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 www.sharondrewmorgen.com 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

Years ago I sat next to a lovely young man on a plane. Dressed for success, he exuded professionalism.

SD: You’re all dressed up to see a client, I bet. You look great.
YM: Thanks. I am. I’m going to offer my services free to a prospect for 2 weeks and hope he accepts.
SD: I bet you hope that you’ll prove you’re worth him paying for your services.
YM: I do! But I don’t know if any of it will pan out.
SD: What’s stopping you from facilitating him and his team through their pre-sales decision making so they all realize they need you and are willing to pay for you?
YM: You sound just like this book I just read on helping buyers buy. It was brilliant, and the author says prospects don’t have problems with our solutions, merely understanding their risk of change. And sellers should lead them through the change process before we push product details. I thought that was smart.
SD: (holding back a smile, as he was of course talking about my work): So what’s stopping you now from helping these folks first manage their change so they can identify as buyers before giving them free work?
YM: I told my boss I thought we should bring her in to train us all. I got him a copy of her (my!) book Dirty Little Secrets. He read half of it then told me it was crazy stuff, that that isn’t the way to sell, and to not do anything she suggests. So I’m sort of stuck.

His boss would rather risk the cost of his travel, his time, his opportunity cost and the prospect’s goodwill than add new sales skills and have a much greater chance of closing the sale.


Groupthink. A form of structural stupidity. Going along with the status quo because…. because what? I don’t understand why the risk of change with a credible chance of success is greater than the cost of the known – and accepted! – failure.

Failure is such a known quantity in several industries that companies build it into their budgets. They hire 9x more sales folks due to the 95% failure rate that sales models achieve; waste time and resource on managing resistance during problematic change initiatives (85 – 95% fail rate); lose clients when problems aren’t alleviated by coaches (80%); waste money and time on training when conventional training has an 80% fail rate; and lose perfectly good employees when their moral and creativity quotients are low. And yet they keep doing what they’ve always done, getting the same results. Hello Einstein!

As an original thinker and developer of proven (and pioneering) models that correct for, and entirely avoid, these failures, I’ve been running into this blind spot for decades.

By generating values-based decisions via facilitating the mind-brain connection, I actually teach folks how to get into their brains to find best answers and congruent choices. I’ve taught the models to over 100,000 folks in many global corporations in most industries since my first course to KLM in1987 called Helping Buyers Buy.


But no matter how many books (9, including Selling with Integrity, the first sales book on the New York Times Business Bestseller’s list) and articles (1000+) I’ve written, how many people I’ve spoken to on radio, tv, podcasts, keynotes over forty years, or Fortune 500 clients I’ve successfully trained (many), I still get major pushback. And I absolutely cannot understand why folks prefer the status quo when their failures are notorious.

Here are some real comments following highly successful Buying Facilitation® pilots in which my course participants closed far more, in one quarter the time, than the control group:

(Proctor and Gamble): Given the speed of closing and increased sales we’d experience if everyone used Buying Facilitation®, we’d need to speed up manufacturing, hire more support folks, buy more trucks… It would cost $2,000,000,000 and take us 2 years to recoup. We’re not set up for that.

(Boston Scientific): We got a 53% increase in closed sales and the sales folks loved it. Thanks, Sharon-Drew. But the model is too controversial for easy adoption.

(Kaiser Permanente): We pay sellers for numbers of visits and we have no way to pay per closed sales. [Note: their sales went up 600%, from 110 visits/18 closed sales to 27 visits/25 closed sales.]

(WmBlair & Co): This is crazy stuff. This isn’t sales. You folks just got lucky (9x control group, and sales continued at that rate for the next three years I followed them.).

I could go on. Thankfully, early adopters have hired me to train sales and consulting departments in many global corporations over the years. But too often my innovative concepts get compared against the standard tools and folks either don’t believe me (client success studies aside) or can’t get buy-in from their teams to do anything differently.


I can only assume the perceived risks of change are too high for most folks to seek out innovation. But I believe the risks of following Groupthink are even higher.

  • You always get what you always got – regardless of what else is possible.
  • You use resource (people, money, time) to build strategies and practices around what has a high likelihood of minimal success, low adoption, high cost.
  • You assume that the known fail rate – in sales, coaching, OD, change management, consulting, marketing, training – is what ‘is’ and build the failure into a project.

In my map of the world, when I see something failing after a fair trial period, I change the thinking behind the problem, not merely move around the chairs. But I seem to be atypical; I believe failure is nothing but a tap on the shoulder reminding me to consider doing something different. Here are my guesses as to why companies maintain models that demonstrably fail:

  • You don’t know what’s worth taking a risk on.
  • You build in or hide the fallout (Sales operations record real costs – outsourced lead gen, for example – in the cost center and closed sales in the profit center) so your success ratio appears larger than it really is.
  • You don’t know who or what to trust.
  • You’d rather go along with the known failure than a possible unknown failure.
  • You can’t imagine a better way.
  • You don’t know how to strategize using a different model.
  • You assume the failure is an accurate version of what’s possible.
  • You assume that since everyone else is failing, you’re safe.
  • You assume that since the model is the standard model used in your field, it must be the best option.

Yet resistance, non-compliance, failure to close, failure to learn, failure to not permanently adopt new behaviors, is failure that you’re maintaining.


As a thought leader and pioneer in systemic brain change models, I’ve been developing tools that make it possible to consciously get into the unconscious to cause real change and efficient decision making. Some of my models have taken me decades to develop. All have been tested. All of them comply with known (proven) science. Using them prompts a much, much higher success ratio in all initiatives where change and decision making are involved.

  • Buying Facilitation®: I teach sellers how to close 8x more sales by facilitating Buyer Readiness – leading folks through their change management and decision making as they self-identity as buyers. Currently sales seeks out ‘need’ using biased assumptions, wasting most of their time chasing folks who aren’t buyers and failing 95% of the time.
  • The How of Change™: I provide models for coaches and healthcare providers to enable clients/patients to make permanent changes by leading them to their unconscious, values-based answers within their brain circuitry. Now, coaching and behavior modification models fail 85% of the time because they push the change conceived by the leader and cause resistance rather than facilitate the person’s own answers through the mind-brain connection.
  • Change Facilitation: I offer the tools for change management initiatives, including a wholly new form of question – Facilitative Question– that took me 10 years to develop, to guide folks through the 13 Steps of Change to their core values and avoid resistance.
  • Learning Facilitation®: I’ve developed a wholly new form of training that starts with leading the brain to its own incongruences where it then seeks new knowledge.

