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.


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. She can be reached at

May 22nd, 2023

Posted In: Listening, News


As an influencer, how often do say to yourself “Why doesn’t she understand me?” or “If he understood me better this decision would be a no-brainer.” It’s natural to assume Others will understand – and comply with – your suggestions. Have you ever wondered what’s happening when they don’t?

As an influencer, part of your job is to facilitate change. But how? In general, you’ve likely used great rationale, logic, and leadership, data sharing, or just plain directives. But what if your Communication Partner’s brain isn’t set up to hear you accurately? What if your words are misinterpreted, or not understood? You naturally assume your words carry the meaning you intend to convey. But do they?

Sometimes people misinterpret you and your audience is unintentionally restricted to only those who naturally understand your message. Sometimes people ignore you, regardless of how important your message, how engagingly you deliver it, or how badly they need it.

What if ‘changing minds’ is the wrong way to think about it, and if your real job is to ‘change brains’? What if the Other’s brain, it’s neural circuitry, was in charge and your job was to facilitate the way it went about decision making?


Thinking about using any form of content-based sharing as a persuasion strategy, let me share a confounding concept: words have no meaning until our brain interprets them. According to John Colapinto in his fascinating book This is the Voice,

Speech is a connected flow of ever-changing, harmonically rich musical pitches determined by the rate at which the phonating chords vibrate, the complex overtone spectrum is filtered by the rapidly changing length and shape of the mouth, and lips, interspersed with bursts of noise…It is our brain that turns this incoming stream of sonic air disturbances into something meaningful. (pg 54)

Seems to parallel how we ‘see’ color. We don’t, exactly. Light vibrations enter our eyes and get translated into color by our rods and cones. Otherwise, the world is gray! Indeed, both what we see and what we hear are largely out of our control, influencing what we notice (or not), how we decide (or not), what we think and hear and are curious about (We can’t be curious unless we have the circuitry to think with!).

Here’s a greatly simplified explanation of how brains translate incoming words (or sounds, or…) as I learned when researching my book WHAT?: Spoken words, like all sounds, are merely meaningless electrochemical vibrations that enter our ears as ‘puffs of air’, as many neuroscientists call the vibrations, that get filtered, then automatically dispatched as signals to what our brain considers a ‘similar-enough’ circuit (one among 100 trillion) for translation. And where the signals don’t match, a Listener’s brain kindly discards the difference!

People understand us according to how the selected circuits translate these signals, regardless of how different they are from the intended message.

In other words, people don’t hear us according to what we say but by how their historic circuitry interprets it. To me this is quite annoying and hard to address: not only does that restrict incoming content to what’s already familiar to us, there’s a chance that what we think was said is only some fraction of what was intended.

Unfortunately, neither the Speaker or Listener understands how far from accurate the translation is. Listeners assume their brains tell them exactly what’s been said; Speakers assume they’ve been heard accurately. Turns out these assumptions are both false; communication potentially ends up biased, restricted, and subjective.


The misinterpretation problem gets exacerbated when words get sent down circuits that unwittingly incur resistance, as Others ‘hear’ something that goes against their beliefs. If my brain tells me you said ABL it’s hard to convince me you said ABC. I’ve lost friends and partners that way and didn’t understand why until my book research. And sadly, it all takes place outside of conscious awareness.

This is especially problematic when there’s a new project to be completed, supervision to correct a problem, or Business Process Management to be organized. It’s a problem between parents and teenagers and a curse in negotiations. As leaders, without knowing how accurately we’re heard, we have no idea if our directives or information sharing is being received as we intend.

This possibility of misinterpreting incoming words makes the case for providing information when it can be most accurately translated: when the Listener knows exactly what they are listening for, the brain has a more direct route to the appropriate circuits to interpret them.

In other words, instead of starting with goals or solutions for Others, we need their direct buy-in first. To invoke change, help Others figure out what they need from you then supply content that will be applied accurately. In other words, instead of shooting an arrow to hit a bullseye, first shoot the arrow then draw the bullseye where the arrow lands!


After 60 years of studying, and developing models for, systemic brain change and decision making, I’ve realized that offering ideas, directives, suggestions, or information is the very last thing anyone needs when considering doing something different (i.e. buying, changing habits, etc.). And yes, it goes against most conventional thinking. But hang with me.

As a kid, my then-undiagnosed Asperger’s caused me to act differently than people around me. I was in trouble often and never understood why. I began reading voraciously on how to change my behaviors: how to visualize, to motivate myself, be disciplined. But they were all based on trying to fix my seemingly automatic actions, to change my behaviors. And I failed repeatedly to make any of the changes permanent.

I finally acknowledged it’s not possible to change a behavior by trying to change a behavior, my brain was the culprit. I then began developing neural workarounds to:

I know, I know. It’s odd, and there was lots of trial-and-error. But eventually I figured it out and dedicated the rest of my life to developing, writing about, and teaching systemic brain change models for conscious behavior change.

Thankfully, my concepts caught on in salescoachingleadership, and change management: my facilitation models help people orchestrate their own change based on their own internal norms, values, and criteria: in sales, my Buying Facilitation® model teaches people on route to fixing a problem how to become buyers. In coaching and change management, I provide the skill sets to enable people to discover, and act on, their own unique criteria and avoid resistence.


For those of you whose job is to get Others to do something you want them to do, let’s look at it from the side of the people you seek to change.

In order for change to occur, people must understand the difference between their status quo (their problem) and the new activity you want them to do. Below are all the specific factors they must address to be ready, willing, and able to change:

Conform to norms: Change is more than doing something different; it demands a reconfiguration of the brain circuitry. And it’s only when an incongruence is noticed that something different is required. By first facilitating people through their discovery – by leading them to the underlying beliefs and values that created the circuits that caused the problem – they can discover an incongruence and be willing to change. It’s got nothing to do with new content or imposed regulations, regardless how important they are. I created a new form of brain-directive question (i.e. not information gathering) called a Facilitative Question that’s quite effective at leading others to their own, often unconscious, answers.

Cost: It’s not until the ‘cost’ (resource, results, disruption) of a fix is identified and agreed to by all stakeholders (including mental models and beliefs) that it’s possible to know if a problem is worth fixing. No one naturally seeks out change if all seems fine, regardless of the problem or the efficacy of the solution.

Disruption: Because our internal systems seek balance (homeostasis), we avoid disruption. And the time it takes us to find a route through to a change that matches our values and avoids risk is the length of the change cycle. If new behaviors are required that cause someone to be out of balance, they will be resisted.

Personal: When change is sought, people must discover their own route to change that match their values and maintains homeostasis. And outsiders can ever understand someone’s history, values, norms, or neural configurations.


To facilitate change efficiently, we need a shift in thinking. Instead of trying to have the answers for Others, first focus on the goal of helping Others discover how to handle their own change issues; enable them to discover their own incongruences. Then they’ll know exactly where they need to add or subtract something to fix it, and the influencer can supply the information to complete the process.

Here’s a situation where I used a carefully crafted sentence to direct a friend’s thinking to where her choice points lie.

I have a lovely young friend who, to me, had serious energy problems. Some days she had difficulty getting out of bed, even with 5 children. Some days she didn’t have the energy to cook or work. And she’d been having this issue for decades. After knowing her a year I finally said, “If the time ever comes that you wish for additional choices around your store of energy to be more available for your kids, I have a thought.”

By shifting the context to her children, by giving her control over her choices and not trying to change her, by leading her to each of her decision points, her system didn’t feel threatened. She welcomed my thoughts, got help (My naturopath discovered she was actually dying from a critical lack of vitamin B12.) and now is awake daily at 5:30 a.m. with endless amounts of energy.

No matter what the problem or solution may be, unless someone understands that change won’t cause major disruption, unless the new fits with their values and criteria, unless all the people involved agree to change, they won’t consider doing anything different. So how can we help Others find their own excellence?


You must begin by trusting Others have their own criteria for change. Instead of starting with answers or goals, lead them down their unique path through to discovery, to notice any incongruences they can’t resolve on their own. Then they’ll know exactly what they need from you and be ready to hear your information. And as you’ve already helped them help themselves, they’ll come to you for their needs and trust has been established when you offer them new ideas.

