinner he played some lovely music. Just lovely. I was transfixed. Who is that playing, I asked.

“It’s me. I wrote that piece, and I’m playing all the instruments. I have several CDs of music I’ve composed and self-produced. Can you help me find someone who might want to hear it and do something with it? I’ve never met anyone who could help me.” I helped him find folks who helped him professionally record at least two of his compositions.

By any ‘objective’ measure, using my own subjective biases and ignoring the objective truth that we’re all equal and everyone is capable of having talent, I didn’t initially consider that someone ‘like that’ (old, black, poor, uneducated) had the enormous talent this man possessed, regardless of my advocacy of non-bias and gender/race equality.

Unwittingly, we seriously restrict our worlds the way we process incoming data. We live subjective lives that restrict us. And as a result, we end up having arguments, misunderstandings, failed initiatives; we end up having a smaller pool of ideas to think with and don’t see a need for further research or checking; we make faulty assumptions about people and ideas that could bring benefits to our lives. I personally believe it’s necessary for us to remove as many restrictions as possible to our pool of knowledge and beliefs.

HOW TO COMPENSATE

To recognize bias and have a new choice, we must first recognize the necessity of noticing when something we believe may not be true, regardless of how strong our conviction otherwise. It’s quite difficult to do using the same biases that caused us to unconsciously bias in the first place.

Here’s a tip to help expand your normalized perception and notice a much broader range of givens, or ‘reality,’ to view an expanded array of options from a Witness or Coach or Observer position on the ceiling:

  1. Sit quietly. Think of a situation that ended with you misinterpreting something and the outcome wasn’t pretty. Replay it through your mind’s eye. Pay particular attention to your feelings as you relive each aspect of the situation. Replay it again.
  2. Notice where your body has pain, discomfort, or annoyance points.
  3. As soon as you notice, intensify the feeling at the site of the discomfort. Then impart a color on it. Make the color throb.
  4. Mentally move that color inside your body to the outer edges of your eyeballs and make the color vibrate in your eyes.
  5. When you mentally notice the color vibration, make sure you sit back in your chair or stand up. Then move your awareness up to the ceiling (i.e. in Witness or Observer position) and look down at yourself. From above you’ll notice an expanded range of data points and options outside your standard ones, causing you to physiologically evade your subjective choices.

Since the difference between subjectivity and objectivity is one of perception, and in general our brains make our determinations unconsciously, we must go to the place in our brains that cause us to perceive, and make it conscious. Only then can we have any objective choice. And next time we think we’re being objective, maybe rethink the situation to consider whether new choices are needed.

___________________________

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.

July 11th, 2022

Posted In: Communication, Listening, Sales

Going from a successful sales professional to an entrepreneur of a start-up tech company, I realized the problem with sales. As an entrepreneur I tried to tried to resolve problems in-house. When impossible, the next step was to figure out if we were willing to go external and actually buy something, figure out if the ‘cost’, the risk, of making a purchase would carry a greater risk than keeping things as they were.

We ended up fumbling around trying to figure this out, but always moving toward congruent change; I didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. And it wasn’t until we figured out how, if, or when to change without major disruption, and until everyone bought in, I never even considered buying anything.

Along the way I tracked my steps and noticed our decision-making process, a change management process with specific stages, each meant to maintain stability, each meant to find solutions and workarounds that would match our goals and norms.

WHO IS A BUYER

I was surprised to discover that regardless of my need, or any available solutions that I could have purchased earlier, I never considered myself a buyer and ignored all sales content.

This process, this change management process I went through, is something everyone does before they become buyers. In other words, the missing piece in sales was the change piece: if sales first sought folks trying to solve a problem in the area my solution would help them with, then facilitated them through the issues they needed to resolve (job descriptions, goals, buy-in, workarounds, and organizational/internal change) before choosing their least disruptive solution, we’d find folks on route to buying and make their process more efficient.

When we attempt to sell our solutions too early, folks haven’t yet determined their full set of needs, don’t have all the stakeholders on board, haven’t yet tried all workarounds, and generally are not ready to buy. The pitching and presenting, waiting and following up, was falling on deaf ears.

I sure could have used help making the process more efficient; if a sales person had helped me understand the issues my decision-making had to include, I would have figured out a lot sooner if I needed to buy something. But unfortunately, this is overlooked by the sales industry because it is NOT purchase-based.