I’ve trained these models successfully across five continents and most industries. And yet, because my ideas don’t follow conventional thinking, my work is too often ignored: nothing I do matches the perceived wisdom of Groupthink. But that’s the way of innovation. How many pioneers died in jail (Galileo) or penniless, in a garret (Nicholai Tesla)? How many pioneers were women? (??)


Here are some questions to help you consider what you’d need to possibly go outside the box to prevent failure going forward:

  • What would you need to know to be willing to consider the prospect of doing something different(ly) even though your colleagues continue their current activity?
  • What would you need to know or believe differently to be willing to consider your consistently low success rates ‘failure’ can be turned around by trialing something new?
  • How will you know when you haven’t found a fix for a problem (i.e. resistance, low close rates, low learning retention etc.) and the risk of an innovative solution is less than the risk of the status quo?
  • What colleagues would you need to include in thought discussions and noodling as you consider the risk of doing something new?
  • If you decide you’re willing to discover innovative approaches to consistent problems, how will you know who or what to trust? What would you need to know or understand to be assured that your trust is well placed?
  • How will you know that a possible solution is truly innovative? That you can trust the pitch or the hype?

Personally, I don’t consider failure an option. But without innovation, without the risk of disruption in the name of success, continued failure is the only option. If you’re willing to go beyond Groupthink, contact me.


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

December 5th, 2022

Posted In: News

Most of us believe we accurately hear what’s been said. But given our historic brain circuits that translate incoming sound vibrations subjectively and out of our awareness, it’s difficult to be certain that what we think we heard is accurate. It is possible, however, to at least know what our tendencies are.

When I wrote my book WHAT? I discovered that words don’t enter brains as anything more than ‘puffs of air’ that go from sound vibrations into signals that get translated automatically by electro-chemical circuitry: what our brains tell us was said, what we think we hear, is merely our brain’s translation of these signals according to our historic circuits – what we’ve heard before.

Unwittingly, we end up interpreting meaning according to we’ve interpreted before and new incoming data often gets misunderstood or mistranslated because there aren’t appropriate circuits to translate it. Obviously, there’s a good chance we’re biasing a lot of what we hear.

To help you understand how, if and when you uniquely (and unwittingly) bias what you hear, I’ve developed an assessment tool. Once you have a baseline knowledge of your unconscious choices you’ll know what areas to pay specific attention to and if you need to add new skills.


PART 1: When do you take extra steps to ensure you accurately hear what your Communication Partner (CP) intends? Directions: Check off any that apply. Relationship-related

 _When I’m with my partner/spouse (i.e. all the time).

_When I’m having a disagreement with my partner/spouse.

_When I’m trying to clean up a problem/misunderstanding.

_Only when it’s someone I care about.

_I don’t take extra steps. I just assume I hear the message as intended.


_When something important is at stake in my life and I need to know the Other’s takeaway.

_When I’m aware I don’t understand someone.

_When I have a message I want to impart and want to make sure I’m being understood as I prefer.

_When communicating with someone of a different culture, background, and I’m not certain we’re mutually understanding each other. But I sometimes do nothing about it because I don’t know what to do differently.

Are there times it’s especially important to ensure you hear what your CP intends to convey?

_When the conversation is going badly.

_In all business-related, profit-related conversations, or where I’m getting paid.

_ In all/some conversations related to my spouse or family.

_No. I prefer to accurately understand what’s said in every conversation and am usually successful.

_I prefer to accurately understand all of my CPs but not sure that I do.

Take a moment to think about your responses in all of the above and answer the following questions, in writing, as a summary.

  •  Are there specific times you regularly take responsibility, take extra steps, to make sure you hear your CP accurately?
  •  Why are you more comfortable with your natural listening skills in some situations than in others? Are there patterns to when you have misunderstandings?
  •  Are you fully aware of the outcomes of all of your conversations, and generally assume that everyone understands each other accurately?
  • How do you know if you’ve accurately understood someone?

PART 2: Do you know your communication biases? Directions: assess your predispositions as a communicator on each of the following. Check off the ones that apply: When I enter into a conversation, I enter with

_An ‘ear’ that listens according to my history with that person.

_An unconscious/conscious agenda of what I want from the conversation.

_ A need to be perceived in a specific way or to impart the message I want.

_An ability to enter each conversation without bias, with a mental ‘blank slate’.

_The needs of the Other in mind at the expense of my own.

_My beliefs about what this person might need from me given his/her background.

_An understanding that my unconscious biases might keep me from fully understanding so I regularly check that me and my CP are on the same page.

_ No conscious thought. I just assume I’ll hear what’s intended and respond appropriately, regardless of how different my CP might be from my own cultural experience.

During a conversation I

_Might get annoyed by something said due to my own preconceptions and history.

_ Assume I have the skills to recognize when there’s a misunderstanding and make things right if there is a problem.

_Notice when my CP is responding differently than I intended and say something to get us on the same page.

_Notice when my CP is responding differently than I intended and I say nothing.

_Don’t notice if my CP is responding differently from the message I’m sending and don’t know if I’ve hurt/annoyed them.

_Work hard at maintaining a ‘blank slate’ in my brain to listen through.

_Just be me, because I know I’m not biased and I listen accurately.

_Am aware I may not be speaking, listening, or responding in ways that regard the differences of my CP but don’t do anything to speak, listen, or respond differently than normal.

_Would prefer I’m not saying anything disrespectful, or hearing with unconscious biases, but I’m not sure if I know how to do this.

_Would prefer I’m respecting my CP but have done nothing to learn new skills to be able to speak or listen to match another’s unconscious cultural assumptions.

PART 3: Do you have the choices you need for an unbiased communication? Directions: Please write down the answers to these: If you don’t consider how accurately you hear what others intend to say (as distinct from what you think you hear) during a conversation, what you would need to know or believe differently to make this part of each communication? To think specifically if responses are congruent, if communication lines are balanced, if both CPs speak about the same amount of time and follow the same topic? If you don’t know for certain if you’re hearing without bias, or if you’re listening with a ‘beginner’s mind’ to lessen your unconscious biases, what has stopped you until now from taking steps or learning new skills to listen without bias? If you don’t know for certain if something you think you heard is inaccurate, what do you do to check? What stops you from stopping the conversation and asking? How can you tell if your CP is understanding YOU accurately and without bias? Do you have the skills you need to monitor and manage this? PART 4: Whose responsibility is a shared understanding? Directions: Answer Yes or No for each of the following: Beliefs

_I believe it’s the Sender’s responsibility to send her message properly to match the needs of the Receiver.

_I believe there’s a shared responsibility between CPs to understand each other; both are equally at fault if there’s a misunderstanding.