The facilitation model I developed leads buyers, teams, coaching clients through to discovery. It involves 13 specific steps that follow the sequence all brain change takes as a precursor to behavior change, providing the tools to help the Other figure out their own path. By then they’ll need your information. To address change congruently, people must first:

  • recognize the full set of givens involved;
  • identify and include all stakeholders, beliefs, criteria, and norms;
  • try workarounds to fix the problem internally if possible;
  • understand and accept the risk of change;
  • get buy-in to adopt the new.

It’s not so simple as an outsider gathering or sharing information or posing questions to help the influencer understand. Because until they know that the cost change will be equal to or less than their status quo, they will not take action.

Historically, I’ve taught this facilitation process successfully to 100,000 sales professionals and coaches. But with the new technology, it’s quite possible to use it in marketing for Deal Rooms, ABM discussions, and Sales Enablement.

So as you consider delaying your storytelling or pitching until you’ve facilitated change, ask yourself:

  • Would you rather speak or be heard?
  • What is your job – to serve Others through to their own form of excellence or get your point across to anyone who can listen?
  • Do you seek a quick hit or a long-term relationship?
  • Would you rather be a servant leader or an information hawker?

You decide. It’s possible to serve Others and be available with information when and as they need. Sellers can first facilitate buying, coaches and facilitate permanent change, and marketers can develop content that leads people through to brain change. I’m here if you have questions. Or go to to learn about my facilitation and brain change models.


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

May 8th, 2023

Posted In: News

Early this morning I went to my favorite ‘big box’ supermarket, WinCo. If you’re not in one of the 5 states where it operates (Washington, Idaho, Nevada, California, and Oregon), you may not be familiar with it and I’d like to introduce you. WinCo is an employee-owned food-supply chain that cares as much for its employees as it does for its customers. As a result, the customer service and store care is exceptional: the stores are spotless, well-stocked, and employees are easy to find if you have a question, not to mention always kind, informed, and personal. And it’s always a surprise to find items I purchase in more specialty stores – even Amazon! – at least 40% cheaper! Who knew my favorite Roasted Salsa Verde (Herdez) was available at half the price! I love this store and am willing to drive out of my way to shop there. As I was walking down an aisle I noticed a tall woman and young man walk over to a much older man as he was cleaning the floors:

Woman: We’d like to give you a gift (She handed him an envelope – I assume it was a check.) for all the hard work you do and how well you take care of us all. You always go the extra step to make this store even better. We deeply appreciate you and all do you for us. We all thank you.

I must admit I stopped in my tracks and began crying a bit. I had never heard this in any store, nor have I been aware of supermarkets gifting and thanking employees for their service. I sought the woman (his manager?) out.

SD: Do you choose an ‘employee of the month’ each month and hand out checks to the winners?

Woman: No. It’s on an individual basis. Sometimes we hand out a few in one month, sometimes only a few a year. It depends. When we notice someone doing a great job we reward them and let them know they’re important to us. It’s pretty simple. We take care of each other and show our appreciation when one of us shines.

‘We take care of each other’. So simple! When was the last time you let an employee, one of your staff or team, know how much they were appreciated? Went out of your way to take care of them? OUR EMPLOYEES ARE OUR FIRST CUSTOMERS When I started up my tech company in 1983 in London I had never run a business before. But even without knowing ‘the rules’ I knew it was as important to care for my team as well as I cared for clients. To that end I put in place some initiatives to make sure they felt taken care of. Every year I gave the management team a fully paid week off and a $3,000 check for tuition and travel to take any type of course they wanted (Photography? Pottery?), even if the subject matter had nothing to do with their jobs. The goal was to help them keep their brains creative and curious. Certainly a way to let them know I appreciated them. I also didn’t give them vacation time per se but told them to take off whatever time they needed (so long as they covered their responsibilities) when they felt they weren’t operating on all cylinders. I told them I trusted them to know when they needed rest – it wasn’t about the time. Surprisingly I had to force them to take time off. I would call their wives – and in those days (1980’s) the team was mostly men and the women were usually at home doing child care – tell them to give the kids to the grandparents for a few days, and keep their husbands in bed. To make sure they had plenty of time to relax, I had restaurants deliver food to them so no one had to cook or shop. My folks would return rested with happy faces. Because it was quite important to me that we all meshed even though in scattered locations, I took my inside and outside folks to a pub once a month for beer and darts. I always lost (I never figured out darts in all my years in London!); out of pity, I suspect, they then bought the next round. FIELD FOLKS BROUGHT IN BUSINESS To keep abreast of the field folks (the techies) and make sure they felt like part of the company, I called each of them once a month to check in. Sure, I only had 40 people in the field so it was doable (My secretary would schedule the calls to make sure we connected). One of the pluses of my check-ins was they would tell me when our client was preparing to upgrade the program/package we supported. I knew the vendor had a team that installed it, but that would have taken business away from us and we could easily do the installation. I certainly wanted to be involved with any follow-on work. I would then call my client before the new software was installed and asked if they’d be willing to continue working with us if they brought in new software. Of course they were happy to have us do the work, given my staff’s excellence. This factor alone caused my business to explode. I once even got a call from the vendor: “You’re killing me. Clients order an upgrade but don’t hire us to do any programming because you’re already handling it. How do you get in there so fast?” My colleagues chided me when they found out how well I took care of my peeps: “Are you running a spa?” they’d ask. “Don’t you think your folks will take advantage?” I think they were jealous, but that didn’t stop them from trying to hire my staff away from me. I would hear grumbles at conferences, gossip that they were offering big bucks to lure my folks away. But nope, I never lost an employee to anything other than relocation in four years. They were happy. Together we grew the business from zero to almost $5,000,000 in under four years – with no internet (1984 -1988), no websites, no email, no Twitter, no LinkedIn. Just me – a rookie entrepreneur – and my team remained dedicated to caring for our clients and each other. WHO IS YOUR CLIENT? I believe our employees are our first customers – happy staff happy clients. Why do we forget this? How is it possible that some of the larger companies are known to have high turnover, low pay, and very strict hours with rules designed to minimize variance and kill the creative spirit rather than maximize kindness and respect? Why are companies willing to harm employees, to be disrespectful and unkind, just to save a buck? When did money become more important than values or humanity? What are they saving, anyway? When I did consulting work at KPMG I noticed a bravado about working all night, or 80 hour weeks. No surprise that many of the partners were on their third marriages – almost all on their second. Working that hard – hard enough to ignore sleep, relationships, food – was a highly valued part of the culture. Why? Why don’t we take care of our employees better? Trust them and their ideas? Take time to listen to them? Make them understand that without them we can’t be successful? How did people become expendable to save money at all costs? I know a very large, successful multinational that forces all levels of employees to spend hours preparing for meetings with senior managers where they’d have to make a case to receive modest funds – even $200! – for an online skills course or money for needed coaching. It’s a misuse of everyone’s time, disrespectful, and not even rational. Why not give mid-level managers a slush fund to have on hand when someone needs something and trust their judgement!? Why not hire people you can trust and let them decide what their folks need? We all put so much energy into our clients and customers so we can make money. Why don’t we offer our staff the same respect? We spend a fortune hiring and training the ‘right’ people and then create rules and restrictions to control them. We treat them like chits, like cogs in a wheel and make them replaceable, ‘things’ without value. And yet we want them to deliver for us and complain about turnover, about their lack of ownership. What we lose is not only ideas and loyalty, but the spirit of a man, the heart of a woman. We too often make our employees objects. I’ve interviewed middle managers in large corporations who tell me they’ve stopped bringing in new ideas because they don’t get heard, or live only for their vacation time because they’re so miserable and stay only because they’re getting paid so well. Let’s take as good care of our employees as we do our clients and customers. Let’s make sure everyone is given the time, the respect, the remuneration, to work in an environment that is filled with kindness, trust, creativity, collaboration and ideas so they can’t wait to come to work each day. Let’s treasure each of our employees. They are, indeed, special. That’s why we hired them. What’s the cost? What’s the cost if we don’t?


