By Sharon Drew Morgen

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT I DIDN’T KNOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

EMPLOYEES RUNNING THE COMPANY

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

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

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

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

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

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

SELLING AN UNKNOWN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GROWING THE COMPANY WITH PEOPLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SDM: WE’RE DOING WHAT????”

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

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

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

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

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

SDM: Monday.

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

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

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

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

THE PROFIT CENTER RECEPTION AREA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY CUSTOMERS, SAD COMPETITION

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

The Quality Is Free

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

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

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

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

SDM: I got a better idea

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

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

Ultimately, our customers were so happy the following resulted:

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 5th, 2018

Posted In: Communication, Listening

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

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

WHY IS OUR COMMUNICATION PROBLEMATIC?

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

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

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

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

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

WE CANNOT KNOW HOW ANOTHER’S REALITY DIFFERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GUESSES AND HABITS

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

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

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

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

CAN I HELP?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 29th, 2018

Posted In: Communication, Listening

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

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

WHO’S INSANE?

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

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

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

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

THE FAILURE OF PUSH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ELICIT CHANGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUMMARY

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 22nd, 2018

Posted In: Communication, Listening

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ConversationOur biases have been developed through the stories of our lives. From birth, our parent’s beliefs become part of our unconscious, very personal, ecosystem; the cultural norms of our youth create our habits, behaviors, and identity; the schools we attend or the gangs we join introduce us to the way our world works and how to behave accordingly; our professions are chosen to allow us to spend our days within the confines of environments that comfortably maintain our norms. Net net, our lives are inspired by our unconscious biases, causing us to live and work, marry and spend time with, people whose norms, interpretations, and beliefs are very similar to ours.

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

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

WE CANNOT UNDERSTAND OTHERS

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

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

And herein lie the problem. When we run into others with different lifestyle choices, or communication styles, or education, or assumptions, or race, or political beliefs, we may not have the skills to connect with them in ways they understand; we may wrongly misinterpret their intent. Certainly we may not notice we’ve been triggered and behave automatically in ways that inadvertently harm another.

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

NEED FOR CHANGE

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

As someone who has spent decades coding and scaling the stages of how human systems change, I know it’s not possible to cause change from the outside; each individual must find a way to evaluate and reconsider their own core norms and biases to make any necessary corrections that only they can make, from within (i.e. inside/out). I don’t believe we’re doing that. Current training approaches are based on helping folks recognize and change behaviors by offering information, practice, scientific data, videos, etc. from the outside (outside/in), hoping to create new triggers, new behaviors, and new awareness. This approach cannot fix the problem permanently because it:

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

Current unconscious bias training assumes people can learn enough from videos, discussions, ‘practicing ‘real’ situations, etc. what unconscious bias looks like to create awareness to recognize a problematic situation before or while it’s happening (have you ever tried to do that?) and know exactly what behaviors need changing – and what to change them to!

In other words, just when our brains are unconsciously registering ALERT, we want it to tell itself ‘Nope. Wrong thinking. Don’t do that. Don’t think that. Stop responding that way. Do something different. NOW!’ just as it’s occurring. It’s possible to do so, but not with the training offered.

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

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

Our reactions to external stimuli are unconscious and automatic, and follow our brain’s historic and habituated neural pathways whenever our unconscious triggers go off. To alter these, it’s necessary to go to the source; it’s not possible to permanently change behaviorsby merely changing behaviors. Offering training that merely offers examples and experiences of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviors, and expecting people to undo their habituated triggers because they ‘admit’ to, or recognize ‘bad’ behaviors, uses the wrong thinking. Changing core biases permanently is not a behavior change issue; it’s a core Identity/Belief problem that must be resolved at the source, within the system that created it. I’ll lay the problem out for you piece by piece, then introduce a solution for permanent change. Basically, this level of change is a systems problem.

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

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

Systems are congruent (Systems Congruence, Homeostasis) entities that always seek stability; they define our politics, our mate selection, even where we live and how we listen to others. Because systems seek to maintain congruence, they have a finely tuned unconscious organizational structure of filters that seek out, and avoid, situations that make them uncomfortable or they find incongruent. Attempting to shift them causes resistance as this level change causes the system to be incongruent, regardless of the seeming need to do something different or the efficacy of a new/better solution. In other words, our status quo shows up every day to maintain itself and we will do whatever it takes to maintain it. It’s who we are.

For permanent change to occur, for new behaviors to be exhibited and chosen, there must be a change in core beliefs before new skills or situations are offered because anything ‘new’ would have no place to fit in our largely automated ‘system’. Current bias training uses methods don’t facilitate this change:

  • Listening: our habituated listening filters and neural pathways automatically bias whatever anyone says to us; we set up our lives to avoid discomfort, and uniquely interpret differences in what has been said so our brains can keep us comfortable. When information is offered as evidence, our historic, habituated, biased listening filters kick in and uniquely interpret incoming data, often differently than the intended meaning. Indeed, it’s not even possible to hear anyone without bias; when what we hear (or see, or feel) makes us uncomfortable, we react historically regardless of how far the intended meaning is from our interpretation.
  • Questions: all normal questions are biased by the Asker’s subjective curiosity, thereby restricting the Responder’s replies to the Responder’s reaction and interpretation of what was heard, and potentially overlooking real answers.
  • Historic: biases are programmed in from the time we’re born. Every day we wake up with the same biases, kept in place by our choice of friends, TV, neighborhoods, professions, reading materials, etc. To permanently shift our biases, we’d have to change our historic programming.
  • Physiological: who we ‘are’ is systemic; our beliefs and norms, character and values have been programmed in and become our Identity, creating the behaviors and responses that will unconsciously maintain our status quo in everything we do and every action we take.
  • Triggers: because of our lifetime of inculcated beliefs, values, norms and outlook, our brains react chemically, unconsciously, and automatically when there is an untoward activity.
  • Information: our training programs typically tell, show, explain, offer stories, videos, etc. etc. using our biased choices, in our favored formats, in our languaging, in hopes that our information triggers recognition, or new behavior adoption to people who may not process what we’re telling them in the way we would prefer. They may not interpret, or know how to recognize a need for, or understand, how to make sense of whatever we’re telling them.
  • Behaviors: as the expression and execution of our beliefs and status quo, behaviors translate our core systemic beliefs and norms into daily action. Behaviors represent us; they are not ‘us’.

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

CHANGE IS A SYSTEMS PROBLEM

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

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

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

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

Does any element of the original need to be kept in place? How will the system know? How would any change effect the whole? How will the bits that need change shift while still maintaining its core values? The system will fight to maintain itself. If all of the above aren’t managed, the system will fill in the blanks with something comfortable and habituated (regardless of its efficacy). In other words, if there is not systemic agreement, no known way to resolve the problem using its current givens, no known way to incorporate something new to the existing system so the system doesn’t implode, no change will happen regardless of the need or the efficacy of the solution.

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

WHAT IS A BEHAVIOR?

Current Bias Training attempts to get behaviors changed by using ‘rational’ means: showing learners biased situations, offering data and research, and playing videos to learn what bias looks like. In other words, offering Information: showing and telling people what’s wrong with what they’re doing and what ‘right’ would look like – all of which can be misinterpreted, misread, or objected to, regardless of our intent. While it certainly can make people more aware, these attempts will not cause permanent change: they develop no new habituated triggers or neural pathways to set off a new response to a stimulus. Let’s delve into this a bit.

Behaviors are what we do – transactions automatically initiated by our core system of beliefs, norms, and experience, to act out and express, who we are. We all develop behaviors that ‘be’ who we are, to represent us. Behaviors are the output, the forward movement of the robot, the actions others see.

If asked in a vacuum if we want to harm anyone, few of us would want to. And yet in small and large ways, our unconscious behaviors too often end up unjustly ignoring, being mean to, or harming someone because of their gender, or race or or… I once heard Malcolm Gladwell, who is bi-racial, say that when tested for unconscious racial bias, he came up biased. We all carry some biases. The question becomes 1. Do we notice when, or before, problems occur, and if not what would we need to know or believe differently to notice, and 2. Once we notice (or not) can we have choice over our actions and avoid biased behaviors or make adjustments at the time, or just before, they occur.

To permanently change a behavior, a system must:

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

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

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

In pursuit of excellence, people need some sort of stimulus to begin a process. It’s only during this process the holes in their knowledge become clear: what’s the distance between its current norms and something new and why isn’t the status quo good enough; between what’s been working and what’s now accepted as not working; the old behaviors and responses and designing new ones.

It’s only in the distance between here and there, one set of givens vs another, a known against an unknown, is there’s a desire to change something. And here is where it needs information. If it’s believed that all is well, regardless of any evidence otherwise, the system will not seek out, or pay attention to, any information, regardless of its efficacy.

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

CHANGING BEHAVIORS DOESN’T CHANGE BEHAVIORS

Real change demands a systemic shift to create new triggers, new assumptions, new neural pathways, and ultimately, as an outcome, new behaviors. No one, no information, no person, from outside is able to go into someone’s unconscious to (re)create all these things. And permanent change will not happen until it does. The goal is not to train someone to rid themselves of unconscious bias; it’s to teach the system itself how to discover where it is designating the bias and facilitate it through to new behaviors a way that maintains the foundational norms of the system. It’s using the old to trigger the new. Both/And, not Either/Or. I know this is a lot to understand. Call me and I’ll discuss. 512 771 1117.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, change agent, author of 9 books, including one NYTimes Business Bestseller (Selling with Integrity), and two Amazon bestsellers (Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard?). She is the inventor of the Buying Facilitation® method that gives sellers the tools to help buyers navigate through their Pre Sales change management issues (an area of the buy cycle that sales overlooks), and has trained over 100,000 sales people and leaders internationally. She also developed a listening capability that enables all communicators to hear others without bias. Sharon Drew’s award winning blog (www.sharondrewmorgen.com) has original, thought leader articles on the skills of change, negotiation, questions, sales, buy-in, and negotiation. She is a coach, speaker, trainer, consultant, and inventor. Reach her at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

October 8th, 2018

Posted In: Change Management, Communication, Listening

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

And the results aren’t pretty: we end up restricting possibility and creating resistance, conflict, antagonism, or disregard, regardless of the efficacy of what we have to offer. In this article I’ll explain why and how we end up creating the very resistance we hope to avoid, and introduce new skills to enable us to truly serve.