_I believe it’s the Receiver’s responsibility to hear what the Sender is saying, and tell the Sender when there is confusion or misunderstanding.


_I formulate a reply as soon as I hear something that triggers a response in my head, regardless of whether or not the person has finished sharing their ideas.

_I know I’ve been heard when someone responds according to my expectation.

_I know I’m hearing another’s intended message accurately when I feel comfort between us.

_If I disagree with my CP’s dialogue, I interrupt or show my disagreement without asking for an explanation.

_If I disagree with my CP’s dialogue I allow her to complete her message before sharing my disagreement.

_I try to listen without my biases and respond to what has been said, but I’m aware I probably can’t understand because of our differences. But I’ve not taken steps to learn how to listen without biases.

_If I have an idea to share that’s different from my CP’s topic, I just change topics.

_When I don’t understand my CP’s response to what I said, I just keep going or try to say something better.

_My responses conform to what I think I heard and I don’t check.

_I respond to what I think was said and don’t consider I might have biased and misinterpreted what I heard.

Understanding the message

_When I don’t understand someone, I can tell immediately and ask for clarification.

_I rarely think it’s me when there is confusion during a conversation and take no action, assuming it will work itself out.

_I can tell I’ve misheard/misunderstood when I get a negative reaction or a confused look.

_I can tell I’ve misheard only when I hear my CP say ‘WHAT?’ or ‘I don’t understand’ after my response.

_I cannot tell if I’ve misunderstood or misheard, and respond according to what I think I heard.

_I don’t know how to listen differently to people who are different from me and just respond like I do in any conversation.

_I assume I understand Others who speak English, regardless of our differences.

Communication problems

_As soon as I realize I have misunderstood someone, I ask her to repeat what she said so I can understand her message.

_When I realize I’ve misunderstood, I assume they aren’t being clear.

_When my CP tells me I misunderstood him I know it’s not my issue because I know I hear accurately.

_When my CP tells me she thinks I misheard, I ask what I missed so I can get it right.

_I can’t tell if I’ve misunderstood someone, and aren’t aware if there are negative consequences to my repsonses.

_I use my normal communication skills in all conversations regardless of cultural differences.

When you’re done, please write a paragraph on what you discovered. Now, write a paragraph on this whole assessment experience. What did you take away? What do you need to do differently? Write down a plan to move forward in a way that will help you hear what others say with the least possible bias. How did you do? Are you willing to make changes where you need them? Do you know how to make changes? Did you find areas you’d like to have more choice? Were you able to notice your predispositions? It’s important to notice where you find yourself resisting change as those are the exact areas in which you might occasionally mishear or misunderstand. Determine if you want to continue your current patterns and don’t mind the cost of being wrong some of the time. For those of you seeking more understanding on how our brains hear, check out my book: What? Did you really say what I think I heard? or call me to train your group: sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com


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

November 21st, 2022

Posted In: News

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

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


Learning is a systems/change problem, and our brain is in charge. While certainly a complex set of unconscious activities, I’ll break it down simplistically: our brain automatically translates and filters incoming messages as per our history of what we already know. This is how we make sense of and understand what we hear. It’s also how we restrict our worlds.

When new/unique content enters our awareness, our brain has no circuits to translate it and we end up mistranslating, misunderstanding, or resisting the new without realizing that what we think we heard might be inaccurate. It’s a brain thing, and we’re the unwitting victims of our lazy brains.

Our brain circuitry makes sense of our worlds for us based on our unique mental models (our personal norms, beliefs, history etc.) that form the foundation of who we are and determine our choices. Our behaviors are the vehicles that represent these internal systems- our beliefs in action, if you will. Everything we do, hear, or notice comes from instructions our brain sends us from existing circuits that have already been programmed and accepted by our system to represent us. And herein lie the problem.

When new knowledge enters our brains, it’s likely we have no circuits to translate it into meaning. Nor has our system approved it, making it a potential threat to our previously programmed system of neural pathways, cell assemblies, and electrochemical activity, (regardless of the efficacy of the new knowledge).

The result makes learning something new challenging: With no choice but to consider something not approved a threat, we automatically (and unconsciously) resist, misinterpret, or ignore what we have no circuits to translate! In other words, with the best material, the best trainer, and motivated minds, new material will be resisted unless there is a neural set-up to interpret it.


Because our brains automatically resist anything that hasn’t been approved, regardless of the efficacy, learners given information before they have new cell assemblies may not be able to make the required change the new material requires: information in and of itself does not create new circuitry.

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

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


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

  • learner’s brains don’t recognize the need for anything new,
  • the new material may come up against long-held (sometimes unconscious) beliefs and put the learner’s system out of balance,
  • there are no existing circuits that accurately translate the incoming information.

The current training model assumes that if new material is important and useful, offered in a logical, informative, interesting way, and offers experiential learning, learners will accept it. But this assumption is faulty and largely responsible for the 80% failure rate of most training programs.

Standard training offers new content based on the trainer’s goals and knowledge, using their own verbiage and language structure, and assume that a learner’s brain will be similarly configured and know what to do with the content they’re offering! In other words, current training models attempt to push something foreign (i.e. new knowledge) into a closed system (the learner’s status quo) that is perfectly happy as it is and has no circuitry to translate it.

Effective training must first enable learners to design new circuitry that will accept, then translate the new information.


Training must enable

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

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

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

Since change isn’t sought out until the system, the status quo, finds an incongruence, I eschewed offering lecture or new ideas and instead began by helping learners first recognize that their habitual skills were insufficient and higher success ratios were possible by adding new ones. For this I designed a series of exercises to help learners self-recognize where they had gaps in their automatic choices, then try to resolve the problem with their current skills. Where this failed, they were eager to seek out new learning as their best option. From there, I helped them create new, approved, neural circuits.

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

Here’s how I design courses:

  • Day 1 offers exercises and self-study questionnaires that help learners recognize the components of their unconscious status quo while identifying skills necessary for greater excellence: specifically, what they do that works and what they do that doesn’t work, and how their current skills match up with their unique definition of excellence within the course parameters. Once they learn exactly what is missing among their current skill sets, and they determine what, specifically, they need to add to achieve excellence, then they know exactly what they need to learn.
  • Day 2 enables learners to create a route in their brains that carry the core beliefs of the new content to be added and then tests for, and manages, acceptance and resistance. Only then does new information and new behaviors get introduced and practiced.
  • Day 3 practices and integrates the new material. Learners leave with new circuitry for new, automatic, permanent behaviors.

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

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


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

November 14th, 2022

Posted In: Listening, News


How to Listen to be successful

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

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


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

John: No, SDM, you said X.