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

May 1st, 2023

Posted In: News

Change management is one of those core competencies that seems to mean different things to different people. Whatever the methods used, however, the process of achieving change is fraught with problems: resistance; failure of user or leadership buy-in; time delays. And those who notice the problems don’t take responsibility for fixing them, stating “It’s not my job.”

Currently many projects are defined, level-set and lead by ‘leaders’ who don’t touch the problem daily, nor whose jobs will be most disturbed by the new solution. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but unless

  • the lion’s share of the data gathering is from those who intimately know the problem, and
  • those who execute the new have a real voice in creating the change,

challenges will arise. And without buy-in from these folks, without a real voice in the design of the transformation, they have no desire to take an extra step when a problem crops up.


Let me describe what I believe are the issues that account for the problems:

1. Problem definition: Too often only chosen ‘leaders’ define the problem and set the goals without gathering the full problem description from those who work with it daily. That means the solution will be skewered to the assumptions of those without first-hand involvement and the proposed solution may not address the full problem set. It goes without saying that if problems arise, those on the front line won’t ‘own’ it when it goes wrong.

I had a persistent cable issue. To fix it, Xfinity sent out 8 techs over the course of 5 months. Each stayed exactly 20 minutes. The problem never got resolved until the last tech, Tom, who said he would stay as long it took to fix it. But he admitted he feared losing his job as corporate regs allowed only 20 minutes per house. Tom said he and several other field techs had tried to explain the field issues to leadership but they wouldn’t take feedback from the service techs.

Net-net, Tom resolved the problem permanently in 40 minutes. Let’s do the math: 8 people at 20 minutes each = 160 minutes, instead of 40 minutes for one person. Xfinity spent an additional hour, squandering the time of 7 extra people, including their travel time, salaries and expenses. And I’m one customer. Multiply this waste by millions. How much money, time, resource, and reputation are they wasting by putting time (such as it was) before people?

2. Front-line users overlooked at project start: Without immediately involving the people with the most knowledge (details and nuances) and who would be most impacted by the new solution, it’s impossible to

  • gather the full set of facts to define the problem,
  • understand the possible risks to the project or long-term operations,
  • generate efficient buy-in or willingness to take responsibility to own a problem,
  • avoid resistance and time delays,
  • develop a full range of ideas and choices for resolution.

In other words, when the full stakeholder group isn’t involved until midway through the process, when the folks needed to carry out the new solution are overlooked at the early stages of development, they resist.

I recently got a call from one of the leaders of the Business Process Management field. He wanted to learn my 13 Steps of Change model as an antidote to the resistance, time delays, and lack of buy-in that has plagued the field for decades. When he showed me the BPM model I noticed that front-line workers weren’t brought into a process until Step 6! Why so late? “Leaders know enough about the issues to set the goals and expectations. We give these folks a say when we tell them what we expect.” But by then the overall solution had been established! “It would take too much time to do all that! Far more efficient for the leaders to do it themselves. They know the problems well-enough.” Seems he’d rather handle the time delays and resistance at the back end than spend time upfront and risk not getting great results with a collaborative team that owns the problem.

3. Risks unknown: Until the risks of change are understood and accepted by those who face altered jobs, the people needed to perform the new solution will resist. When brought in at the beginning they have a voice in defining and creating a solution and time frame they approve of. As an integrated part of the project, they’re then happy to take responsibility for any problems that show up going forward.

It’s possible to avoid these issues with a different approach and mindset.


In 1983 I started up a tech company in London, long before technology was ubiquitous, long before any of us knew the optimal environment for tech startups. Coming from a sales background I had no knowledge of running a company, merely a belief that if I served both employees and customers with integrity in an environment of trust, kindness, collaboration, and creativity, we’d be successful. But I had no idea how to achieve it.

I decided to tweak my mind->brain decision making/change model, originally developed as Buying Facilitation® for sales, to a 13 Step Change Facilitation model that involves assembling the relevant people in initial data gathering, problem-solving discussions, timeline determinations, implementation, and solution design. This helped us work together as partners to define and resolve problems very efficiently with maximum buy-in and ownership. Because of the full team collaboration we were able to

  • gather most of the complete data set the start;
  • include everyone’s feedback, ideas, and needs in the goal;
  • work as a collaborative unit throughout the length of the initiative as we trialed and re-trialed possibilities;
  • avoid time delays and resistance, and minimizes risk;
  • inspire ownership so we all took responsibility when a problem showed up;
  • make changes easily with everyone’s buy-in so the end product was creative, useful, and easy to modify when necessary.

Our change initiatives and problem solving made us stronger as a team. Together we became a $5,000,000 company in just under 4 years – with no computers, no email, no internet, no websites, no LinkedIn, no brand reputation, and no social media.


Here are the 13 Steps of Change that all people, all buyers, all team members, all coaching clients go through as they seek successful change:
1. Idea stage. Someone has an idea that something needs to change and begins discussing the idea with colleagues.

2. Assembly stage. The originator assembles a meeting of those who have hands on the problem, leaders and colleagues. We include those who will touch the final solution right at the start to insure they’ll buy in and be comfortable taking ownership of the change design. All discuss their knowledge of the issues and problems, consider who to else to include to understand the full fact pattern, chat about ideas for possible fixes and the fallout each might entail. Small groups are formed to research ways to fix the problem with known resources.

3. Consideration stage. Full group meets to discuss research findings and consider ways to fix the problem either themselves or with known resources (known vendors, other departments). Discuss the type of fallout/risk from each.

4. Organization stage. Steps to go forward are tentatively considered as trial possibilities, with the understanding that unknown issues might crop up and need to be included. Responsibilities get assigned to research the possibilities. All must agree on the initial path or offer alternate suggestions.

5. Change Management Risk stage. Using the research there’s a meeting to determine

a. if more research is necessary (and who will do it),

b. if all appropriate people are involved (and who else to include),

c. if all elements of the problem and solution have been included (and what to add),

d. the level of potential disruption and risk to jobs (and how to handle each),

e. possible workarounds or alternatives.

Determine what might be missing. Each subgroup must submit a report explaining the tasks and specific risks of each of the above.

6. Addition stage. Add new ideas and findings including the needs of new members. Discuss upsides and downsides of each possible choice and the risks involved for people, policies, job descriptions, finances, and politics. Whatever gets added now must be approved by all. Any resistance must be addressed here. Subgroups now own a specific portion of the solution.

7. Research and change stage. Members research their assigned part of the solution including

* online research—webinars, etc.,

* possible vendors and external solutions,

* risks from their portion of the solution, to include management, policies, job descriptions, implementation, technology, HR issues, etc.

and prepare a report to share with group.

8. Consensus stage. Members meet to share their research. Again, discuss the risks of each possible solution. Now that details are available, vote whether to fix the problem themselves, go ‘outside’ for a solution, or decide if the ‘cost’, the risks, of the change are too high (massive reorg needed, people would be let go, etc.) and if it’s best to remain with the status quo. If it’s determined to fix the problem themselves, the folks thoroughly discuss any problems that might show up and assign responsibilities.

9. Choice stage. Once it’s decided to go either ‘outside’ for a solution (make a purchase, hire a consultant), fix the problem inhouse, or keep the status quo, action responsibilities are assigned to manage and mitigate risk: write and share a report that states the

* tasks/jobs that will change and resultant fallout;

* templates to manage and maintain outcomes;

* providers/products/solutions;

path to actions, choices, job descriptions, necessary rule changes, risk mitigation, etc.

10. Transformation begins. All that has been agreed upon gets put into action. Permanent leaders are assigned in each subgroup. Activity plans and schedules are aligned between groups. A subgroup is formed to oversee the activities and report back to main group.

11. Vendor/solution selection. If going outside for a solution, vendors are contacted and interviewed or solutions trialed. For internal fixes, phased plans finalized. Each choice must match the team’s criteria; the risks of the solution must be noted.

12. New solution chosen. Review data from application trials and vendor interviews. Choose solution or vendor. Have a plan to incorporate change management issues and risk possibilities and share with the vendor. Everyone agrees. Plans of change must be approved by each stakeholder involved.

