By Sharon Drew Morgen


To Change Behaviors, First Change Beliefs: an essay for change agents

time for changeWhy do people prefer behaviors that obviously lead to less-than-stellar results, especially when our sage advice, rational evidence, well-considered recommendations, and expert knowledge can offer them more successful choices?

Whether we’re parents of kids who sometimes need guidance, sellers with great pitches to offer folks who need our solution, coaches helping a client make changes, or doctors offering lifesaving wisdom, we too often sit by helplessly while folks who need our important data ignore us; our brilliant direction, ideas, and advice fall on deaf ears and we fail over and over again to get through to them.

It’s actually our own fault. We’re entering the wrong way, at the wrong time, with the wrong vehicles. Advice, thoughts, recommendations, persuasions – I’ll refer to external data as ‘Information’ – is the very last thing needed. Our communication partners have no idea how to apply it, how to hear it, or what it means to them. To make matters worse our attempts to facilitate change from our own biases and professional beliefs potentially cause resistance and non-compliance where we seek to promote excellence. But let’s start at the beginning.


Permanent, congruent change is rarely initiated through the route of changing deficient behaviors. Behaviors are merely the expression of the underlying structure that created and normalized them over time; they can only change once the underlying structure that created and maintains them change in a way that maintains Systems Congruence. It’s a systems problem, as you’ll see. Indeed, actual behavior change is the final element in the change equation.

To help think about this, let’s parallel behaviors with the functionality – the ‘doing’ – of a software app. The functionality of any app is a result of the internal coding; the programming uses lines of code to spell out the specific rules that define and enable specific functionality. To get a function to behave differently – to ‘do’ something different – the underlying programming must change its coding. It cannot change otherwise. Even programs such as Alexa can only behave within the limits of their programming. (And yes, I wish Alexa could wash my windows.)

It’s the same with human behaviors. Behaviors are the ‘function’, the output, the expression, of our mostly unconscious system of beliefs, history, internal rules, culture, goals, etc. – the lines of code – that define our Identity. All of our behaviors have been ‘coded’ by the system to express who we are, just like the function of an app expresses the internal coding. So what we do, how we behave, the choices we make, are defined, regulated, and governed by our system to demonstrate that idiosyncratic set of elements – our personalities, our politics, our job choices, our ethical standards. It’s our Identity. We’re all ‘doing’ who we ‘are’, even when incongruent. Behaviors are how we show up in the world. And it’s impossible to change the functionality via the function.


Any problems in our behaviors – our functionality – must be changed by the system that created/maintains them – the programming. When we believe there to be a malfunction in another’s functionality and a behavior change might be optimal, it can’t be fixed by trying to change the place where it’s broken (Hello, Einstein.). Trying to change someone’s behavior, regardless of the need or efficacy of the solution, is a waste of time and in some instances might cause trust issues.

For those of us who influence Others – sales folks, managers, doctors, coaches, consultants – we’ve got to redefine our jobs. Our job as influencers isn’t to push the change we think is needed, but to enable Others to find their own route to their own idiosyncratic, internal congruent change and change their own internal coding.

For that to happen, the internal coding – the entire set of rules that created the current programming malfunction and set of suboptimal behaviors – must shift to reorganize, reprogram itself around a new set of rules that will create a new set of behaviors to match. The problem is that much of this is unconscious and hidden (like in an app), certainly too unique for an Outsider to fully comprehend.

Therein lies the rub: while we may notice (and potentially bias the explanation of) another’s behavioral glitches, it’s not possible to see or understand the underlying coding that caused them or the systemic change issues that would have to be addressed for them to change their programming. I cannot say this enough: It’s not possible to change another’s behavior from the outside; an internal coding change is required from within the person’s system to design different rules that would carry a different expression. We can’t change behaviors: behaviors will change themselves once the program has changed.

How, then, can we, as outsiders, empower Others to make their own changes? Indeed, it’s a both a systems problem and a spiritual one. We can never change another person, but we can serve them in a way to enable them to create congruent change for themselves, using their own brand of Excellence.


So now we know that Others cannot change their behaviors merely because we (or even they) merely think they should (i.e. the problem with diets, smoking cessation, etc). How, then, can we reconcile the approach we’ve used to effect change? Until now, we’ve used information as our major tool. We offer what seems the most relevant data (a biased process) using our own personal, intuitive approach to influence (a biased process) where we believe the Other needs to be (again, biased by our own beliefs) and wonder why we get push back or noncompliance.

Somehow we believe that if we offer the right data, at the right time, in the right way, it will encourage action. We’ve developed entire professions based on outside ‘experts’ spouting ‘important’ ‘relevant’ ‘rational’ ‘necessary’ data, assuming these brilliant words and rational, sometimes scientific, arguments, carry ‘the answers’. But the information we offer pushes against the status quo, telling the status quo that it’s ‘wrong’, and

  • causes resistance and a tightened grip on the behaviors that continue to express the coded, accepted, and maintained, functionality (even when it’s problematic),
  • threatens habitual behaviors that have functioned ‘well enough’,
  • leaves a breach in functionality,
  • offers no new programming/coding to replace the beliefs, rules, etc. that capture the current ‘code’,
  • cannot shift the unconscious rules that caused the current functionality.