SDM: Actually I said Y and that’s quite a bit different.

John: You did NOT SAY Y. I heard you say X!!!

Margaret: I was sitting here, John. She actually did say Y. She said it clearly.

John: You’re BOTH crazy! I KNOW WHAT I HEARD! and he stomped out of the room. [End of partnership.]

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

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


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

Seller: Hi. I’m Paul, from XXX. This is a sales call. I’m selling insurance.

Is this a good time to speak?

Buyer: No. it’s a horrible time. It’s end of year and I’m swamped.

Call back next week and I’ll have time.

Seller: ok.iwanttotellyouaboutourspecialsthatmightsuityourbusinessandmakeyou


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

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

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

Obviously not a way to sell anything. Here is another example. Halfway into a sales call, my client got hooked on his own agenda:

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

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

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

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

By hearing and respecting the prospect’s status quo the seller would have created a ‘We Space’ where they both shared the same goals, and kept them speaking over time, opening up a possibility where none existed before. Not to mention it would have been respectful. But the sellers, in both instances, only listened for what they wanted to hear, misinterpreted what was meant, and followed their own agenda at the cost of a real prospect.

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

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

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

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

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


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

November 7th, 2022

Posted In: Listening, News

Using current negotiation models, people feel they are giving up more than they want in exchange for receiving less than they deserve. As part of standard practice, negotiation partners going into a negotiation calculate their bottom line – what they are willing to give up, and what they are willing to accept – and then fight, argue, cajole, or threaten when their parameters aren’t met. People have been killed for this. But there is another way.

In 1997, Bill Ury (author of Getting to Yes) and I had to read each other’s books (my book was Selling with Integrity) in preparation for working together for KPMG. A week before our introductory lunch meeting, I read his book where BATNA – Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement – originated, marked the areas I disagreed with in red, and sent the marked book back to Bill.

There was a lot of red: his book teaches how to get what you want (potentially win-lose) rather than how everyone can walk away satisfied (win-win) and I was quite pointed in my annoyance with win-lose. The next day I realized what an ass I was and called him, telling him not to open my envelope and I’d explain all when we met. But he had already received, reviewed, and agreed with my corrections!

We had a long chat comparing our models, concluding with a very interesting discussion about the different outcomes between a win-win and a win-lose negotiation. And net net, he agreed with me and we worked with KPMG using a win-win model.


Win-lose is an incongruity. Using benchmarks for ethics and integrity, if one person loses, everyone loses – hence there is only win-win or lose-lose. Yet in the typical negotiation process it’s hard to find a win when the ‘things’ being bartered are not ‘things’ at all but representations of unconscious, subjective beliefs and personal values without either negotiation partner understanding the underlying values these items represent to the other: i.e. a house in the country might represent a lifetime goal to one person, and just a place to live to another; a $1,000,000 settlement might illustrate payback for a lost, hard-won reputation to one person, and extortion to another.

It’s possible to take a negotiation beyond the ‘things’ being bartered, away from the personal and chunk up to find mutually shared values agreeable to both – and then find ‘things’ that represent them. So it might be initially hard to agree who should get ‘the house’, but it might be possible to agree that it’s important everyone needs a safe place to live.


Try this:

  1. enter the negotiation with a list of somewhat generic high-level values that are of foundational importance, such as Being Safe; Fair Compensation;
  2. share lists and see where there is agreement. Where there is no agreement, continue chunking up higher until a set of mutually comfortable criteria are found. A chunk up from Fair Compensation might be ‘Compensation that Values Employees‘;
  3. list several possible equivalents that match each agreeable criterion. So once Compensation that Values Employees is agreed upon during a salary negotiation, each partner should offer several different ways it could be achieved, such as a higher salary, or extra holidays, or increased paid training days, or a highly sought-after office, or higher royalties;
  4. continue working backward – from agreement with high-level, foundational criteria, down to the details and choices that might fulfill that goal, with all parties in agreement. The more time you spend getting agreement on foundational criteria, the easier it will be to get into agreement.

Discussions over high level values are often more generic, and far less likely to set off tempers than arguments over ‘things’: if nothing else, it’s easier for negotiation partners to listen to each other without getting defensive. And once values are attended to and people feel heard they become more flexible in the ‘things’ they are willing to barter: once Compensation that Values Employees is agreed to, it’s possible to creatively design several choices for an employee to feel fairly valued without an employer stretching a tight budget.

Think about negotiations as a way to enhance relationships rather than a compromise situation or a way for someone to win. There is nothing to be won when someone loses.


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

October 24th, 2022

Posted In: Listening, News

What Makes A Decision Irrational? After spending 30 years deconstructing the mind-brain interface that enables choice and decision making, and training a decision facilitation model I developed for use in sales, coaching, and leadership, (Buying Facilitation®), I’m always amused when I hear anyone deem a decision ‘irrational’.

Only outsiders wishing for, or assuming, a different outcome will designate someone’s decision as ‘irrational’. I doubt if the decision-maker says to herself, “Gee! I think I’ll make an irrational decision!” I could understand her thinking it irrational after reaping surprising consequences. But not at the moment the decision is being made.


We all make the best decisions we can at the moment we make them. It’s only when someone else compares the decision against their own subjective filters and standards, or use some academic/’accepted’ standard as ‘right’, or judge the decision against a conclusion they would have preferred, that they deem it ‘irrational’. I always ask, “Irrational according to who’s standards?”

There are two components to making a decision. The brain; and the criteria against which the decision maker weights their options.

Brain: All of our actions arise from neurological, biological, physiological, electrochemical and automatic interactions in our brains. When we think, listen, hear, see, our brain goes through several processes before finding familiar neural connections to translate the incoming vibrations into decisions, behaviors, habits. Even when something brand new enters, we end up using existent – historic! – cell assemblies to translate it, restricting us to what we’ve done and thought before. Net net, our decisions emerge unconsciously, and sometimes don’t reflect the full fact pattern of all that is possible.

Data weighting: to ensure congruency, our brains compare incoming content against our mental models, an unknowable set of highly subjective factors including

Personal beliefs, values, historic criteria, assumptions, experience, future goals;
Possible future outcomes in relation to how they experience their current situation.
No one uses the same data set, or has the same criteria, beliefs, or life experiences the decision maker uses to evaluate their decision.

Each of us have unique brain systems; different mental models, connections, neural pathways, histories. There’s not a single person whose brain is organized as anyone else’s. In other words, we just can’t judge others according to our own standards.

Indeed, there is no such thing as an irrational decision.


