13 May

Guest Blog: Why do we listen to each other?

by Sharon Drew Morgen

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Sharon-Drew MorgenWhat if it were true that we only understand a fraction of what others say to us? And if true, what can we do about it?

As someone who has taken great pride in accurately hearing what others say, I was annoyed to discover that it’s pretty impossible for any listeners to achieve any consistent level of accuracy. The problem is not the words – we hear those, albeit we only remember them for less than 3 seconds and not in the proper order (Remember the game of Telephone we played as kids?). The problem is how we interpret them.

OUR BRAINS RESTRICT ACCURACY

When researching my new book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? I learned that our brains arbitrarily delete or redefine anything our Communication Partners (CPs) say that might be uncomfortable or atypical. Unfortunately, we then believe that what we think we’ve heard – a subjective translation of what’s been said – is actually what was said or meant. It’s usually some degree of inaccurate. And it’s not our fault. Our brains do it to us.

Just as our eyes take in light that our brains interpret into images, so our ears take in sound that our brains interpret into meaning. And because interpreting everything we hear is overwhelming, our brain takes short cuts and habituates how it interprets. So when John has said X, and  Mary uses similar words or ideas days or years later, our brains tell us Mary is saying X. It’s possible that neither John nor Mary said X at all, or if they did their intended meaning was different; it will seem the same to us.

Not only does habit get in the way, but our brains use memory, triggers, assumptions, and bias – filters – to idiosyncratically interpret the words spoken. Everything we hear people say is wholly dependent upon our unique and subjective filters. It’s automatic and unconscious: we have no control over which filters are being used. Developed over our lifetimes, our filters categorize people and social situations, interpret events, delete references, misconstrue ideas, and redefine intended meaning. Without our permission.

As a result, we end up miscommunicating, mishearing, assuming, and misunderstanding, producing flawed communications at the best of times although it certainly seems as if we’re hearing and interpreting accurately. In What? (free download) I have an entire chapter of stories recounting very funny conversations filled with misunderstandings and assumptions. My editor found these stories so absurd she accused me of inventing them. I didn’t.

It starts when we’re children: how and what we hear other’s say gets determined when we’re young. And to keep us comfortable, our brains kindly continue these patterns throughout our lives, causing us to restrict who we have relationships with, and determine our professions, our friends, and even where we live.

HOW DO WE CONNECT

Why does this matter? Not because it’s crucial to accurately understand what others want to convey – which seems obvious – but to connect. The primary reason we communicate is to connect with others.

Since our lives are fuelled by connecting with others, and our imperfect listening inadvertently restricts what we hear, how can we remain connected given our imperfect listening skills? Here are two ways and one rule to separate ‘what we hear’ from the connection itself:

  1. For important information sharing, tell your CP what you think s/he said before you respond.
  2. When you notice your response didn’t get the expected reaction, ask your CP what s/he heard you say.

Rule: If what you’re doing works, keep doing it. Just know the difference between what’s working and what’s not, and be willing to do something different the moment it stops working. Because if you don’t, you’re either lucky or unlucky, and those are bad odds.

Now let’s get to the connection issue. Here’s what you will notice at the moment your connection has been broken:

  • A physical or verbal reaction outside of what you assumed would happen;
  • A sign of distress, confusion, annoyance, anger;
  • A change of topic, an avoidance, or a response outside of the expected interchange.

Sometimes, if you’re biasing you’re listening to hear something specific, you might miss the cues of an ineffective reaction. Like when, for example, sales people or folks having arguments merely listen for openings to say that they want, and don’t notice what’s really happening or the complete meaning being conveyed.

Ultimately, in order to ensure an ongoing connection, to make sure everyone’s voice is heard and feelings and ideas are properly conveyed, it’s most effective to remove as many listening filters as possible. Easier said than done, of course, as they are built in. (What? teaches how to fix this.) In the meantime, during conversations, put yourself in Neutral; rid yourself of biases and assumptions when listening; regularly check in with your Communication Partner to make sure your connection is solid. Then you’ll have an unrestricted connection with your CP that enables sharing, creativity, and candor.

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Sharon Drew Morgen is the author of 7 books on sales/Buying Facilitation® including NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets. Her new book What?(offered as a free download at www.didihearyou.com) is considered a game-changer in the field of Listening, and is useful in all business and personal conversations. Sharon Drew has created online learning material that corresponds with What? and is available for coaching, training, and speaking.

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05 May

Guest Blog: When Should a Seller Gather Information or Understand Needs?

Part 2: Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? by Sharon Drew Morgen

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Sharon-Drew Morgen

Part 1 redefines buying thus: The process a buyer goes through to get their ducks in a row to manage all of the factors involved prior to, and including, making a purchase.  It explains why the sales focus of seeking appointments, gathering information, offering solution data, and understanding needs doesn’t lead to a higher percentage of closed sales:

  • you’re asking biased solution/problem-focused questions
  • based on what you want to sell, and listening for problems you can resolve,
  • that probably captures partial or incorrect data
  • about problems that may not may not be recognized by the prospect,
  • (someone who most likely doesn’t know or trust you) and
  • may not represent the group of people who may or may not be the ultimate buyers
  • who may only have partial knowledge of, or authority over, the final situation
  • and may only partially represent a larger group
  • who may not have officially assembled or reached consensus yet
  • to seek answers they don’t yet have questions for.