WE CONNECT THROUGH OUR OWN SUBJECTIVITY

Regardless of the situation, when we try to effect change using our own viewpoint or beliefs, our biases and expectations cause us to inadvertently alienate those who might need us. As a result, we ultimately influence only a percentage of those who need our help – those who already basically agree with us. Here’s how we restrict our interactions:

Biased listening: We each listen to Others unconsciously, through unique and subjective filters (biases, triggers, assumptions, habitual neural pathways, memory channels), regardless of our concerted attempts to accurately hear what’s intended. As a result, through no fault of our own, what we think we hear is often an inaccurate translation of what was meant and not what the speaker intended. So our Communication Partner (CP) might say ABC but we actually ‘hear’ ABD (And yes, we often hear something quite different than what was said although it shows up as ‘real’. Read article on how this happens.) and our brains don’t tell us we’re misunderstanding.

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

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

Subjective expectations: We enter into each conversation with expectations or goals (conscious or unconscious) thereby restricting or misinterpreting what’s been said, and often missing avenues of further exploration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately for those of us trying to effect change in Others, it’s important to remember we’re outsiders: as such, we can never fully comprehend the ramifications of adding our new ideas or solution, especially when every group, every person, believes it’s functioning well and their choices are normalized and habituated. Just because it seems right to us doesn’t mean it’s right for another. Sometimes maintaining the status quo is the right thing to do for reasons we can’t understand; sometimes change can occur only when internal things need to shift in ways we cannot assist with.

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

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

We are indeed limiting all of our interactions to helping only those few who are entirely set up to change (the low hanging fruit) and failing with those who might need us but aren’t quite ready.

INFORMATION DOESN’T FACILITATE CHANGE

As influencers, we mistakenly believe that by offering ‘good’ (relevant, accurate, instructive, empirical) information, the Other will not only interpret it the way it was intended, but know how and why to use it. But our CPs can only hear us through subjective filters and may not recognize, or will feel compromised by, what we’re trying to say. Remember: Others will not considering changing in ways that challenge their status quo.

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

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

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

To enable expanded and managed choice and to avoid resistance, we must first help Others recognize how to congruently change their own status quo. They may have buy-in issues or resource issues; maybe their hierarchy of values or goals would need to shift, or their rules. By focusing on facilitating choice/change first we can teach Others to achieve their own congruent change and then tailor our solutions and presentations to fit. Otherwise, our great content will only connect with those folks who already mirror the incoming data and overlook those who might have been able to change if they had known how to do so congruently.

THE SKILLS OF CHANGE

I’ve developed a generic Change Facilitation model, often used in sales (Buying Facilitation®) and coaching, that offers the ability to facilitate change at the core of where our status quo originates – our internal, idiosyncratic, and habituated rules and beliefs. Developed over 50 years, I’ve coded my own Asperger’s systemizing brain, refitted some of the constructs of NLP, coded the system and sequence of change, and applied some of the research in brain sciences to determine where, if, and how new choices fit.

Using it, Others can consciously self-cue – normally an unconscious process – to enable them to discover their own needs for change in the area I can serve, and in a way that’s congruent with the rules and beliefs that keep their status quo in place. I’ve trained the model globally over the past 30 years in sales, negotiation, marketing, patient relationships, leadership, coaching, etc. Below I introduce the main skills I’ve developed to enable change and choice – for me, the real kindness and integrity we have to offer. It’s possible to lead Others through

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

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

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

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

1.   Conventional Question: Why do you wear your hair like that? This question, meant to extract data for the Speaker’s use, is biased by the Speaker and limits choices within the Responder. Bias/Bias

2.   Facilitative Question: How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle? While conventional questions ask/pull biased data, this question sequentially leads the Other through focused scans of unconscious beliefs in the status quo. Formulating them requires Listening for Systems.

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

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

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

___________________

Sharon Drew Morgen is the developer of Buying Facilitation®, a generic change management model used to facilitate congruent change. She is the author of 9 books, including one NYTimes Business Bestseller (Selling with Integrity), an Amazon Bestseller Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and her newest book What? Did You Really Say What I Think I Heard?  which unravels the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. Sharon Drew has trained Buying Facilitation® to many global Fortune 500 companies; she is a speaker, trainer, and coach. To contact Sharon Drew: sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com 512-771-1117 Visit her award winning blog and read original content from an original thinker with 1600 articles: www.sharondrewmorgen.com

September 28th, 2018

Posted In: Communication, Listening

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Customer buying decision pathI moved to London in 1983 to start up a tech company after spending years as a successful sales person. After years of  ‘understanding’ and ‘qualifying’ prospects, getting appointments and networking, presenting and following up, I thought I understood buyers well-enough to become one. But I was wrong. My new role taught me the differences between selling and buying: I hadn’t realized how the complexity of my Pre-Sales activity determined whether or not I’d buy:

As a sales professional my ultimate job was to place solutions; as a buyer, my main focus was to create and maintain Excellence.

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

As a sales professional, I sought to influence those who needed my solution; as a buyer, I couldn’t fully define my needs, make adjustments, or resolve problems, until all voices and impediments to change were factored in.

Selling and buying were different: different goals, different behaviors, different communication and thinking patterns. And before becoming a buyer myself, I hadn’t fully appreciated how severely the sales model limits itself to seeking and finding only the low hanging fruit – those who have gone through their internal systems checks and realized they cannot fix their problem themselves and know, precisely, the sort of solution that would be acceptable and cost effective.

As a buyer, the very last thing I needed was to buy. But when I did buy, it was based on my ability to manage change without disruption, not on my need.  Even though I had needs, my vendors didn’t close me until almost a year after they met me; if they had entered to first help me address my change I could have closed/bought months earlier.