Let me offer a simple example to explain. I recently made an agreement with a colleague to send me a draft of the article he was writing about me before he published it. Next thing I knew, the article was published. How did he decide to go against our agreement? Here was our ensuing dialogue:

SD: I’m quite upset. How did you decide to publish the article after agreeing to send it to me before publishing?

BP: I didn’t think it was a big deal. It was only a brief article.

SDM: It was a big enough deal for me to ask to read it first. How did you decide to go against our agreement?

BP: You’re a writer! I didn’t have the time you were going to take to go through your editing process!

SDM: How do you know that’s why I wanted to read it first?

BP: Because you most likely would not like my writing style and want to change it. I just didn’t have time for that.

SDM: So you didn’t know why I wanted to read it and assumed I wanted to edit it?

BP: Oh. Right. So why did you want to read it?

SDM: My material is sometimes difficult to put into words, and it has taken me decades to learn to say it in ways readers will understand. I would have just sent you some new wording choices where I thought clarity was needed, and discussed it with you.

BP: Oh. I could have done that.

While a simple example, it clearly describes how we judge situations according to our Beliefs, assuming everyone is operating with the same ones. But that’s not true: each decision maker uses her own subjective reasoning regardless of baseline, academic, or conventional Truths.

In our situation, my partner wove an internal tale of subjective assumptions that led him to a decision that might have jeopardized our relationship. I thought it was irrational, but ‘irrational’ only against my subjective criteria as an outsider with my own specific assumptions and needs.

And everyone involved in group decision making does the same: enter with unique brain configurations and personal, unique criteria that supersede the available academic or scientific information the group uses. This is why we end up with resistance or sabotage during implementations.


What if we stopped assuming that our business partners, our spouses, our prospects were acting irrationally. What if we assume each decision is rational, and got curious: what has to be true for that decision to have been made? If we assume that the person was doing the best they could given their subjective criteria and not being irrational, we could:

ask what criteria the person used and discuss it against our own;
communicate in a way that discusses assumptions, differences, gets curious, enables win-win results;
agree at the start to work from the same set of baseline assumptions and remove as much subjectivity as possible before a decision gets made.
In other words, to make sure we understand where Others are coming from, we need to become aware of any incongruences and find common ground. Because if we merely judge others according to our unique listening filters, many important, creative, and collaborative decisions might sound irrational.


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

October 17th, 2022

Posted In: News

When I coined the term Buying Process in 1987 I was describing the change management steps people take between having a problem and self-identifying as buyers. In other words, the Buy Side.

Over the years the sales industry has (mis)translated the term to refer to how people choose a solution. In other words, the Sell Side.

The Buy Side and Sell Side have different goals and journeys: before self-identifying as buyers, people/groups must assemble stakeholders, try workarounds, figure out the risk of disruption and get buy in (Buy Side). It’s wholly different from how, when and if they choose a product (the Sell Side).

Buying is a change management problem (Buy Side) before it’s a solution choice (Sell Side) issue. Both should be addressed in order to both find and facilitate folks who will become buyers (the Buy Side) and help now-self-identified buyers choose their solutions (the Sell Side).

By overlooking facilitating the (Buy Side) Buying Process, by narrowing the search for buyers to those who’ll listen to product details or seem to have a ‘need’ (the Sell Side), the sales industry overlooks 80% of potential buyers. As a result, sales closes a small fraction of possible buyers. I believe the field is using the wrong metric and chasing the wrong target (‘Need’).


Buyers aren’t where sales is looking for them. It’s like that old joke about folks looking for lost keys where the light is instead of where they lost them. Sure, sales continues to find new and better ways to push solutions. But that’s not where or how people buy especially now with the internet.

People become buyers when they have no other choice AND can tolerate the risk of doing something different (a purchase); if the risk (the disruption, the change involved) is too high they’ll stay the same regardless of need. Here’s one of my MorgenismsPeople don’t want to buy anything, merely resolve a problem at the least cost to the system.

Selling and buying require two different sets of actions. By only focusing on one portion of the buying decision process, sales overlooks the vast numbers of not-yet-self-identified buyers who really need help figuring out their unique systemic change issues. And unfortunately, the approach to facilitating the Buy Side Buying Process isn’t through any thinking, tools, or goals used to sell a solution. And it’s not about ‘need’.


I have a few questions for you: Do you need to stop watching so much TV and exercise more? Do you need to shed 10 pounds? Do you need to be kinder to your employees? See? Need is NOT the metric used by folks who will become buyers! Your 5% close rate should tell you something is wrong. People buy when

  • everyone (even peripherally involved), and everything (policies, projects, leadership) agrees there’s a problem that needs resolving;
  • they’ve tried everything they know to resolve it and nothing worked;
  • they fully understand the risks – the cost – to the system and find them manageable;
  • everyone who will touch the final solution buys in to doing something different.

Here’s why a ‘need’ focus causes sales to fail:

  • You get few meetings with few in attendance, and then don’t hear back.

o  What ‘weight’ did the folks in the meeting have on the final decision team?
o  How many folks needed your solution but wouldn’t take a meeting?
o  Who took the meeting and why? Have they tried workarounds yet?
o  What will they use your presentation content for?
o  Where are they in their Buy Side Buying Process?

      • When you facilitate folks through their complete change process (Buy Side Buying Process), you’ll help them discover who to assemble, how to find workarounds to try, and how to assess risk and manage buy in according to their unique environments. THEN they all want to meet with you and bring 10 people to the meeting.
  • You’re posing biased questions based on what you sell and miss important data.

o  Your questions are biased according to what you think would make them a prospect, hence miss the underlying (systemic) reasons they haven’t resolved the problem yet and where they really need your help and your differentiation point.

      • Facilitative Questions help them uncover their own idiosyncratic route to a problem resolution and buy in without bias.
      • Your ‘need’ focus causes you to assume far, far more people are prospects and you spend large amounts of time chasing folks who will never buy. Remember: People cannot buy unless they understand the risk of change. It’s not about their problem or the efficacy of your solution.
  • With a ‘need’ focus you’ll get one person’s restricted viewpoint and mistakenly believe she’s a buyer.

o  It’s possible someone is speaking with you only because she’s the only one who wants change and using your call to collect data points.

      • When you only seek need, you really have no idea of the accuracy of the person’s answers, or their reason to speak with you.
      • When you only seek need, you miss people doing their discovery and not yet ready to self-identify as buyers.
      • When you only seek need, you don’t understand the entire fact pattern the problem sits in and don’t recognize folks who could never buy.
  • You have no idea if the person you’re speaking with represents a real opportunity.

o  Has he been directed to contact vendors because the team is ready to choose? or just doing research? Has the whole team self-identified as buyers?