13. New solution implemented.

How different is this from what you’re currently doing? What would stop you from adding any elements you’ve missed? Until or unless everyone who touches a problem is part of the solution, costly problems will show up. If you’re in need of an external consultant to facilitate your change process, please call me. I’d love to help:


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

April 24th, 2023

Posted In: News

questionsAs professionals, a big part of our job is to influence change. One of the tasks we perform on route is information gathering. With a goal in mind, we assume we can pose the right questions to get the data we think we need.

But sometimes our questions miss the mark and we end up gathering incomplete or flawed data causing our outcomes to fail. Or the questions unwittingly cause resistance because they’re not interpreted by the Responder as we intend. Or we pose questions biased by our needs and unconscious beliefs and miss better answers that would lead to different, possibly better outcomes.


Have you ever wondered why the questions we use often don’t achieve what we want them to achieve? Here’s why:

  1. Conventional questions seek to extract information, usually to enhance the Questioner’s outcome. Due to the unique word choices and specific goals of the Asker, they can miss the real answer that’s sometimes lodged within a Responder’s unconscious.
  2. Conventional, or information-based, questions are biased: by the Questioner seeking and listening for a specific type of response and sometimes ignoring an accurate response that doesn’t quite fit expectations; by the Responder who is directed by the bias in the question that sometimes misses a more accurate response that would show up with a differently worded question.

Information-extraction questions are the standard and, due to the Questioner’s goals and biases, may not address the full fact pattern, knowledge, beliefs, or circumstances of the Responder. Obviously, this causes biased outcomes and restricts data accuracy. Indeed, standard questions are flawed by the assumption that ‘accurate’ data is being retrieved. But it’s not.

What if it were possible to formulate a question that would:

  • extract accurate data,
  • influence change,
  • promote efficient implementations, buy-in, and sales cycles,
  • avoid resistance and bias, maintain personal integrity,
  • lead the Responder to discover their own possiblity unconscious – but accurate – answers?

Certainly restricted or partial information is not always the outcome when good questions are posed. But sometimes, especially when the questions are posed by sellers, leaders, or coaches to help someone through change and discovery, conventional questions are inadequate.


I’ve studied the brain for ways to impact unconscious choices since I was a teenager. I was particularly curious if there was an unbiased way into the brain that would help people uncover their own answers, based on their own beliefs, history, and mental models.

In 1988 I read Roger Schank’s The Creative Attitude which discusses how our brains store data in memory that can only be discovered by using exact words that get sent to the exact brain circuitry where they’re stored.

I already knew that we unwittingly listen through biased ears. (Read my book WHAT? ) Was it possible to use questions to unlock the unconscious drivers, the beliefs, the values, the emotions at the core of all decisions so Others could find their own answers? How could questions be formulated to get directly to the exact part of someone’s brain where their answers were stored amidst their 100 trillion neural connections?

Using my knowledge of the mind->brain connection, I began experimenting with new forms of questions that would avoid bias altogether and lead people to the place in their neural circuitry where their answers reside. I finally came up with a form of question that leads Others to a specific place in their brain, the exact circuits – congruent with their values and beliefs – to gather accurate data and facilitate unconscious choices.

[Note: I’m going to walk you through an overview of Facilitative Questions that I’ve been teaching in corporations for 25 years. They are quite a bit different than conventional questions, so hang with me. And I’m always available to discuss it. For this essay, I’m introducing the concepts. The actual learning takes some time as there are wholly different components than conventional questions.]


During the process I recognized two main factors that were fundamental to my thinking re what questions can actually achieve beyond gathering data, and how to use them differently to facilitate decision making, behavior change, and choice: systems and information.

Systems: To encourage success in any sort of change (buying, change management, coaching, etc.) we must recognize it as a systems problem: since change involves some sort of insult to our internal and unconscious system/status quo, any change must include buy-in of everything within the mental models, the history, the beliefs – the system (Systems Congruence) – that will touch the final solution, or any change will be resisted or fleeting.

Systems Congruence is actually the principle of homeostasis: systems maintain equilibrium; change without buy-in puts the system out of balance and will be rejected. No change can happen until all of the unconscious systems elements that will touch a new solution know how to continue functioning in accordance with its own beliefs and mental models, despite the change. The system is sacrosanct. Unless balance is maintained, people end up resisting change.

Information: due to the biased focus of conventional questions, they may not discover the Responder’s full fact pattern. Here’s the problem with information sharing and extraction used in several industries:

  • Sellers gather information to ‘recognize’ a buyer with a ‘need’ they can pitch  to – often leading to false assumptions and interpretations by the seller – when they can use the same time to actually find and lead prospective buyers through to new decisions based on their own criteria and avoid rejection;
  • Coaches, consultants, facilitators and leaders seek to cause change by directing questions to answers they think the Other should look for – biased by their assumptions. To that end, they share advice, stories, research, plans, etc. all based on influencing; all risk causing resistance; all miss the opportunity to direct the Other’s brains to their own answers that will eschew resistance and enable permanent change.
  • Decision analysts and tech developers use their own biased curiosity to gather, weight, and analyze needed data, but extract potentially inaccurate information when it’s possible to evoke accurate answers by formulating differently worded questions.

But in all cases, conventional information-gathering is biased by the beliefs/needs/goals of the Questioner, risk alientating the Other, and overlooks the possibility of finding directing the specific synapses that lead to good answers and the real possibility of permanent change.

Without addressing the gooey, human stuff that makes up the foundational beliefs that created, and maintains, the problem to be solved; without helping the Other discover where they unconsciously store their best answers, it’s quite difficult to help people through to real change.


Eventually I developed a new type of question: Facilitative Questions. They 1. assume that the system (person, group) itself has the accurate answers, 2. are directional devices to specific parts of the brain that will clarify and capture the appropriate, most relevant, unconscious content from a Responder’s memory while matching its unique systems criteria.

Facilitative Questions enable people to find their own answers and maintain Systems Congruency. And here’s the one that’s most annoying to Influencers: They shift the onus of responsibility from the Asker wanting to direct answers to trusting the Responder has the answers. In other words, outsiders – sellers, coaches, therapists, friends, clients – are facilitators who enable Others to discover their own Excellence.

But they are complex, outside conventional thinking, and can’t be formulated without additional learning. [If you’re interested in learning how to formulate them, get the Learning Accelerator or my MP3 series where I use, role play, and explain them for sales, coaching, and fundraising.]

Facilitative Questions:

  • use specific words in a specific order to reach the specific place in the brain that stores the best answers;
  • put the Responder into Observer/coach/witness to reduce any natural biases and expand brain search;
  • open new choices within the unconscious of the Responder to make it possible to fix discover their own excellence;
  • construct new awareness, new choices, new behaviors based on unconscious belief/values-based criteria;
  • are non-manipulative;
  • offer change agents a new skill to engage the right people, address the right problem, and manage change without resistance;
  • eschew information gathering;
  • eliminate resistance by eliciting commitment and buy-in at the very beginning of any project or initiative; 
  • enable Responders to simultaneously uncover the unconscious core of the problem and create the necessary change on their own.

Here’s a simple example of the differences between conventional questions and Facilitative Questions:

Information-based question (conventional question based on the goals, word choices, word usage of the Asker): Why do you wear your hair like that? This question is an information gathering question based on the needs of the Asker. Also, all ‘why’ questions cause a Responder to defend current choices and underlying beliefs. If the question invades the Responder’s beliefs, the response will be biased and resistive. There’s a good chance a conventional question would gather incomplete or inaccurate data.

Facilitative Question (sequential navigational question used by a facilitator to direct Responders to the exact brain circuitry where their unconscious information is stored): How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle? This question leads the Responder to a larger set of choices, all without manipulation, bias, or data gathering, and with no potential threat to the current system. The questioner as the facilitator becomes the change agent/servant leader.

Used and formulated most effectively, Facilitative Questions follow the route all brains take to properly translate incoming words and send them to the best circuits for accurate translation and change. These cause no resistance.

Specifically, buyers can recognize issues that would help them make decisions, assemble the right people, and instigate buy-in to ready them to buy; coaching clients can be led to their best path to permanent change and eschew resistance; doctors can elicit natural, permanent behavioral change in patients rather than push to try to cause change, etc.