THE JOB OF A BUYER

As a buyer, my problem was not having needs but in addressing any disruption I’d face in addressing the needs: before bringing in anything new in, I had to first enable congruent change along a murky path between the status quo, and Excellence and respect

  • the rules and brand of the company,
  • the well-being of the employees and staff,
  • the integrity of the product or service provided,
  • the congruence and integrity of the status quo,
  • the needs of the customers.

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

– everyone involved agreed to a common solution,
– I had consensus and a route through to congruent change,
– I was absolutely certain I couldn’t fix the problem with something convenient or familiar,
– I managed a range of idiosyncratic decision factors that involved my investors, my Board, my staff,
– I had all my ducks in a row and considered any needs in terms of systems congruence, and
– I made sure any change or purchase maintained our status quo or created a new one congruently.

Even though I was the Managing Director/Founder, it wasn’t totally up to me how, if, or when to resolve problems. I had a well-oiled machine to consider, one that had a few problems, but did a lot successfully; I didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I had to discern how to reach Excellence in the most efficient way and create the least disruption to the employees, company and investors. And the last thing – the very last thing – I needed was to buy anything.

– Who did I need to get agreement from? And how would their combined voices shift the thoughts on the needs, the outcome, and the process? What was the fallout if I forgot some of the voices?
– What would be the inflection point between the risk of change and the reward of Excellence?
– How could we fix the problem ourselves? At what point would we realize we couldn’t?
– How could we be certain that the people, policies, rules, and goals we had in place would fit comfortably – would buy-in – with anything new we might do?  And was it possible to know the downside?

Once I realized that my needs were not the driving factors, and the change issue was a problem of Systems Congruence (I had to maintain what worked and find a way to expand the status quo to adopt the new) I used my Asperger’s systems-thinking brain to code the 13 steps from problems to Excellence and design a change facilitation model (Buying Facilitation®) so my sales staff could sell more:

  • Assemble all the right people – decision makers and influencers of all types – to get consensus for any change at all. This proved to be challenging and not obvious to discern all – all – of the people who had to be included;
  • Enable a route of discovery through collaboration so all voices, all concerns, were added into the mix and get approved for action by a consensus. This was a systems-change issue, not a solution-choice issue;
  • Find out if there was a cheap, easy, risk-free way to fix problems with groups, policies, technology we already had in place;
  • Discover the risks of change and how we’d handle them;
  • Realize the point where there was no route to Excellence without bringing in a new/different solution;
  • Manage the fallout of change when bringing something new in from outside, and determine how to congruently integrate a purchase into our status quo.

The change process we all went through was idiosyncratic and iterative (My book Dirty Little Secrets describes the process.). No outsider would ever understand what was involved during our change process; even I didn’t understand what would be involved when I began. What surprised me most was that only the last 4 steps were involved with making a purchase. And my journey to a purchase was defined by my Buying Decision Path. Indeed, I coined this entire process the Buyer’s Journey.

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A WALK THROUGH THE BUYER’S JOURNEY

Initially, like all buyers, I didn’t know what I didn’t know: I didn’t know WHO really needed to be involved (It wasn’t obvious due to the hidden influence from some of the folks peripherally involved.); I couldn’t know if we could FIX THE PROBLEM OURSELVES (Once we reached consensus as to the nature of the problem, we needed to attempt to use our most familiar resolutions.); I didn’t know IF I needed to buy anything (I merely wanted excellence. A purchase is disruptive and couldn’t be considered until all else was proven lacking.); and it wasn’t until there were no other options, did we consider seeking an outside solution.

In other words, even though we had needs, buying anything was not the objective nor the first thought. When I had an idea of something that needed improvement I needed to hear from the appropriate folks to flush out their issues before we’d have a complete fact pattern; we all had to agree to the goals, direction, outcomes, results, risks, and path to change – confusing because every voice and job title had different priorities, needs, and problems. It was a delicate process, and there was no clear path forward until we were almost at the end of the path. Every buyer goes through some form of this; they never begin at the end where sales enters.

This is where buyers go when they’re silent. They’re not dragging their heels or seeking lower prices; they need to traverse their entire Buying Journey to get to the point of even becoming a buyer. And the process of navigating through the people and policies within the status quo to garner consensus for a potentially disruptive change is a confusing process. It certainly can’t be driven by knowing about, or considering, an external solution.

As a seller I recommended my prospects include the ‘right’ people; I even attempted to help them make good decisions. But I was an outsider. And I was biased by my directive of wanting to sell, or understanding how my solution would fit; no one from outside the system could ever understand the internal politics and relationship issues to be managed. As an entrepreneur there was no one to guide me through this; not schooled in systems thinking, I had to figure out how to navigate this minefield on my own.

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

The act of selling, I realized, does not create buying. But with a different hat on, by entering first as Change Facilitators, sellers could enter the Buyer’s Journey at the beginning and efficiently help prospects navigate through the confusion first, to enable those who will buy, end contact immediately with those who cannot, and then gather data, pitch, and sell with very specific data and a familiar buyer.

NAVIGATING THROUGH THE ENTIRE JOURNEY: THE JOB OF BUYING FACILITATION®

My own sellers used Buying Facilitation® as their first tool even when prospects would call in to us, to guide buyers through their own 13 steps, and then sell to the ones who had all their ducks in a row (We had an eight-fold increase in sales). The time it takes buyers to navigate these steps is the length of the sales cycle. And buyers must do this anyway – so it might as well be with us. Sellers wait (and wait) while buyers do this and then hopefully be there to pick off the low-hanging-fruit. Might as well start at the beginning, be Servant Leaders, and find/close more buyers.