      • By assuming folks talk to you because they have a ‘need’ you’re overlooking the systems/change management issues that must be resolved before they’re even buyers and wasting a lot of time pushing products they can’t buy.
      • By assuming folks have a need, you’re restricting your close rate to 5% and wasting 95% of your time.
  • You have no idea what stage folks are at in their (Buy Side) Buying Process?

o  Have they assembled all (ALL) the stakeholders? Know the full fact pattern of the problem (only happens toward the end of the Buying Process when all factors are discernable)? Have they tried workarounds? Do they know the type of risk they face if they purchase? Do the stakeholders buy in to the risk?

      • Until or unless they’ve gone through all change management stages (i.e. the Buy Side Buying Process), they are not buyers, regardless of what you think they need.

The sales model is so focused on placing solutions, on sharing information sellers believe prospects need to hear, that they miss the real Buying Decision Pathjust because you think they have a ‘need’ doesn’t mean they’re ready willing or able to buy.


Until they realize they cannot fix the problem themselves AND everyone recognizes that the cost of the fix is less than the cost of staying the same, they will not, cannot, buy. And when you don’t hear back, they’re not facing indecision: they’re merely involved in their change management process and not yet buyers. And unless the risk of the change is less than the cost of staying the same, they’d rather stay the same and avoid the disruption.

Sellers can help would-be buyers traverse their decision path – their Buy Side Buying Process – BEFORE trying to sell them anything and help them become buyers very quickly. After all, they must do this anyway, with or without you: until they accept the risk that a new solution brings, they aren’t buyers anyway. That leaves you selling to the low hanging fruit (the 5%) rather than helping the 80% manage their Buy Side decision process.

Before considering themselves buyers, all people must mitigate the steps between problem recognition and risk management. Until people manage their front-end change management piece (the first 9 steps of a 13 step change process, or, um, Buying Process) they ARE NOT BUYERS and will ignore any attempt at being sold to!

The sales industry must shift their thinking to facilitate the Buy Side as a precursor to selling. I know the field has recognized the need to do so, but unfortunately still uses the same tools and sales thinking to try to get there!


Buying is risk management. Selling is product placement – two different sets of things to handle for two different sets of problems.

Unfortunately, facilitating people through their discovery of risk is not based on a solution, or need, or features and functions, but on a different metric entirely: neither the sales model nor the solutions themselves can help with the Buy Side Buying Process. Buying is first about change:

Buying represents change in the underlying system that includes people, policies, initiatives, jobs, budgets etc.

Change represents disruption. It must be addressed and bought into by everyone it will disrupt.

A purchase represents an unknowable risk to the system.

And sellers, as outsiders, cannot ever understand what their idiosyncratic issues are.

I’ve written extensively on this for decades. Terms that I’ve coined as part of the Buy Side Buying Process (‘stakeholders’ ‘workarounds’ ‘Buying Decision Team’) have been mistranslated, and now endemic in the sales vocabulary, but unfortunately applied only on the Sell Side. Buying Facilitation® finds those on route to becoming buyers and leads them through their change steps.


When I started up my tech company in 1983 and became a buyer after being a very successful seller, I realized the problem with sales: as an entrepreneur with problems to solve, I didn’t even think of making a purchase until I assembled the full set of stakeholders and knew the full fact pattern, tried everything familiar to fix it, and understood the disruption an external solution would cause.

I invented Buying Facilitation® to facilitate folks through their change management steps on route to becoming real buyers. It works WITH sales but isn’t sales. It’s change based, not product sell based. In my Buying Facilitation® training programs I teach how to facilitate change as the precursor to selling. Participants go on to close 40% against their control groups that close (on average) 5.4%. When I trained my own sellers to find folks on route to change, our closed business improved by a factor of eight.

Buying Facilitation® uses wholly different tools and goals, starting with prospecting for people seeking to resolve a problem – people in their Buying Process – that the seller’s solution can resolve. It includes:

  • Facilitative Questions: a wholly new form of question in invented (Took me 10 years!) that leads Others through their elements of systemic change.
  • Listening for systems: a way to listen for systemic problems (leadership, ancient corporate rules, etc.) instead of seek what I wanted to hear.
  • The steps of change: the 13 steps all people must traverse before they agree to any change. Sales enters at step 10 when folks are ready to buy. They can enter at step one and lead folks efficiently through their change issues.

Buying Facilitation® finds people on route to becoming buyers ON THE FIRST CALL when your goal is to find folks changing in the area you solution can serve. It’s a generic change facilitation model used also by coaches and leadership. It has nothing to do with buying or selling per se. And yet it facilitates real change.

Below I’ve included a few articles I’ve written on the subject. Go to www.sharon-drew.com, read the section Helping Buyers Buy, and go to the categories Sales, Buying Facilitation® in my blog section and start reading. Then call me. I’ll teach you.


‘No Decision’ is not Indecision

What is Buying Facilitation® and What Sales Problem Does it Solve

The Real Buyer’s Journey: the reason selling doesn’t cause buying

How, Why, and When Buyers Buy

A View from the Buy Side


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

October 3rd, 2022

Posted In: News

After listening to folks complaining about getting resistance during a needed change initiative, I decided to write an article explaining how resistance gets triggered from our brain. You see, people don’t make a conscious choice to resist; their brains are perceiving risk and automatically rebelling as protection. As I’ll explain, it’s possible to avoid resistance altogether. But we’d have to alter the way we’re going about change.

I’ll begin by saying that behaviors don’t just pop up, arise like Venus from the sea. Before we ‘do’ anything our brain goes through a series of neurological, biological, and electro-chemical reactions that automatically trigger and instruct behaviors.

Everything we do, think, see, feel originates in our brains, including our behaviors. And in current change management models, we overlook the brain bit. Resistance is caused by brain chemistry; to avoid it we’ll need to think differently about how we construct our change initiatives.


I’ll begin by naming the elephant in the room: ‘resistance management’ has become integral to change management. Frankly, my ideas in this article may cause resistance because they go beyond perceived wisdom and current academic research which both concentrate on behavior change rather than where behaviors get triggered in the brain. And because it’s believed to be endemic, resistance is naturally incorporated into change practices.

A friend of mine (a Harvard professor and MacArthur Genius) was writing a book on how to manage resistance. When I sent back my edits following his request to look at his draft, he opposed my ideas about avoiding resistance altogether: “This is just aspirational thinking, Sharon-Drew. Resistance is endemic no matter what models you use.” As I said, it’s built in.

Remember the adage: if you always do what you’ve always done you always get what you’ve always got? Indeed, the expression “change is hard” has become the perceived wisdom and various forms of coercion (persuasion, convincer strategies, rewards, manipulation) have cropped up to mitigate it.