By enabling Others to discover their own unconscious path we not only help them find their own best answers but act as Servant Leaders to permanent change and decision making. If they’re not formulated accurately, they can become quite manipulative – the exact opposite of what they were designed to do.

In the example above, the question How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle the words ‘how’ ‘know’ ‘if’ ‘time’ ‘reconsider’ are all carefully placed and chosen to be resistance-avoidant, and directed to prior decisions while considering change and obligations. And most important, it doesn’t attack current or previous choices.


The big idea here is the switch from seeking or pushing specific data to being a neutral navigator or Servant Leader to lead a Responder toward a potential willingness to change while maintaining Systems Congruence. After all, there really is no way for an outsider to ever know the full extent – the connections, history, values, complications, etc. – of how someone’s internal system is set up. The differences are important:

  • from seeking and pushing content to achieve the influencer’s goals to facilitating the person’s own discovery of beliefs, values, identity issues and systemic drivers, and eliciting (not causing) change;
  • from manipulation to Servant Leadership;
  • from pushing to being accepted as a change agent;
  • from bias and resistance to participation and creativity;
  • from directing change and creating resistance to discovery, buy-in and participation.

To use Facilitative Questions requires a different sort of thinking and a different level of control. It requires knowledge of systems, listening for patterns, and brain sequencing. Most of all it requires that influencers change their goal to truly serve the other, to help initiate and manage change from within – not with any content or directive from you, but true buy-in.

Obviously your intent will shift as will your success: your sales, initiatives, implementations, and projects will be easier, shorter, and less costly. You’ll just have a different type of control: from attempting to have the answers to being the true leader that elicits congruent answers.

What would you need to know or believe differently to be willing to add a new questioning technique to your already superb questioning skills? How would you know that adding a new skill set would be worth the time/effort/cost to make you – and your clients – even more successful?


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

April 3rd, 2023

Posted In: News

As sSD Stepsellers we are taught to find prospects with a need that matches our solution and then find creative, professional ways to pitch, present, entice, push, market, or somehow introduce our solution to enable them to understand how our solutions will fix their problem.

Unfortunately, we fail to close over 95% of the time (from first contact) regardless of how well their need matches our solution. And it’s not because of our solutions, our presentations/pitches, or our professionalism. It’s because the sales model does not include the skills to facilitate the largest component of buying decisions – those systemic, idiosyncratic, behind-the-scenes, change management  decisions  that comprise their Pre-Sales processes, exclude outsiders, and have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with buying anything. 

Until they go through this process and walk through each stage of managing their unique change management issues, until everyone who touches the final solution agrees to a change, until the entire team is assembled and lends their voice to ideas, problems, solutions, and fallout, they cannot buy regardless of how much they may need our solution. They must do this – with us, or without us. It takes much longer without us, hence a protracted buying decision and closed sale. Without appropriate change management, they cannot buy. And the sales model doesn’t address this, causing sellers to spend most of their time finding ways to get in – and missing the route in because of their focus on solution placement. The route is change management. 


I’ve spent the last few decades coding and designing new tools to promote buyer readiness and help sellers facilitate buyers through their Pre-Sales decision path that buyers go through without us and is not focused on buying/solution choice. My model, called Buying Facilitation®, gives sellers the tools to be Facilitation/Change Consultants to get onto their Buying Decision Team, facilitate their change-management decisions, lessen the time between decision making/close, and differentiate from the competition. It’s a model that works with sales, but focused on enabling our buyers to congruently manage their systemic change, which has always been done outside of our purview until now.

Here’s the question to ask yourself: do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They are two different activities, necessitating two distinct skill sets. Sales merely handles one of them. Buying Facilitation® works with sales to first help buyers manage their consensus and change issues to ready them to buy. 

Using Buying Facilitation® first, then sales, will immediately enlist those who can buy, and immediately get rid of those who will never buy. After all, we all know too well that when buyers buy there doesn’t seem to be a direct line between their need or the relevance of our solution: it’s about their ability to manage their environment to make the necessary decisions that will lead them to congruent change and to their best possible outcome – which may, or may not, be to buy anything. When we speak with prospects to discuss need, we have no idea if the information we’re being given is the takeaway from all assembled voices, if the group has already agreed to buy anything, or what stage of the decision path they’re on. Are they merely gathering data for options? To bring back to the team? To compare with competitors? 

Here are the steps I’ve discovered that buyers – all change – must address. As you read them, note that facilitating change is not sales, and includes some unique skill sets, goals, and outcomes. 

1.     Idea stage. Someone has an idea that something needs to change and discusses his idea with colleagues.

2.    Assembly stage. Colleagues meet and discuss the problem, bring ideas from online research, consider who to include, possible fixes, and fallout. Groups formed.

3.     Consideration stage. Group meets to discuss findings: how to fix the problem with known resources, whether to create a workaround using internal fixes or seek an external solution. Discuss the type/amount of fallout from each.

4.     Organization stage. Organizer apportions responsibilities, or hands over to others.

5.     Change Management stage. Meeting to discuss options and fallout. Determine

a. if more research is necessary (and who will do it),

b. if all appropriate people are involved (and who to include),

c. if all elements of the problem and solution are included (and what to add),

d. the level of disruption and change to address depending on type of solution chosen (and how to manage change),

e. the pros/cons of external solution vs current vendor vs workaround.

f. possible workaround and if they are sufficient.

6.   Addition stage. Add needs, ideas, issues of new members; incorporate change considerations.

7.    Research and change stage. Everyone researches their portion of the solution fix (online research—webinars, etc., call current vendors or new vendors etc.). Discussions include managing resultant change.

8.   Consensus stage. Buying Decision Team members meet to share research and determine the type of solution, fallout, possibilities, problems, considerations in re management, policies, job descriptions, HR issues, etc. Buy-in and consensus necessary.

9.   Choice stage. Action responsibilities apportioned including discussions/meetings with people, companies, teams who might provide solutions.

10.  Meet to discuss choices and the fallout/ benefits of each. Discuss different solutions and vendors.

11. Vendor/solution selection. Meet with possible vendors.

12.  New solution chosen. Change management issues incorporated with solution choice.

13.  New solution implemented.

The sales model handles steps 10-13. Marketing, marketing automation, and social marketing may be involved in steps 3 and 8, although it’s not clear then if the decision to choose an external solution has been made, the full fact pattern of ‘needs’ has been determined, what the marketing content is being used for, or if the appropriate decision makers and influencers are included. Buyers muddle through this but we can enter earlier and help them transition through their steps, so long as we stick to our initial roles as facilitators and not try to sell or manipulate.


I started up a tech company in London 1983-89 and developed Buying Facilitation® to teach my sales folks to navigate buyers through their decision path, change management, and buy-in BEFORE they began selling. We increased sales 5x within a month. I’ve been teaching this model in sales and coaching to global corporations since 1989 with similar results.

My book Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell discusses these steps and how Buying Facilitation® can work with sales and marketing to enter the buy path earlier, and to help coaches, leaders, and negotiators facilitate congruent change. It’s truly a change management skill that makes a seller a real consultant and uses entirely unique change facilitation skills: Facilitative Questions, Listening for Systems, and Choice. Remember, needs/solutions are irrelevant until buyers understand how any change will affect their status quo. The sales model isn’t designed to handle this Pre-Sales change management function. Read the book 🙂


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

March 27th, 2023

Posted In: News

I recently heard a project manager in a software services company mention a ‘very important’ book on persuasion that she passed on to her team. I was curious why she liked it.

S: It’s vital we persuade our clients. My team must learn to use the right words to convince them they’re wrong, and get them to change their thinking so we can do what we need to do.

SD: You convince your clients they’re wrong and want to change their thinking so they’ll agree for you to do what you want, even if they don’t agree? And use persuasion strategies rather than maybe facilitate them through a collaborative decision making process and find ways to meld ideas and agree together?

S: They don’t want to agree and we don’t want them to collaborate. They start off wanting it their way. From years of working with these sorts of problems, we know what they need better than they do. That’s why we need to use the best persuasion techniques to change their minds.