As part of Buying Facilitation® I coined the terms Buyer’s Journey, Buy Cycle, Buying Decision Path, Buying Patterns, Buying Decision Team, and Helping Buyers Buy between 1985 and 1993:

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

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

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

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

Buying Facilitation® is a generic change facilitation model for influencers (sellers, coaches, leaders, managers) that helps buyers traverse and uncover their hidden path to change with Systems Congruence and consensus. It includes a unique set of tools that includes Listening for Systems, a Choice Model, and Facilitative Questions. Buying Facilitation® demands a systems thinking brain and eschews trying to sell anything until or unless the buyer knows exactly what they need and how they need to buy – the first 9 steps of their Buying Journey. After all, you’ve got nothing to sell until they have something to buy. And all the information you share isn’t relevant until then.

All buyers – even individuals buying a toothbrush, as well as complex sales – go through some sort of internal change management before they’re set up to buy. It’s about the buying, not about the selling – two different activities. Do you want to sell? or have someone buy? By putting on a consulting/coaching/facilitation hat, it’s possible to discover and enable real buyers quickly.

BUYING FACILITATION® FACILITATES THE BUYER’S JOURNEY

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

  1. Where buyers are along their decision path.
  2. How many, or if, the requisite Buying Decision Team is in place, and ALL appropriate voices have been heard so a full evaluation of the upsides and downsides to change can be considered.
  3. Until ALL voices have been heard, there is no way to recognize or define ‘need.’
  4. Who is a real buyer: only those who know how to manage change, and get consensus that they cannot fix the problem internally are buyers. Need doesn’t determine ability to buy.
  5. The fallout of the risk factors, and the ability for any group to withstand change.
  6. The types of change management issues that a new solution would entail.

The sales model does a great job placing solutions, but expends too much energy seeking those few who have completed their completed Buyer’s Journey and are at the point of being ready/able to buy. Sales believes a prospect is someone who SHOULD buy; Buying Facilitation® believes a prospect is someone who CAN buy and has the tools to invest in efficiently facilitating the Buyer’s Journey from the first moment of the first call, and THEN selling. to those who are indeed buyers.

For less time and resource, we can actually lead buyers down their own change route and recognize who will, or won’t, be a buyer. In one conversation we can help them discern who they need to include on their Buying Decision Team; if we wish an appointment, the entire Decision Team will be eagerly awaiting us. On the first call we can find buyers at different stages along their journey who need our solutions but aren’t yet ready to buy. We just can’t use the sales model until after it’s established who is actually a buyer.

The differentiating factor is that we start out not trying to sell, or qualify, or determine needs (You’re now only closing less than 5%, so obviously that approach isn’t so successful.) but as Change Facilitators, with the goal to help Buyers manage their OWN Buying Decision Path; we trust that our buyers have their own answers, and our solutions may be a part of their solution. We’re outsiders; we can never know the intricate politics and history of a buyer’s environment.

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

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

____________

Sharon Drew Morgen is the the original thinker and visionary behind Buying Facilitation®. She has trained the model globally to over 100,000 people world-wide in sales, coaching, leadership, and change management. Sharon Drew is the author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrityand the Amazon bestseller Dirty Little Secrets, and other books on how buyers buy. She is also the author of the game changer What? Did you really say what I think I heard? and teaches listening and communication to ensure we all hear each other accurately. Sharon Drew is a speaker, trainer, consultant, coach, and author. sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com

September 17th, 2018

Posted In: Listening, Sales

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BUY IN how to procure compliance, and why it seems difficultHave you ever attempted to implement a procedure with a group, or move toward some sort of change that everyone approved of, or get a prospect, client, or patient to agree to adopt a new solution and ultimately fail due to lack of Buy In? It happens all the time:

97% of software implementations are considered failures (and it’s blamed on the group).

The sales model fails to close 95% of assumed buyers, even those who really need their services (and it’s blamed on the ‘stupid’ buyer).

Coaches lose clients who didn’t get the results they wanted (and it’s assumed the clients didn’t really want to change).

Negotiations rarely end up with both sides feeling they were treated fairly (and it’s blamed on the Other being selfish/vindictive, etc.).

Healthcare practitioners fail to convince ill patients to switch to lifesaving regimens (and it’s blamed on the patient not wanting to be healthy).

In each of the above situations, Buy In, permanent Behavior change, compliance, and better decision making could have easily been facilitated by the Influencer. But not with the approaches used.

THE COST OF NON-COMPLIANCE

Failure to elicit Buy In is costly. We certainly try: to ensure success we encourage open dialogue, pose questions, request suggestions; we provide necessary details, data, and incontrovertible reasons; we carefully data-gather to ensure we understand the full fact patterns involved in any change; we request new Behaviors that will implement the new ideas. And yet something happens between our efforts and Another’s actions. What’s happening? We’re:

  • seeking compliance and agreement before people know how to appraise the personal ramifications of the request:
    • How, specifically, will the new expectations blend with, or affect, their normalized status quo in their daily activity, job descriptions, relationships, output, ego drivers, etc.?
    • Which of their instinctive, standardized habits would need to be changed and how (un)comfortable or disruptive will that be? Would their norms and values remain intact?
    • What level of certainty is there, at the very start, that the final result would be better for them?
  • challenging the rules, ego needs, habituated/normalized activity, or Beliefs that have been the foundation of all prior decisions, activities, and the status quo.
  • starting with a specific set of actions, Behaviors and end-point goals that will alter whatever was in place, normalized, comfortable, and stable.