In John P Kotter’s change bible Leading Change he says it’s necessary to ‘win hearts and minds’,

encourage them to make sacrifices to support the change and persuade them that the change is achievable and that the rewards are beneficial to both the business and themselves.

In other words, resistance is such an integral part of the change culture that the reason it occurs is overlooked. We assume:

  • change is hard (It’s not hard. We’re just approaching it as a behavior change issue rather a brain triggering problem.);
  • there will be obstacles (The existing norms and current activities have been the status quo. To make a change, a new set of norms must be developed that match the values of the old, and those involved in the status quo must determine this.).
  • the efficacy of ‘urgency’ to involve Others (We ask folks to adopt OUR urgency without helping them design something THEY feel urgency around and then push them to full OUR needs!);
  • when change is led by someone respected, Others will be compliant soldiers (Think of your mom telling you to wear that horrid outfit to Grandma’s. Nope. And it’s not about the clothes.);
  • all will go smoothly once we win ‘hearts and minds’ (The initiatives created may not match THEIR hearts and minds!).

Resistance is avoidable and change is not hard at all. We’re just doing it wrong.

In this article I’ll explain how our brains cause our reactions/responses, and how conventional change processes cause the very resistance it works to overcome.


Let me say a bit about my mindset and thinking. I’ve dedicated my life to developing change facilitation models used in coachingbehavior change, and sales that enable mind-brain connections to have conscious choice over our unconscious behaviors. Along the way I’ve discovered that our brain neurology is set up to create and maintain our core identities; as such, all of our actions and responses, attitudes and convictions are nothing more than unconscious, automatic outputs of who we are. To explain how we end up resisting, I’ll begin by introducing you to how we ‘be’ who we are.

Each of us is an amalgam of generations of family history, education, religion, friends, employment, life experience. Together, these mental models – the system of ‘me’, or SOM – carry electro-chemical signals (without meaning) that link together as neural circuits, or ‘cell assemblies’, that inform our actions: the way we look at, judge, and operate in the world; our assumptions, our politics. They inform our identity, our values, our beliefs. And signals from these circuits instruct our choices, our behaviors, in a way that maintains our system.

All of us act, make choices, decide from our mental models, our SOM; our behaviors arise unconsciously and automatically to represent and maintain who we are. In other words, we’re always ‘doing’ who we are, making us all victims of our unconscious.

Personally, I’ve been a liberal and activist since my first protest as a freshman in college when I chained myself to a crane and ended up in jail (Mother: ‘You’re calling from WHERE?’). I’ve continued my liberal activity during my life, taking great pride in who I am, believing fervently that my map of the world is the ‘right’ one. I’ll defend this to my death, regardless of what anyone else wants me to do, regardless of whether I’m considered right or wrong. I’ve lost jobs, book deals, friends, husbands, rather than make choices that will put my core identity, my SOM, at risk. I think I’ve been ‘right’ more often than not. But I’ve always respected my unique system, made the best choices I knew how to make based on my values, and followed my vision. It’s who I am.

And so we all are: our behaviors – our choices, our actions, our unconscious automatic triggers – are our beliefs in action. It’s here we must begin when considering resistance.


Given we are always DOing who we are, let me explain (in simplified fashion) how our brain accomplishes this so you’ll see how defiance might be a natural, albeit unconscious, choice.

Behaviors are the end result of several neural processes, generated from a sequence of neurological, biological, and electro-chemical actions that get triggered by incoming vibrations (as words, thoughts, messages, instruction). Here’s the sequence in words:

  • input vibrations (all sound/words enters ears without meaning) that get
  • filtered, massaged, shortened and
  • automatically turned to signals
  • that get dispatched among
  • 86 billion neurons, 1,000 trillion neural connections to seek a match
  • with ‘similar-enough’ cell assemblies that then
  • translate the signals uniquely and
  • send instructions to act (behave).

Here’s another way to explain what happens from start (input) to an action (output):

Input (message, vibration) -> Filters (Beliefs, norms) -> CUE (Signal creation) -> CEN (Dispatch to ‘similar-enough’ existing circuits) ->Output (Behavior, action, decision)

For those who want more detail, here’s a video of me explaining the entire process of how we make decisions with visuals.

Notice that the input (message) and the filters (beliefs, norms) drive the output (behavior). It’s impossible to have an output without an input that triggers it. Indeed, everything we do, think, feel, see, hear has been instructed by our neurology. An easy way to think of this is how Alzheimer’s sufferers die because their brain forgets to instruct their organs.


Resistance begins at the input stage: If the incoming instructions, the initiatives and goals we provide at the start, match the norms/values/beliefs of the existing system being targeted, the filters will accept it.

If the incoming message is in conflict with the system, the filters (automatically, unconsciously) discard, mistranslate, or resist it. It’s biologic and of out awareness, an act performed by dopamine.

Since our unconscious brain is the instigation point that causes us to ‘do’ who we are, our behaviors arise from the way our brain translates (mistranslates) incoming vibrations (words, messages). So a behavior is nothing more than a response, the output of a chain of events set up to comply with the norms and values of the system – the person – they represent. Behaviors (outputs) are the very last element that arise from a string of commands from our brain.

Simply put: When people receive inputs that are out of alignment with their SOM, they resist. Resistance is merely a reaction from the part of the brain that thinks it’s at risk. It has nothing to do with intent. It’s not malicious. It’s neurologic.

This is what we overlook during change initiatives: when we get an unwanted reaction from an initiative, we end up trying to change a behavior by trying to change a behavior – push change from an output that’s already been programmed! It’s like trying to change a chair into a table!

Unfortunately, by the time there’s a reaction it’s too late. Here’s my podcast series on change without resistance.

It is possible, however, to avoid the problem altogether. To get a different response, a new output, we just need to create a different input.


To make sure new directives are approved, carried out, and enlist buy-in; to make sure we achieve goals that produce Excellence; our change initiatives must comply with people’s mental models and personal beliefs or the brain thinks it’s at risk and balks to protect the system.

When leadership tries to elicit behaviors before enlisting the brain circuits that protect the SOM, the belief-based filters that check incoming messages will discard or resist anything that doesn’t match the existing norms of the system.

There’s a simple way to fix this problem, but I’m going to ask that you don’t resist what I’m saying out-of-hand: We can bring in the stakeholders, the folks who will be performing the new initiative, before the initiatives are developed, before the goals have been established and have them design the initiative. (Note: no problem set can be fully understood without the input, the knowledge. of the entire stakeholder body anyway.)