I found the conversation unsettling. WHAT IS PERSUASION – AND WHY IS IT DISRESPECTFUL? When I looked up persuasion, seems Aristotle defined it with the terms Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. Google defines it as an ‘act of convincing’ ‘to put his/her audience into a state of conflict’. The concept has been around a long time – probably since God persuaded the Serpent to eat the apple. Sales strategies employ persuasion to convince people to buy; doctors and healthcare professionals employ biased stories to encourage patients to act, or behave, in ways the docs consider beneficial; coaches use influencing strategies to persuade clients to make the changes the coach recommends. But these strategies are largely ineffective: Not only will people not do what the influencer wants them to do, but they’ll most likely distrust the influencer even if it turns out the influencer is accurate. By persuading another to do what you want them to do you’re taking away their agency, their personal power, and usurping it for your own need to be right. Not to mention preventing a more robust, and dare I say more creative, outcome to emerge. My definition is a bit different: persuasion is an influencer’s attempt to get another person to do what the influencer wants, regardless of its efficacy, regardless of the omission of a potentially more creative solution, and even when it goes against the person’s wishes. Persuaders assume they’re ‘right’. I once ran a Buying Facilitation® training program for the Covey Leadership Center. They were the most manipulative sales folks I’d ever met. Given that Covey espoused spiritual values, I was surprised. When I questioned their use of persuasion tactics I was told: “Of course we use persuasion tactics! It’s our responsibility to convince people to use the practices we espouse!” PERSUASION BREAKS SPIRITUAL LAWS For me, trying to convince another to do what you want them to do breaks a spiritual law: everyone has the right to their own opinions, beliefs, choices, and actions, and the right to behave according to their own self-interest and values. I believe it’s disrespectful and an act of hubris, even if I think – especially if I ‘know’! – I’m right. No one, no one, can be ‘right’ for another person. Not to mention being ‘right’ is subjective and not necessarily ‘right’. I looked up ‘persuasion strategies’ to learn what ‘experts’ suggest. They all include finely honed tactics and subliminal convincer strategies:

* Find common ground! * Use their names often! * Prepare for arguments! * Make it seem beneficial to them! * Be confident! * Flatter them and appeal to their emotions! *Motivate action!

Ploys to manipulate, to influence at all costs. But what’s the cost? A disgruntled, resentful buyer. A client or patient who won’t use your services again and becomes distrusting. The loss of collaboratively thinking together that can discover an outcome that’s win/win for both and potentially even more effective over time than the influencer’s suggestions. Regardless of the outcome, win/lose just doesn’t exist. It’s either win/win or lose/lose. If everyone doesn’t win, everyone loses. By using force instead of real power to enable the Other to discover her own route to excellence, you’re disrespecting them. Why, I ask, would anyone want to persuade another to go beyond their own beliefs, or choices, or intentions? Maybe because it’s the only way they can get what they want? Maybe because they believe the other is harming themselves? Maybe because of a political, or scientific, argument? Whatever the case, persuasion is not only disrespectful, but ineffective.

  1. An ‘I’m right so you should listen to me’ framework operates from win/lose, disrespect, and distrust (‘I obviously know better than you’).
  2. Persuasion uses judgmental language based on an ‘I know/you don’t’ framework, making the other person ‘stupid’ or ‘unaware’ – certainly ‘less-than’.
  3. Persuasion ignores another’s needs, feelings, and considerations, and offers no room for a more robust solution based on the knowledge the Other has of their own environment.
  4. Persuasion assumes only one person understands the full fact pattern of what’s going on, thereby ignoring the Other’s knowledge and reality that can never be fully understood by an outsider. Indeed, the only person who understands the full fact pattern is the Other.

Persuasion is one-sided and makes false assumptions when influencers believe their suggestions are the best options; that the internal relationships, politics, values, history, of the Other are not worthy of consideration; that the persuader ‘should’ be heeded because they’re ‘in authority’; or – worse of all – that the person isn’t capable of figuring out their own route forward. CASE STUDY My neighbor Maria came to my house crying one day. Her doctor had told her she was borderline diabetic and needed to eat differently. He gave her a printed list of foods to eat and foods to avoid and spent time persuading her to stop eating whatever she was eating because his list of foods was essential to her health. She told me she’d been trying for months, lost some weight, but finally gave up and went back to her normal eating habits and gained back the weight. But she was fearful of dying from diabetes like her mother did. She’d tried to listen to her doc, she didn’t want to be sick, but she just couldn’t do what the doc requested. She asked if I could help, and I told her I’d lead her through to finding her own answers. Here was our exchange.

SDM: I know your doc wants you to change your eating habits for health reasons. I’ll ask you some questions that might lead you to ways to help you figure out how to eat healthier. I’ll start at the very beginning. Who are you?

Maria: I’m a wife, mother and grandmother.

SDM: As a wife, mother and grandmother, what are your beliefs and values?

Maria: I believe I’m responsible for feeding my family in a way that makes them happy.

SDM: What is it you’re doing now that makes them happy?

Maria: My family all live nearby. Every morning I get up early and make 150 tortillas. When they go to work and school in the morning, they stop by and I hand them out to each for their breakfast and lunch. I always make enough for me and Joe to have for breakfast. The doctor says they’re bad for me with all the lard in them and that I must stop eating them. I’ve tried to stop, but they’re a big part of my diet. When the doctor said to stop eating them, I felt he doesn’t want me to love my family.

SDM: So I hear that tortillas are the way you keep your family happy. Is there any other way you can keep your family happy by feeding them without putting your own health at risk?

Maria: Hmmmm… I could make them enchiladas. They don’t have lard, and my family loves them. And my daughter Sonia makes tortillas almost as good as mine.

Then we figured out a terrific plan. Maria invited her entire family for dinner and presented Sonia with her tortilla pan outfitted with a big red bow. She told her family she couldn’t make tortillas any more due to health reasons, but Sonia, the new “Tortilla Tia,” would make them tortillas every day just like Maria did, and she’d make them enchiladas once a week instead. Maria then proceeded to lose 15 pounds, kept the weight off, and is no longer pre-diabetic. WHAT PERSUASION MISSES In this case study, the doctor attempted to persuade Maria to do what he thought best with a conventional one-size-fits-all food plan. Yet with the proper questions, an intent to facilitate collaboration and discovery, he could have led her to figure out for herself how to solve the problem her own way, using her own history and values. The diet the doc gave her went against her lifestyle, but he was so intent on doing what he thought ‘best’ he overlooked Maria’s own power to figure out her own solution. Ultimately, she didn’t need persuasion, she needed a facilitated conversation that enabled Maria to discover her own best choices. Imagine your job is to facilitate folks through their own route to Excellence. Persuasion tactics seek to meet the needs of the persuader, without accounting for the Other’s discovery through their personal beliefs and lifestyle realities:

  • the questions persuaders pose are biased by their own needs and omit/ignore large swathes of potentially applicable, and certainly private, data points that are important to the Other;
  • listeners interpret what they hear as per historic matches in their brain circuits (see my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard?) causing a limited and biased understanding, regardless of what influencers are trying to share;
  • persuaders work from subjective criteria and don’t take into account the values, beliefs, lifestyles, of the Others, unwittingly causing the Other conflict that the persuader cannot know, and overlooks more creative and workable options that they could discover together.

Regardless of how ‘right’ you or your solution might be, if the Other feels like you’re pushing, or forcing, or manipulating; if you’re asking biased questions based on YOUR need to know so you can use it against them; it’s pretty hard to persuade anyone without there being resentment. Not to mention can you truly believe that YOUR way is the BEST way for another person, and they have no agency to figure out their own route? COLLABORATIVE CONVERSATION Here are a few tips to guide an unbiased conversation that eventually leads the Other to discovering a path forward using their own values.