I finally understood the missing piece in the sales model, the cause of the very low close rates: by assuming someone with ‘need’ is a prospect, we ignore the obligatory change management portion that precedes decision making. What if we added a wholly new skill set to first find folks in the process of change, help them address it, and THEN sell once they became buyers?

Turns out selling and change facilitation are two distinct endeavors with two distinct skill sets. I decided to develop a front end tool to add to the sales model.

For years I’d been studying NLP and neuroscience to best understand how brains are organized so I could figure out how to make change more efficient. I combined this knowledge with my newfound understanding of what goes on behind-the-scenes on the Buy Side, and developed a generic change facilitation model called Buying Facilitation® as a precursor (and wholly separate model) to sales.

This article introduces you to Buying Facilitation®, a precursor to sales, and a way to facilitate people along their route to buy-in, decision-making, and change. And buying.

DO YOU WANT TO SELL? OR HELP SOMEONE BUY?

BIG IDEA: People don’t want to buy anything, merely solve a problem at the least ‘cost’ (risk) to their system. Until they understand the risk of bringing in something new, they won’t self-identify as ‘buyers’ regardless of their need or the efficacy of your solution.

PROBLEM: People don’t consider they have a need until all workarounds are tried and all stakeholders agree. They won’t heed any selling efforts even if the content offered might solve their problem. By seeking out folks with ‘need’, sellers restrict their audience to the low-hanging fruit – those who have completed their 13 step change management process they must traverse before considering they’ve got a need and become buyers.

SOLUTION: It’s possible to find folks who WILL become buyers on the first call, facilitate them through their change steps with a change/decision model (Buying Facilitation®), and then sell. But because the two endeavors are distinct, trying to incorporate change facilitation with selling causes the same resistance and avoidance sellers currently get.

BIG IDEA: People don’t become buyers until they’ve handled all of their internal stuff, the risk of change is acceptable, and everyone involved agrees they’re ready, willing, and able to bring in something new. With a solution-placement focus, sales and marketing finds only those few who have completed their change process.

PROBLEM: The problem is not in getting our solution sold; it’s in getting our solution bought. Before self-identifying as buyers, people have Pre-Sales, change management work to do that doesn’t involve the content we try to push on them. Our sales and marketing efforts seek to ‘get in’, get read, or determine ‘need’, which restricts the prospect base to people who already know what they need (those who have completed their process).

SOLUTION: Before they become buyers they must assemble the most appropriate people, get consensus, try workarounds, understand the ‘cost’/risk of making a change, and manage the actual change. Current tools only create connections with people already seeing external solutions, but it’s possible to enter earlier with a change toolkit:

  • Because of the selling biases in our listening and questioning, sellers extract partial data, from people who don’t have the full fact pattern yet and who haven’t self-identified as buyers;
  • promised dates get ignored and we spend huge amounts of time following up people who will never buy because WE think they have a need (and ‘need’ does not a buyer maker);
  • we lose an opportunity to connect and prove our competitive worth by entering with a change facilitation purpose first;
  • we waste our time pushing content on folks not yet buyers and waiting, hoping they’ll buy, and cause resistance instead of entering earlier to facilitate the change.

Buying Facilitation® uses a very specific tool kit, the Pre-Sales stuff selling doesn’t handle. Once we help with this, we’ve either helped them help themselves, or they realize they cannot solve the problem internally and they become prospects. For these folks, we then sell. These are the folks we would have ended up trying to sell to anyway, but too often we would have been ignored because they hadn’t been ready. Once they’ve reached this point, they are ready buyers and no longer prospects.

BIG IDEA: The flaw in the sales model: designed to place solutions, sales starts selling to anyone they assume has a need, well before people are prospects, before they are ready/able to buy and haven’t gotten the buy-in or understood the ‘cost’ of making a change. This restricts success to those who finally self-identify as buyers – the low hanging fruit (5%).

PROBLEM: The status quo is preferred and is the basis of decision making. Regardless of a buyer’s real need (which they often don’t understand until very late in the change cycle), or the relevance of a solution; regardless of relationship or pitch/content/price; it is only when they’ve completed their change and all agree they need an external solution that they consider buying anything. This holds true regardless of type or price of solution.

SOLUTION: Buying Facilitation® is a generic, unique brain-based change facilitation model that facilitates people through the obligatory systemic decision-making steps necessary to manage change. Those who end up solving their problem are fine – we’ve served them quickly and there’s no need to follow up. Those who need our solution become prospects and sellers then shift into selling modality to place solutions. It can be used with small personal products, cold calls, help desks, complex sales, and marketing.