This ensures that the values, the SOM, of the stakeholders will become part of the new initiative and the brain will happily generate the new behaviors with passion and creativity, responsibility and ownership. And no resistance!

By starting with a goal in mind, by beginning with outcomes and targets and proposed action, by designing initiatives to conscientiously overcome resistance by including users somewhere – too late! – in the process, current change management models unwittingly instigate the very resistance they seek to overcome.

And note: it’s not possible to attempt to ‘gather data’ to capture the SOMs to include in the initiative as the both the questions and answers will be biased by the direction already set; and conventional questions don’t get into the unconscious anyway.

Everyone involved (or a very comprehensive set of representatives) must sit down together – maybe for an offsite day with an outside consultant – and brainstorm ideas, needs, fears, feelings, job descriptions, collective goals, and dreams.

I’d even suggest there be only representation from leadership, with the bulk of the participation coming from the users. After all, folks in leadership have different jobs, different goals and viewpoints, different knowledge of the day-to-day ops, different SOMS than the managers and staff who will carry out the initiative.


Here are a few starter questions to create compliance and joy throughout the life of the initiative:

  • What’s the best idea, the best aspiration, to begin from that will result in goals that match the beliefs, the integrity, the vision, of those who will carry out the change?
  • What if we begin with a goal of Excellence, not specific actions?
  • How can we design initiatives in a way that expands possibility and invites buy-in, creativity and vision over time?

Will goals be met in the exact way the leadership team originally envisaged? Nope. But they never are anyway. The goals will be met, just differently and with long-term follow through and universal buy-in.

I’ve written extensively on this and developed several models and tools that create comprehensive teams, unearth the SOMs, and design goals and action items that lead to Excellence far beyond anything originally envisaged. Please contact me to either help you design a new initiative or coach you through one you’re currently involved with. Here’s how an article on how I’ve used my thinking in one industry (sales) to facilitate change and avoid resistance.

For now, here’s an example of how I enlisted the buy-in of a resister who wasn’t even compliant with the coach hired to help him keep his job.


I once got a call from a very noted coach (once on the cover of Inc Magazine) who had a problem he needed help solving. He had been hired by a senior manager (Susan) from a company going through change. She was having difficulty enlisting the agreement of one of their top, well-respected managers and asked Ed to coach the guy (Lou) to perform the new behaviors or he’d be fired. Ed said he’d tried for three months to get Lou to do what he’d been asked to do – set agreed-upon target actions and goals for Lou – only to have Lou miss deadlines and overlook entire segments of his agreements. Ed thought that maybe I’d have a different way to think about helping Lou and save him from losing his job.

Ed agreed to do a role play with me during which I used my facilitation process that targeted Lou’s underlying, baseline sentiments. With no real knowledge of what Lou would say, Ed responded using bits he’d heard from Lou. We had the following conversation (Note: I knew nothing about either Lou or the initiative.).

SD: Hi Lou. Before we begin, I’d like to thank you for being willing to speak. Seems you were not given a choice about speaking with me. Do I have your approval? I don’t want you to be forced to speak if you don’t want to.

Lou: You’re right. So much seems to be going on that I have no say about. But I know Susan is trying to help me keep my job. So I’m happy to speak. Thanks for asking.

SD: I hear both Susan and Ed have been trying to encourage you to take on new tasks and there seems to be a glitch in your uptake. What has stopped you from being comfortable doing what they need you to do?

Lou: I have some questions. I was hired to do my original job and I’ve done it well. Over the years I’ve come up with creative solutions, hired terrific people, and have been successful. I’ve gotten promoted and rewarded, and by now part of my identity is based on my success. Now they want me to do X. Who will take over my old job and do it as well as I did? Maintain the relationships with my staff and clients? And what happens to me? Given it’s a wholly new job description, how do I know I can do it? And no one will be teaching me because it hasn’t been done before. What happens if I don’t succeed? I’ve never been unsuccessful before. Seems they’ve given me a lose/lose situation. If I do what they want me to do, I’ll end up being fired for incompetency anyway.

SD: Wow. So you had no input into this new role before it was given to you, weren’t included in the creation and description of it, don’t know if you know how to do the work, don’t know how to be good at it, and might end up losing the success you had in your current job! That’s a lot. What has stopped you from telling this to Ed or Susan?

Lou: I tried to tell Susan but she told me they trusted me and just concentrate on doing the new job. But that didn’t handle my fears or loss of identity. When I started working with Ed he just gave me targets for each part of the new job and never discussed my personal challenges.

SD: Oh! So if Susan could make sure your current job will end up in good hands with continued great results, and you could have someone guide you through the new job with an agreed-upon learning curve, it would be easier for you.

Lou: Right. But I’d also need to have a say in how the new job is defined. As I can’t know what I don’t know before I start, I can’t know what would need to change in the job description they’ve provided. If I can have a say in how I will accomplish what they need accomplished, and have the time to get good at it, AND my original job is being done well, I have no problem being compliant.

When we were done, I asked Ed why he hadn’t considered my line of questioning since he apparently had all the data.

Ed: I heard him say those things, but because they seemed to have nothing to do with my job of getting him to ‘do’ the necessary behaviors, I ignored them!

This is a true story. How many people have been fired because they didn’t ‘do’ what they were told to do, and this type of conversation hadn’t occurred?

The belief that a change initiative must be agreed-with as per leadership’s vision has caused great harm in corporations and people. In 2004 I spoke with the then-CEO of Kinkos who traveled to all U.S. sites to visit 30,000 employees to announce the FedEx/Kinko’s merger. He used a multi-million-dollar deck to make his announcement. How did it go? You decide.

Kinkos: I had trouble convincing about 10% of them to get onboard.

SD: What happened to them?

Kinkos: It became a retention issue.

SD: You fired 3,000 people because they didn’t like your dog-and-pony show??

Kinkos: Yes, but it wasn’t a big loss. They were the folks who had been around from the beginning and were expendable.

He fired the very core, the very foundation of his business, the folks who carried the history and heart of the company, because he had no capability of enabling collaboration and a joint vision.

Indeed, there is a way to create productive routes to outcomes that carry passion, ongoing success, and happy people. I’ve dedicated my career to creating mind-brain, conscious-to-unconscious models that make systemic change possible and very easy. Contact me and we can discuss: sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.


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

September 26th, 2022

Posted In: News

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

            Language to avoid bias and promote objectivity

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

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

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

            Getting into Observer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            Change the goal

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

“Why do you wear your hair like that?”

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

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

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

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

            Questions follow steps to change

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

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

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


Facilitative Questions are especially helpful in

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

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

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

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


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

September 12th, 2022

Posted In: News

Next Page »