  1. Goal: your goal is to help the Other discover their own criteria and actions for change, NOT to get the Other to do what you want!
  2. Intent: your job is to facilitate another through to their own discovery by directing them down their own trajectory of change, not toward the result the influencer seeks.
  3. Understanding: you can never, ever, understand what’s going on for Another. Ever. But you can lead them to understand themselves through facilitated discovery.
  4. Questions: I invented a form of question called a Facilitative Question that walks Others down the trajectory of their own self-discovery with NO bias from you. They are based on the steps people go through when deciding to change and NOT based on your need-to-know, assumptions, or curiosity. Properly formulated, they have no bias but enable bias-free discovery in a way that the Other’s system will not reject.

Instead of trying to persuade, why not try collaborative conversation and facilitated questioning so you both can discover, together, a win/win that serves you both. Instead of it being either/or, why not both/and? And just maybe, use your connection to trust Others to discover their own answers.


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

March 6th, 2023

Posted In: News

Have you ever wondered why people agree to an appointment from your prospecting calls? Obviously, it’s not because they need your solution or they wouldn’t incur an 80-90% fail rate (higher if you count from your first prospecting call). You’re charming, your solution great, your pitch deck is creative and your content informative. So it’s not you or your solution.

But ask yourself: if people agree to a meeting but are not likely to buy, why did they take the meeting? Choose one from below:

  • They needed information to help them resolve their problem internally.
  • One or two people from a team are gathering information to convince others of possible solutions for a need not yet fully established.
  • They’re comparing your information against your competitors.
  • One or two people are representing the team as they progress toward resolving a problem and they need ideas to discover their own workarounds.

With a goal to get an appointment, you’re wasting valuable time chasing after folks who aren’t ready to buy, or aren’t buyers at all. You’re:

  1. creating a double sale – the first being to get them to buy the appointment;
  2. calling people who haven’t (yet) self-identified as buyers, are in the middle of their discovery process, and don’t see a need for an appointment;
  3. placing hundreds of calls to get one appointment when you could use the same time/effort to actually find a real buyer and make a sale.

By seeking anyone who will take an appointment, you’re making it possible for folks to use you to glean information. But there’s a bigger downside: you’re not recognizing or serving people on route to becoming buyers – real prospects who WILL buy when they complete their change/decision process.


Have you ever wondered how many real prospects you discard on route to seeking an appointment? With a ‘need’ and ‘appointment’ focus, you’re missing real prospects on route to becoming buyers but haven’t completed their journey. And it’s costing you sales.

Instead you could be using your time finding folks who will be buyers and facilitating their necessary Pre-Sales change management journey through discovery and buy-in – what I consider the Buy Side. Until then, they won’t even look at marketing or sales content!

By seeking an appointment you’re missing an opportunity to find pre-prospects, facilitate them through their essential change work, then sell to them once they’re self-identified buyers. All buyers must go through this process anyway! Unfortunately, the sales model overlooks helping this entire group of highly viable prospects because they don’t yet recognize ‘need’. But when you facilitate their journey to discovery (and they’re easy to find – but not with a ‘need’ focus) they very quickly and easily buy.

The missing piece here is the difference between the two buying processes: the Sell Side and the Buy Side. To facilitate buying, to find people on route to becoming buyers but not yet ready to engage with you, you need to think from the Buy Side. And the Buy Side has very specific considerations currently overlooked by the Sell Side.


By contacting people with only a sales hat on, before they’ve

  • completed their stakeholder assembly,
  • recognized the full set of criteria that defines their problem,
  • tried familiar workarounds,
  • assessed their risk and found it manageable,

you’re discarding highly qualified prospects (40%) who won’t take a meeting but could use your help. By focusing on the Sell Side and overlooking the Buy Side decision process, you’re missing your sweet spot: helping people as they fumble through their factors to determine if their risk of going ‘outside’ (to buy something, to bring in a consultant, etc.) is worth the disruption that bringing in something new causes.

Turns out that risk is the deciding factor if someone buys, not need; defining and controlling for it constitutes 70% of their decision path! And this must occur before they can buy anything, regardless of need.


The sales model has no relevance in the Pre-Sales change management decisions all people take before self-identifying as buyers. Consequently, selling doesn’t cause buying as they are two wholly different concepts: A buying decision is relational – change management and risk driven; sales is tactical – solution placement driven.

When people have a problem they don’t BEGIN by considering or making a purchase (tactical), but by figuring out all the systemic stuff they need to figure out (relational) to end up with a change that aligns with internal norms. No one wants to buy anything, merely resolve a problem at the least risk to their culture/system.

By focusing on getting appointments, you’re not only overlooking and discarding these very viable prospects, you’re neglecting a perfect opportunity to get on their side of the table and provide value-add that would facilitate them through the steps they must take before they’re buyers. It’s only when their

  • change management work is complete
  • AND all (all!) stakeholders are involved
  • AND they’ve realized they cannot resolve the problem on their own
  • AND they have the buy-in to proceed
  • AND they understand the ‘cost’ (risk) of any change caused by a new solution,

that they’re buyers.

This is where they ‘go’ when you think they’re dragging their feet or having ‘indecision’. By helping them precisely where they need help, you’re collapsing the sales cycle by at least half and creating a competitive advantage. And most of my clients end up on the Buying Decision Team because they’ve been so helpful.

But this requires you begin with a different goal and new skills, seeking people on route to change in the area you can support. Because their Pre-Sales change work is based on people, policy, buy-in, change, and resource, you’d be meeting them on the Buy Side.

Remaining on the Sell Side and limiting your skills to trying to making appointments or place solutions ensures you’ll only find the low hanging fruit – people who are ready to buy – when it’s so easy to find folks on route to buying and facilitating their journey. Not finding or facilitating folks on route to becoming buyers is costing you sales; limiting your role to seeking appointments in search of closing sales is wasting your time.


In 1937, Dale Carnegie told you to make face-to-face sales calls. In those days, there was little choice: cars were rare and quite expensive, phones were party line, and advertising was the Sears Catalogue that came out once a year.

These days, the internet transmits your content making your pitch unnecessary. But it’s much bigger than that; buying decision teams are no longer in one venue; people have partners and old vendors willing to help them resolve problems; and the time it takes them to understand if the risk of change carries too much disruption is the length of the sales cycle.

Before anyone becomes a buyer they have internal change work to do. To truly facilitate this end of the buying decision path, it takes a new goal at the beginning (find folks IN their change process instead of trolling for ‘need’ or appointments) and wholly new skills.

I’ve invented a facilitation model (Buying Facilitation®) that begins with a ‘change’ focus and finds and serves these folks on route to becoming buyers but can’t consider themselves buyers until they’ve managed all the change issues and understand their internal risk.

With a goal of finding people during their change/decision cycle, Buying Facilitation® closes 40% from first call by facilitating them down their essential change/decision steps and then selling: Once they’ve discovered ALL the stakeholders, understand the full fact pattern, gotten buy-in and establish risk tolerance, then they’re ready to buy. They might even ask you to visit them and will have 10 people present. Then you’re a true servant leader.

I’m suggesting you expand your skill set to add ‘facilitate the Pre-Sales buying decision path’ before you sell. You can use this on your cold calls and close 40% from first call. Otherwise, you’re wasting so much of your valuable time seeking appointments with people who aren’t buyers.


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

February 13th, 2023

Posted In: News

Years ago I visited a spa where 4 magnificent macaws stood on individual perches, each with a long, not necessarily heavy, chain around one of its legs. Yet the chains were not attached to anything: if the birds had known what they didn’t know, they could have easily flown away.

I was reminded of that recently when sitting with a close friend starting up a company. I suggested he write down 1. What he knew he knew; 2. What he knew he didn’t know; 3. What he didn’t know he didn’t know (This being impossible, but the column needed to be there as you’ll see.). A long-time friend, James was always up for my mischief. He promptly began writing a list of what he knew that he knew. As I looked on, knowing him as long as I did, I noticed two items I knew for certain he did NOT know.

I told him I had doubts about some of the items he thought he knew and that they belonged in the ‘don’t know that I don’t know’ column. I asked him how he’d know if thought he knew something but in fact was mistaken.

“Oh. I guess there’s no way to know unless I fail. Without knowing there’s any other option, I wouldn’t even know when I need help or the kind of help I needed.”