The information we offer cannot even be understood, heard, or fully utilized used by those we’re intending it for, regardless of our intent or the efficacy of our solution, until the underlying rules, beliefs – status quo – are ready, willing, able to change congruently and be assured there will be no systems failure as a result of the change (Systems Congruence). This is why people don’t take their meds, or buy a solution they might need, or sabotage an important implementation. We’re asking them to do stuff that may (unconsciously) run counter to their systemic configuration, and not providing a route through to their systemic change, hoping that they’ll behave according to our vision of what their change should look like, rather than their own.

As outside influencers, we must facilitate Others to find their own Excellence by changing their own system; we must stop trying to change, influence, persuade, sway, manipulate, etc. Others using our own biased beliefs to inspire them. [Personal Note: My biggest gripe with sales, coaching, training, management, leadership, etc. is that there is a baseline belief that they have the ‘right’ information that the Other needs in order to be Excellent. I reject that; we can only understand what Others are telling us through our own biases. Not to mention trying to ‘fix’ another is disrespectful and goes against every spiritual law.]. Indeed, as we see by our failures and the low adoption rate, it’s not even possible.

There are two reasons for this: because we filter everything we hear from Others as per our own programming and listening filters (biases, habits, assumptions, triggers, neural pathways, etc.), we can’t be certain that what we think is needed is actually what’s needed; Others can’t understand what we’re trying to share due to their own filters and programming.

Indeed, when we share information before the system has already shifted its internal rules and programming to include a possibility of congruent, alternate choices, it will be resisted and rejected (and possibly shut down the system) as the system has no choice but to defend itself from possible disruption.


I have Asperger’s, and part of my life’s journey has included making the personal changes necessary to fit in, to have relationships, to work in conventional business environments without being too inappropriate. To this end, and in the absence of the type of information available now (i.e. neuroscience, brain studies, etc.) I’ve spent decades coding how to change my own brain, and then scaling the process for others to learn. [Personal note: After working with one inside sales group in Bethlehem Steel for two years, I was introduced to the head of another group I’d be working with. Behind me, I heard the new director say to my client: ‘Is she ALWAYS like this??’ to which Dan replied, ‘Yes. And you’ll learn to love her.’ So apparently, I am still a bit odd, although it seems normal to me.]

The steps of change I’ve coded are systemic (i.e. points of activity, not content-based) and are involved in any human change (see below). Each stage is unique, and designate the touchpoints into the unconscious that enables the brain to discern for itself where, if, or how to reexamine itself for congruency. I know there is no referent for it in conventional thinking. But I’ve trained this material, with simultaneous control groups, in global corporations, to 100,000 people and know it’s viable, scalable, highly successful, and useful in any industry or conversations that encourage change. This includes sales, coaching, management, marketing, health care, family relationships and communication, negotiation, leadership.

I start with understanding that I have no answers for Another, as I’ll never live the life they’ve lived; if it’s a group or company, I’ll never understand how the internal system has been historically designed to design the output that shows up. But I trust that when systems recognize an incongruence, they will change (A ‘rule’ of systems is that they prefer to be congruent.). My job as a change agent is to teach a system how to recognize an incongruence and use its own rules to fix itself. I use this thinking to facilitate buyers through their Pre-Sales change management issues, enable coaching clients to determine how to recognize their own systemic elements to change, help leaders obtain buy-in and Systems Congruence (and notice all potential fallout points) before a project.

There are 13 steps to systemic change, all of which must be traversed before a systems is willing/able to change. Here are the 3 main categories of the steps [Personal Note: I explain each step and the navigation of change in Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell]:

1. Where am I; what’s missing. The system must recognize all – all – elements that have created and maintain its status quo so it can determine if/where there are incongruences. Until or unless ALL of the elements are included, there’s no ability to recognize where any incongruence might lie: when you’re standing in front of a tree, you can clearly see the leaves and veins on any particular leaf. But you cannot see the fire 2 acres away. Until the system has an ability to go into Witness/Observer, it cannot assemble the full set of relevant elements, and therefore cannot see the full fact pattern and will continue doing what it’s always done.

RULE: for any change to occur, the system must have a view of the entire landscape of ‘givens’ involved without restriction. To do that it’s necessary for both Influencer and Other to be in Observer – with no biased attachment.

2. How can I fix this myself? Systems are complete as they are and don’t judge ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. They show up every day and re-create yesterday as a way to maintain Systems Congruence. When there is a recognition of an incongruence (as per #1), all systems attempt to fix the problem themselves rather than allow anything new (and by definition incongruent) into the system.

RULE: it is only when a system recognizes it cannot fix an incongruence by itself is it willing to accept the possibility of bringing in an external, foreign solution (i.e. information, advice, new product). First it MUST first figure out how to maintain Systems Congruence and get buy-in from the elements that will be effected.