Because BF must be unbiased, I developed a new form of listening (Listening for Systems) and a new form of direction-driven/non-biased question (Facilitative Question) to facilitate someone’s journey through the steps of change. Once folks are at the point of becoming prospects and buyers, sellers are already in place and the buy cycle is quick.

But you must remember not to use BF as a selling tool or you’ll end up with the same results you’re getting now. It’s necessary to understand that a buying decision is first a change management problem before a solution choice issue.

Buyers must handle this stuff, with you or without you: you’ve always sat and waited (and called, sent, called, pitched, prayed, waited) while they do this for themselves and the time it takes them is the length of the sales cycle (And no, there is NO indecision!). If you can collaborate with them first as change facilitators, not solution providers, you’ll serve them from the beginning. [Read my book on this: www.dirtylittlesecretsbook.com]

EXAMPLE OF USING BUYING FACILITATION®

Let me lead you through one simple situation from a small business banker I trained at a major US bank. They decided to employ Buying Facilitation® throughout the bank following a successful pilot training:

A. Control group Sales: 100 calls, 10 appointments, 2 closed sales in 11 months.

B. Buying Facilitation®: 100 calls, 37 appointments, 29 closed sales in 3 months.

While these numbers might sound high, remember: interactions proceed differently using Buying Facilitation® because the focus is different: it’s first a call with a change facilitation hat on to (A) find those seeking change, (B) then facilitate them through their entire decision path and (C) then sell to those who become buyers.

Starting by seeking those folks already involved in finding the best route to change, and using ‘change’ rather than ‘need’ as the original focus, there’s different output and the odds of finding and facilitating someone who will become a buyer are high.

Using Buying Facilitation® with a Facilitative Question, my client started like this:

“Hi. My name is John and I’m a small business banker from X bank. This is a sales call. I’m wondering: How are you currently adding new banking resources for those times your current bank can’t give you what you need to keep your business operating optimally?”

Notice he’s not attempting to ‘uncover need’. Here’s the thinking: Given all small businesses have some banking relationship, the only businesses who would want to discuss new banking services were: 1. those who weren’t happy with their current bank, or 2. had bankers who might not be able to provide what they might need.

By helping them figure out where they could add a new resource without disrupting current vendor relationships, my clients vastly expanded the field of possible buyers and instantly eliminated those who would never buy. After all, people have the right to be satisfied with their current vendors!

It proved a winning tactic: 37 were willing to continue the conversation, line up all of the decision factors, figure out who the real stakeholders were, and have everyone meet the seller, just from that opening question (up from 10). During the field visit we helped them get buy-in and consensus to bring in an additional vendor – us. Win/win. Collaboration. True facilitation.

CONCLUSION:

Buying Facilitation® is not sales, not a solution placement tool, not an information gathering tool, and not a persuasion tactic. It’s not content-driven, and sellers don’t try to understand a buyer’s needs because they can’t know their needs until the end of when they’ve become buyers: until they figure out how to manage any change, they are only people trying to solve a problem – not buyers – and they will resist all sales efforts and content. Once all workarounds have been tried, and the ‘cost’ (risk) to the system is understood and found agreeable to all stakeholders, people then self-identify as buyers.

By first facilitating change and decision making before trying to sell, you’ve halved the sales cycle and doubled the folks interested in buying. There’s no manipulation, no persuasion, no influencing. It’s a win/win collaboration, servant leader model that might lead into a sales process: we actually facilitate buyer readiness.

I can’t say this enough: buyers go through this anyway, without us. Let’s use our industry knowledge and be real trusted advisors. Find folks going through change in the area our solution serves, then help them navigate their change before selling. It can be your competitive edge.

And we end up with real prospects who we’ve helped get ready to buy. Not to mention the collaboration, trust, respect, and integrity built into the interaction creates lasting relationships when used throughout the relationship.

The good news is that you can still sell – but only to those who are indeed ready willing and able, rather than waste 90% of your time trying to manipulate, pitch, persuade, push, ‘get through the door’, network, write content, etc. You can help those who CAN buy get their ducks in a row and quickly eliminate those who will never buy because it will become obvious to you both.

I’m not suggesting you don’t sell; I’m merely suggesting you find and facilitate change for those who WILL buy, and set that up by first facilitating prospective buyers down their own buying decision path.

____________

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 30th, 2022

Posted In: Listening, Sales

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.

__________________________________________

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.

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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.

February 7th, 2022

Posted In: Listening, Sales

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