As Influencers we’re pushing from the outside before the inside is addressed; we’re requesting modifications from the very place that created and maintains the issue we seek to change, in a way that could cause instability.

To garner Buy In and avoid resistance, it’s necessary to help the status quo – the underlying system of rules, Beliefs, relationships, goals, people, etc. – configure its own change process before we begin our implementation, or close a sale, or modify eating/exercising habits for patients (or or or). Currently when we try to influence Others, we’re attempting to CAUSE change to comply with OUR goals – pushing from the outside/in – and unwittingly pushing against the normalized status quo which will automatically resist. Sort of like trying to convince a forward-moving robot to move backward before reprogramming it.

To get real change with no resistance, to garner Buy In, agreement and permanent compliance, we need to help Others ELICIT their own change – inside/out. We need to help others reprogram themselves. And just like with a robot, we cannot do it as outsiders pushing our agendas against their established norms.

INFORMATION DOESN’T ELICIT CHANGE

Our current process to elicit Buy In includes sharing information about our goal: we offer the right details, at the right time, presented the right way, with the right languaging, assuming people will understand its importance and generate new Behaviors. We’re offering what WE want them to know and do, so they will take the action WE want them to take (but may initially seem damaging for them personally).

Information is useless as a stimulus for change until the underlying system that maintains the status quo has prepared itself to change and seeks that specific bit of data to complete new activity. So the robot wouldn’t need verbal instructions from us to move backwards when confronted with a wall, for example, until it already had the capability of moving backward. The robot will break, or just stop working, if we start by trying to push it backwards. Information is the very last thing needed once a route through to congruent change has been designed and the system understands the exact information it will require for Excellence.

Unfortunately, our efforts often fail because we use reasoning, rationale, stories, scientific arguments, numbers crunching, etc. as the ‘rational explanation’ to incur Behavior change and compliance. I was once consulting with Inside Sales at Bethlehem Steel after they moved 90 people from their homes in individual states into one of two centers (Sparrows Point, MI, or Burns Harbor, MD). The Bethlehem Team had ‘incontrovertible evidence’ that teams were more effective when working around each other. They gave the sales folks one month to move house, relocate, sell their homes and buy new ones, get new schools for their kids, etc. The people were furious. Many quit; some had heart attacks. One woman actually became ‘emotionally blind’. All were separated from their families and pets for months while family members were left behind to finish school, pack, sell their houses. My client couldn’t understand why they were so upset. He had, he reasoned, paid all their expenses and gave them $5,000 for their upheaval. The information that detailed the reasoning wasn’t the problem.

CHANGE IS AN INSIDE JOB

All systems (and each of us are a system) are set up to be stable and habitual as per Homeostasis. Systems can’t even recognize anything is wrong, as they are self-perpetuating and ignorant of the problems they’ve already baked into the ‘operating’ system. Fish don’t recognize the water they’re in.

Before any change, or new decision, our unconscious system must be assured its norms will be preserved, its core objectives will be met, its Beliefs and core principles will be maintained, and it will suffer minimal disruption. Buy In requires the core norms and rules of the system remain intact; it demands systemic agreement for core change, and a reconfiguration of the habituated internal configuration that created and maintains the status quo (and the problem being resolved). Only when the system is reconfigured with new rules and Beliefs and norms, will it design the new output, choices, and Behaviors that we require.

The way we’re going about it, we’re inadvertently setting up non-compliance by pushing in against the norm before the system has determined how or why to make changes and actually causing the resistance we get. For congruent change and Buy In, (human) systems must design their own route to determining if they seek change, and if they do, they must understand how to reconfigure their unconscious norms in a way that maintains Systems Congruence; they will not, cannot, hear, understand, or apply what we want from them until all this is handled.

Our normal influencing and communication tools that collect data, share ideas, suggest new Behaviors, and promote dialogue challenge the status quo.

  1. Listening: Because of the way our brains listen subjectively (I wrote a book on this called What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), people only hear what our brains have normalized. With habituated neural pathways already in place, we mishear, misunderstand, or discard what has been said when it doesn’t fit – without our brains telling us what it has misheard, misunderstood, or discarded. We have no way to recognize what our brains have translated (or discarded or mangled) from someone’s comments and how far our interpretation is from accuracy. In other words, sharing explanations, details, reasons, etc., regardless of how necessary, targeted, or well-presented may not be interpreted as per our intention.
  2. Questions: Conventional questions are interrogation devices biased by the Asker and cannot, cannot be fully, honestly, or accurately answered by the Responder who is most likely listening with subjective ears and hearing something different from what we intend.

Questions pull a fraction of a fraction of the real answer, if they even find any pay dirt at all. To remedy this problem, I’ve developed a new form of question (Facilitative Questions) that eschews information exchange or pull, and acts as a directional device, guiding the Other through their own unconscious (and beyond their biased listening) to cull their own responses and reorganize their internal hierarchy of choices accordingly. They actually lead the brain to sequentially capture each element of memory and Beliefs, highlight each decision necessary in the right order, and develop each necessary action, that all systems must take in order to recognize the elements of their unconscious change. All systems take these internal, unconscious steps anyway, while outsiders wait or push. With Facilitative Questions, outsiders can actually serve Others in making their own best decisions. [Note: I’m happy to discuss this new question if you’d like to contact me.] It’s toward the end of this process they seek the information they need.