3. How can I change congruently without disrupting the functionality of the system? What elements need to shift, how do they need to shift, and what needs to happen so the system ends up congruent after change? Using the programming metaphor, the system must understand how it will still end up as a CRM app, or a toaster, if some of the coding needs to change.

RULE: until all elements that will be effected buy-in to any proposed change, the system will continue its current behaviors regardless of its problematic output (After all, that’s the way it ‘is’.)

Once you understand the steps to congruent change, you realize the inefficiency of trying to create change through information sharing, or the impossibility of trying to shift behaviors from outside.


The model I developed is a Change Facilitation model (registered decades ago as Buying Facilitation®) that teaches Others to traverse the steps of change so each element is assembled and handled sequentially. While I often teach it (and write books about it) in the field of sales to enable sellers to facilitate buyers through their ‘Pre-Sales’ steps to change management, the model is generic.

It includes a few unique skill sets that enable Others to recognize unconscious incongruence, and change themselves congruently using their own internal system. They’re different from what’s conventionally used, and need training to learn as we’ve not been taught to think this way. Indeed, there is no referent for these in conventional thinking, and like anything that threatens the status quo, often misunderstood or rejected. I can teach these skills through self-learning (Guided Study for complete knowledge, or Learning Accelerators for spot skills), group or personal training or coaching. I offer a caveat to those who try to add my ideas to their current thinking: when you add any of my ideas on top of what you’re already doing, you’ll end up with more bias, continuing the failure you’re experiencing. Here’s a description of the skills, with links to articles that offer a further explanation:

1. Systems listening: Without listening for systems, and using the conventional listened we’re trained from birth, we can only notice/listen for the content we want to hear. But everything we hear, leading to the assumptions we make, is biased. Indeed, we all speak and listen through biased filters. Always. (When I wrote/researched my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? I was horrified to realize how little it’s possible to truly hear what others mean due to the way our filters cause us protect our status quo for stability.) Without getting into Witness/Observer to listen for systems, our listening is restricted to our own beliefs and we cannot expand the scope of what’s being said outside of our own systemic belief systems.

2. Facilitative Questions: This is not a conventional question. It does NOT gather data, or use the biases of the questioner, but point the Other’s conscious mind to the specific memory channels that direct the Other to where the most appropriate answers are stored. So:

How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle? Uses ‘how’ ‘know’ ‘if’ ‘time’ ‘reconsider’ as routes to specific memory channels, create a step back – a Witness overview – that enables the full view of givens and an unbiased scrutiny of the system.

These questions use specific words, in a specific order, to cause the Other to traverse down the steps of unconscious change by putting them into Observer and enabling them to peruse the entire landscape of givens in the order their brains won’t feel pushed or manipulated. It takes my clients about a month to learn how to formulate these. And to do so, it’s necessary to listen differently, since bias is an enemy.

3. Presumptive Summaries: These are one route to enable Others to get into the Witness/Observer stance. Used carefully, they bring our communication partners outside of their own unconscious thinking.

Patient: I just stopped taking my meds.

Doctor (Using a Presumptive Summary): Sounds like you’ve decided that either you’re no longer sick and are now healthy, or you’ve chosen to maintain your status quo regardless of the outcome.

Different from “Why do you do that?” or “But you’ll get sick again.” comments that enlist resistance or defensiveness, Presumptive Summaries just offer a mirror and allow the Other to make conscious what might have been unconscious. These must be used with knowledge and care or they can become manipulative, and will break trust.

4. Traversing the route to change: I pose Facilitative Questions down the steps of change (iteratively, sequentially) so the brain can recognize how, what, when, why, if to change, have no resistance, notice incongruences without defense, and get the buy-in and route design, for congruent change.

All of these require the influencer to have a goal of facilitating their own congruent, systemic change without the biases we usually impart (and get resistance).

I know that most change agents truly want to enable congruent, permanent change. But it’s a crap shoot if you’re using your ‘intuition’ (biased judgment), line of questions (restricting the range of possible answers), biased listening, or ‘professional’ knowledge (biased by the scope of the academic culture) to the change you believe is necessary. It’s truly possible to help Others find their own route to Excellence. It just can’t happen any other way.

If you’re interested in learning how to facilitate congruent change in others – for sales, coaching, therapy, leadership, healthcare, etc. – please let me know. I’d love to help you learn. As I face the aging process, I’m quite keen on handing over this material, developing new apps that use it, designing training, or coaching. Please contact me at

If you wish further reading: Practical Decision MakingQuestioning QuestionsTrust – what is it an how to initiate itResistance to GuidanceInfluencers vs Facilitators.


Sharon Drew Morgen is a Change Facilitator, specializing in buy-in and change management. She is well known for her original thinking in sales (Buying Facilitation®) and listening ( She currently designs scripts, programs, and materials, and coaches teams, for several industries to enable true buy-in and collaboration. Sharon Drew is the author of 9 books, including the NYTimes 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? Sharon Drew has worked with dozens of global corporations as a consultant, trainer, coach, and speaker. She can be reached at 512 771 1117

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