A similar situation came up recently when a colleague explained how his sales team ‘truly cared’, and ‘truly served’ prospects. When I asked him what skills he was using to care and serve, he rattled off the same skills he used when selling. And even though we’d known each other for some time and he’d read a couple of my books, it never occurred to him to contact me to learn additional skills he knew I’d developed specifically for what he was doing. Why? Because his results were ‘wildly successful’ – a close rate ‘higher than others’ (10% success vs 5% industry standard – but still a 90% failure). He never stopped to consider that he could have been much more successful with additional skills. He didn’t know what he didn’t know.


So how do we know when we don’t know what we don’t know? We don’t even know how to think or consider something outside our assumptions or beliefs, or something not already in our neural makeup. There’s just no way to know what outcomes, risks or rewards, skills, comparators, or thought processes are possible. So how do we attain the courage to do something different when we have no way to even think about it?

Let’s consider how we do anything at all. Our brain instigates our actions, thoughts, what we hear, how we decide and choose, how we behave. When we have an idea or goal, hear a lecture or are given a directive, our brain

  • receives and filters (some deletion involved) incoming vibrations – words being meaningless puffs of air until our brain translates them – and
  • turns them into electrochemical signals that
  • get sent down well-worn pathways (superhighways) that
  • lead to existing, ‘similar-enough’ circuits (some deletion involved) that
  • instigate habitual behaviors and outcomes.

In other words, whatever we think, hear or read enters our mind as sound vibrations that end up being (mis)translated through some conglomeration of synapses, pathways, circuits, etc. and we end up ‘hearing’ little more than something we have previously experienced, regardless of the facts. And our brain doesn’t tell us what havoc it’s played: we just assume what we think we heard is accurate.

I was once meeting with a couple who were licensing some of my material. I made a comment that John interpreted what I said as X when I actually said Y. I carefully explained, again, what I’d said. Here is what followed:

John: You didn’t say that! I heard you say X with my own ears!

SD: No, John. You misheard. I said Y.

Wife: John – she really said Y. I was standing right here. You heard her wrong.


And he stomped out of the room, and never spoke to me again.

Listening is a brain thing, causing us to interpret incoming sound vibrations according to where among our 100 trillion neural circuits the sound vibrations get sent. [See my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard?] Indeed, we hear some rendition of what a Speaker means to say, and rarely ‘hear’ accurately. Let me explain.

The way our brain turns signals into behaviors, ideas, or thoughts, determines everything we hear, think, and do. Usually it’s a good thing. It’s how we know to get up in the morning, put our slippers on, and brush our teeth. It’s how we make our decisions, go on our diets, make our New Year’s resolution. But it’s restrictive. In fact, and I still get annoyed about this, our brains automatically pretty much keep us doing what we’ve always done and we have very little say in the matter.

Indeed, we live our lives restricted and directed by how our neural circuits translate for us. And certainly, that provides a lifetime’s worth of choices. But: our curiosity, our ideas, are restricted by what’s already there.

I’ve developed a model to make it possible to change habits and behaviors by consciously adjusting your unconscious hierarchies and neural pathways. It includes wholly new skills, tools, and thought process with a hands-on learning and Belief change process.

Can we know what we don’t know that we don’t know? Because when we can’t, we’re left with the results of fewer choices with no way to know what to look for if we need to add something new.


Don’t get me wrong. none of us ever intends to mishear, or misunderstand, or restrict ourselves. But we’re basically out of choice, never told what our brain has edited or deleted, or what other choices were possible if our brain chose different circuits to translate the incoming vibrations.

Let me share my thoughts on some of the reasons I think people have a hard time getting beyond what they know (or don’t know they don’t know):

  1. Ego. People have a hard time acknowledging they are ‘deficient’. I’m not sure why. My question is: “What would stop you from seeking assistance at those times you’re aware that you are missing knowledge? Those times you have a pattern of failing and have no additional options?”
  2. Assumptions. When we presume we know something, we have no reason to think differently. Unfortunately, when failure occurs we have a ‘blame’ response since we, obviously, can’t be wrong and the Other, obviously, must be the culprit. Entire fields are based on Others being wrong because they don’t heed the provider (healthcare, sales, coaching, etc.).
  3. Denial. Wrong? I’m not doing anything wrong. Better? I already know how to do that. I really don’t want to change. I know my stuff is better. Why should I want to know what I don’t know when I already know what’s best? Sometimes people prefer their own ideas and ignore incoming content that would lead them to greater success.
  4. Listening Bias. Sometimes we are so committed to a specific outcome and approach that we consider successful that we listen to others through very biased ears and allow our brain to tell us what we want to hear…without question. I try to avoid this by seeking answers from people from different industries, or countries. But when we enter a situation with the end in mind, whatever we hear, whatever we take away, will be biased by our history.
  5. Fixed Views. We become attached – both emotionally and neurologically – to what we know. With a habituated superhighway that leads us straight to oft-used answers and beliefs, we dislike going through the decoupling process to accept and adopt a new answer.

Net net, due to our lazy brain and idiosyncratic personalities, there’s no way to naturally recognize when we don’t know what we don’t know. This makes it quite difficult to learn anything new until we fail and it becomes obvious.


Here are a few ideas that might lead to more choice:

  1. When you face confusion, it’s because your brain’s dispatch unit (the Central Executive Network) can’t find an existing set of circuits to translate or interpret new ideas – a perfect time to recognize there’s something you don’t know.
  2. When you’ve had repeated failure, there’s something you’re missing. What needs to happen for you to get curious? Assume there are better answers somewhere?
  3. Ask others who know more than you do. Here is where a good friend or coach comes in. People who are outside your field will ask questions that you may not have answers to. And you need to find them!
  4. Research. When I’m developing a new model I do broad research – reading sample chapters or whole books on unfamiliar topics (Picking Up by Robert Nagle about the New York City garbage collection provided new ideas about systems), researching papers and articles on topics adjacent to my ideas – to find new concepts that I hadn’t heard before to stimulate further thinking. I’ll never forget how my world shook when I learned that no input (no ideas, words, sounds) could be interpreted outside the circuits I have in my brain already. That upset me for a week! And it absolutely shifted my thinking.

Entire fields are missing information and doing nothing to discover what they don’t know:

  • Healthcare professionals don’t know why patients ignore their directives. For instance, handing someone a new food plan without them knowing how to change habits and neural circuits congruently will instigate resistance. Instead of doctors blaming themselves for not knowing how to facilitate congruent change, they blame patients for not having motivation.
  • Coaches, managers, leaders, supervisors assume their mandates will be followed. Clients who don’t follow them are said to ‘not really want to change.’ At no point do they acknowledge that their approach may be the problem.
  • Sellers and marketers continue to push solutions, overlooking the way people actually buy and face lower and lower success rates (now 5% rate) that should alert them there’s something they don’t know. What other industry believes that a 95% failure rate is ‘success’?
  • The training model fails 80% of the time. Pushing new content into a brain that might not have circuits to translate it accurately causes confusion, resistance, and disregard causing trainers to assume learners are ‘unmotivated’. Learning how to design programs that generate wholly new circuits for the new knowledge is not anything instructional designers know they need to know.
  • Business Process Management uses a flow chart that invites front line workers into the process halfway through the flow! Obviously this leads to implementation problems, such as insufficient data collection and resistance when people are pushed to be compliant against their will. One of the leaders in BPM recently approached me about adding the Steps of Change (a model I invented that facilitates the flow of change and decision making) to help them, but he became agitated when I suggested he needed to begin at Step One by assembling everyone who touches the problem. He left our discussions, not realizing he was following the exact failed format he called me to change.
  • OD and Change management relies on standard questions which are biased and restricted by the thoughts of the asker – and ignore the foundational Beliefs and norms that shift in the Other’s brain for congruent change to occur. And they don’t question why they get resistance, time delays, lack of buy-in. They just blame the Other.

So I leave you with these questions:

–  How committed are you to having the full set of data you need for success?

–  How willing are you to forego your ego and Not Know?

–  What would you need to know or believe differently to recognize when you don’t possess the full data set you need?

Imagine how successful we could all be if we knew what we didn’t know and had the right attitude to find out.


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

February 6th, 2023

Posted In: News

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

December 12th, 2022

Posted In: News

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