  1. Systems: Each of us is regulated by our unconscious, internal systems: our ‘I’, our status quo, our identity, is made up of an established system of internal rules, Beliefs, norms, history, experience, etc. that are the foundation of our choices and the instigation of our Behaviors. Our system is who we are. It’s sacrosanct, and it fights to maintain itself (our status quo, Homeostasis) and remain stable (Systems Congruence). Anything new threatens the habituated standard; it won’t do anything differently unless it develops new norms and accompanying Behaviors that will maintain the congruence of the original system. By asking the system to change, or add new Behaviors, before this discovery and modification process occurs, we’re actually inciting resistance regardless of the need or efficacy of our solution.
  2. Responsibility: We cannot change anyone; we are not part of their system, and as outsiders can never, ever understand how the Other’s status quo was configured or maintained. In other words, with the best will in the world, there is no way to cause permanent change or Buy In in Another by pushing our requirements from the outside.

Until or unless every element that maintains the problem and causes the current Behaviors that need changing agree to, and have a route through to, change, no Buy In can occur.

BEHAVIORS ARE NOT THE WAY IN

Most people certainly are willing to change to become ‘better’ if they know how to change without major disruption and that they’ll maintain Systems Congruence. Change involves disrupting the status quo in a way that causes different Behaviors to emerge. But new Behaviors cannot emerge without the foundation that stimulates them changing as well. Changing behaviors is not so simple as changing behaviors.

Behaviors do not exist in a vacuum. They are merely the output, the translation, of our unconscious Belief system – we ‘do’ what we ‘do’ because our system needs a physical representation of who we are. Because we’re each unique, we each exhibit different Behaviors to interpret our unconscious Beliefs. And an outsider sees only the output (i.e. the action, the Behaviors) without understanding the underlying values that created them. I repeat, as this is a hard one: there is no way for an outsider to understand, or change, Another’s Behaviors because the system that developed them is unique for each person.

To enable agreement and change, we must facilitate the Other to change its own system, to design new Behaviors, and re-assess the norms, rules, and Beliefs that developed the Behaviors to begin with. There are actually 13 steps necessary for real change to occur. I’ve coded these steps of change and have scaled them, teaching them in the sales and coaching fields (as Buying Facilitation® over the past 35 years. The Change Facilitation model I’ve developed gives influencers the tools to

  • listen in a way that hears what’s being meant, with no over-arching bias that might restrict what’s been said;
  • ask questions that lead Others sequentially through to their own discovery of how to implement something new without disrupting the status quo;
  • trust that when Others change themselves, they will keep the change and find their most efficient Behaviors to embody the change;
  • become Servant Leaders and facilitate the reorganization of Another’s status quo to congruently make room for the new;
  • facilitate the system through to Belief change to accompany the new, and allow it to design new Behaviors that match the new Beliefs of the system.

For Buy In and compliance, we must stop trying to influence or cause the change, but enable Others to develop their own change. It might not look exactly like we hoped, but it will carry our goals forward in a way that becomes a welcome part of the status quo, habituated and accepted immediately. Healthcare providers will elicit permanent healthy Behaviors from patients; buyers will know how to buy quickly; implementations will occur effortlessly and quickly. Our problem has been our focus on changing Behaviors our way. Let’s enable Others to design their own change. And then they will happily Buy In to becoming their own brand of Excellence.

____________

Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker and the developer of Buying Facilitation®, a generic Change Facilitation model she’s taught in dozens of global corporations (Kaiser, Bose, IBM, KPMG, Wachovia, etc.) to sales, coaching, and leadership teams. She is the author of 9 books, including NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the sales standard: Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. Sharon Drew also decoded how our brains keep us from hearing others (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?) and offers a route through to closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. Sharon Drew is currently developing a route to wellness and healthy eating by facilitating a healthy identity. She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com and 512 771 1117. Read other articles on change, sales, leadership, decision making, and creativity at her award winning blog: www.sharondrewmorgen.com

September 10th, 2018

Posted In: Communication, Listening

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

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

THE BIAS PROBLEM

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

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

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

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

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

WHY WE CAN’T CHANGE OTHERS EVEN WITH GOOD MOTIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

GIVE UP INDIVIDUAL NEEDS

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

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

Servant Leadership assumes:

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

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

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

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

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

June 25th, 2018

Posted In: Listening

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DiversityDiversity is vital, yet often difficult to attain due to barriers of communication and biases, making assimilation complicated. We know that by diversifying our companies, our schools, our neighborhoods we’re capable of creating all that’s possible; without diversity we limit who gets heard, who gets to lead, what knowledge we deem important, what we teach our children, what creativity looks like. Indeed, misrepresenting and under representing categories of people cost an unimaginable price in money, possibilities, and life. And yet our unconscious biases seem to restrict our choices.

People much smarter than I have evaluated the high cost of the lack of diversity and offered behavioral approaches to change. But I’d like to offer a modest way to begin the process of overriding our biases: we can shift how we listen.

BIASES ARE SILENT, STEALTHY EXECUTIONERS

While researching my new book (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?) I learned that the listening process involves 1. our ears collecting and funneling the sounds of words spoken, then 2. our brain (filtering meaning subjectively through our own unique, cultural, and historic beliefs, values, rules, etc.) interprets meaning from the sounds. In other words, every one of us hears, interprets, understands, and biases an incoming message uniquely, through our personal subjective filters, regardless of the accuracy. The problem is compounded when our brain filters what’s been said, it forgets to tell us what it omitted from a Speaker’s meaning, causing us to believe that we’ve heard accurately. Our biases and assumptions potentially lead us to misinterpretations, or worse. And we sometimes aren’t even aware it’s happening.

The way our filters work, the job of our biases and assumptions is to notice ‘differences’. As a result, we may unconsciously, and quite quickly, deem a person ‘unsafe’ (judged against our status quo), causing automatic prejudice outside conscious awareness. I heard Malcom Gladwell, the noted author of Blink say in an interview that when tested for unconscious racial bias, his results revealed something like a 53% bias against African-Americans – and he’s half black. And because these historic prejudices become part of our automatic thought process, we end up living and thinking in bubbles of our own making. The ideas, the capability, the innovation that gets lost is unimaginable.

At a dinner party once a man at my table discussed what I knew to be a naïve idea in my area of expertise. I ‘kindly’ explained to him the error of his ways. He merely smiled and ignored me, while everyone else at the table seemed to be annoyed. I was confused. After all, I was ‘right’! Afterwards I learned that I had been admonishing a Nobel Laureate (in a different field than mine). Had I known that, I might have listened to his ideas as merely different or even interesting. Ditto if he knew I was a noted expert on the topic. Maybe together we could have changed the world in a unique and wonderful way. Instead, we listened to the other with biased, judging, ego-filled ears. What would we each have needed to believe differently to be able to hear each other without restriction?

On another occasion my biases potentially kept the world from glorious music. Visiting an ill friend at a nursing home recently I chatted with the orderly on staff. Whatever he heard me say motivated him to ask me to mentor him. I’m embarrassed to admit I declined. Thankfully he persisted. I went to his place for a lovely dinner, serenaded by a CD of his wonderous compositions! I coached him going forward, to find funding to make his music available to the public. But I almost missed that opportunity because I immediately judged him negatively.

LISTEN WITHOUT BIAS

A bit of the problem in judging others as ‘different’ lies with how we interpret what we hear. We can take steps to recognize when we are judging, biasing, or assuming, and then supersede our brain’s natural tendencies and listen neutrally:

  • Enter conversations with a bias of listening for all that’s possible.
  • Notice when we begin hearing differences or an internal judgment, and return to concentrating on what’s really being meant.
  • When our internal voice begins judging, reducing, disparaging, or condemning, pose the question to your internal self: What would I hear if I only heard what this person wants to share with me?

If we can at least aspire to hearing what others have to share, we can be further along the path of diversity and avoiding limitations. It’s not easy, as our brains automatically delete and misrepresent the intended meaning of what was said when the message goes against our comfort zone. The problem gets compounded when our brain doesn’t let us know what it omited during its translation process, leaving us to believe what we think we hear was what was said; our interpretations are often inaccurate, regardless of how hard we try to hear accurately. It’s neurological, and not our fault, but this process unfortunately puts us out of choice.

I’ve actually developed tools for those who wish to have choice to listen neutrally – without bias, assumptions, or triggers, and how to do Dissociative Listening that supersedes our habituated listening filters. First read What? Did you really say what I think I heard?. Then go to the Learning Tools on www.didihearyou.com and get the Assessment Tool to identify your biases and the Study Guide to learn how to listen without filters. Or contact me, and we can discuss ways your team can gain new skills for meetings, implementations, sales, HR, or diversity training. It’s time, folks. We need to hear the uniqueness of everyone.

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

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

June 18th, 2018

Posted In: Listening

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low_hanging_fruit_800_clr_5580-297x29780% of your prospects will buy a solution similar to yours within 2 years of your connection, but not from you; your relationship-building, price breaks, marketing campaigns, etc. are irrelevant until they have their ducks in a row and are ready to bring in a solution.

Indeed: the time it takes buyers to manage changes they’ll face from bringing in your solution is the length of the sales cycle.  And you’re not helping them manage the change.

A purchase is the last thing a buyer needs. But since sales only addresses the solution placement portion – the last steps – of a buyer’s journey, sellers have no control over the comprehensive change management issues that precede a solution choice.

We sit and wait, and are unfortunately out of control, as buyers: decide between an external solution, a current provider, or an internal workaround; get buy-in from all relevant touch points; manage any potential disruption. And so we close only the low hanging fruit when they call to buy after they’ve completed their behind-the-scenes elements – and we’re totally at effect of their timing.

It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s possible to enter earlier and help them address the many issues that must be handled between an idea and a purchase.

I developed Buying Facilitation® to manage that problem for my own sales team. It’s a decision facilitation tool that helps buyers address all decision/pre-sales issues they must address internally to get consensus and manage change. My clients with 8 figure solutions brought 3 year sales cycles down to 4 months; smaller solutions from, say, 6 months to one month, and avoided presentations and RFPs.

Buying Facilitation® employs a novel listening system, a new form of question, and uses the decision points of change to facilitate the pre-sales/decision/non-solution-related systems issues buyers need to manage before they can even consider buying anything. Should the HR person share budget with L&D? Is the merger going to meld departments? Sales doesn’t get involved with these issues, yet these are the systems issues buyers must address that affect buying.

We can help buyers manage these issues and either make or expunge a buyer very quickly. Let me teach you a new skill set – if you want real control over your pipeline and don’t want to merely wait for the low hanging fruit.

_______________

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

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

 

June 11th, 2018

Posted In: Listening, News

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