You’re connecting with potential buyers who aren’t at a point where they can buy: regardless of your skill set, or the validity of the solution, questions or need, buyers can’t have useful data to share until

– whoever touches the final solution (Buying Decision Team) assembles and
– agrees to resolve a problem
– with an effective route to managing any change issues with minimum disruption.

Otherwise, even those who need your solution won’t take a meeting, speak with you, or possibly even know they have a need: the adjustments/consensus/change management necessary for making a purchase is so much bigger (regardless of the prize, size, or type of solution) than choosing a solution. To understand this better, read Part 1.

CASE STUDY

Sellers currently waste over 90% of their time trying to understand needs or gathering data (or seeking an appointment or presenting to ‘decision makers’) before a buyer would even know how to accurately respond to their questions. It’s like trying to guess a picture on a jigsaw puzzle with only 2 pieces visible.

Here’s a Case Study in which I used Buying Facilitation® (a model I developed to facilitate the pre-sales processes) with a global bank. Note: even though the buyer was the ‘The Decision Maker’ with the budget, there was a complex set of behind-the-scenes issues that needed resolution and wouldn’t have been uncovered had I begun by trying to understand his need or gathering information. In this scenario – as in most, even in a small sale – until the full Buying Decision Team was formed (many of whom my client hadn’t thought of including) and discussed their unique problems, the full set of needs couldn’t have been defined. And I would have wasted about a year and possibly never made the sale.

BANK: I’m the head of Commercial Banking at B Bank. I wonder if you can help. Our tech guys are creating a program for customers in our 4,000 branches so they can choose the most appropriate of our 200 products. Is there a way to add Buying Facilitation® to help them?

SDM: Sure. But what’s stopping your techies from wanting to do it themselves?

BANK: Nothing. They’re reading two or three of your books and trying to get the essence of Buying Facilitation® into their programming.

SDM: So how would your decision team know that working directly with me would give them a different capability than working with the tech guys using my books?

BANK: They wouldn’t. They would prefer to use the in-house guys.

SDM: So how would they know which route would best get their goals met effectively?

BANK: I would have to put together the Buying Decision Team so they could determine what they need to figure out. Would you be willing to have a conference call with them?

SDM: Sure. Who do you think should be involved?

BANK: We only need the Head of Technology I think.

SDM: Well, with 4000 branches [represents at least 40,000 employees] I bet HR might want to be involved.

BANK: Oh! We always forget her, and when we finally bring her aboard she creates havoc because she demands so many changes. Good to bring her in in the beginning!

SDM: And do you have user groups to represent the 4000 branches?

BANK: Ah. Let’s bring in the representatives of the two user groups.

Four days later we had a conference call that included: the heads of HR, Branches, Technology, Retail Banking, Commercial Banking, Training, Internal Consulting, and Marketing. During introductions the President of the bank got on the phone! He wasn’t a decision maker; he didn’t have a budget; he wasn’t part of the project.

BANK: What are you doing on the phone, Mr. X?

PRESIDENT: I saw all you heavy hitters on one call and wanted to find out what kind of trouble you were getting into.

During the call the President kept objecting: “I’m not letting you folks do that!” “What a mess that will cause!” I intervened with Facilitative Questions that got them to collaboratively think about how to manage that issue and move forward. At the end of the call I was firmly on the Buying Decision Team. I had not mentioned my solution; there was not enough consensus among them for them to understand their needs. I helped my prospect assemble the right people in 10 minutes (might have taken him a year), and then help them recognize the issues they needed to contend with before they could consider buying or changing anything.

FACILITATING THE CHANGE AND CONSENSUS FIRST

For a month emails went back and forth. I kept posing Facilitative Questions to help them figure stuff out. Within the month, they had consensus, decided what they needed and how they would move forward – with the blessing of the President. They then paid to bring me to the UK – and THEN I gathered information from the right people – all of whom were present and understood their needs – and THEN I made a targeted sales pitch to all of the decision makers! Without my expertise, the buyers would have been bogged down with their change issues and internal objections and the sales cycle would have taken more than a year. If they were ever going to buy, they needed to do this anyway: This is the stuff buyers do outside of our purview; we’re just not usually there when it happens.

I facilitated and expedited their change in the area that my solution would fit. It would have been inappropriate to pitch during the month-long decision facilitation process – they had no idea what they were going to buy, if they could buy, or if they couldn’t do it themselves. I would have missed the opportunity to help them get ready to buy, earn their trust, and understand the full complement of needs they didn’t initially know they had. I had nothing to sell until they had something to buy.

My job – which took me just a few hours for a 6 figure engagement – was to first facilitate their ability to change, and then buy.

I’m not suggesting you give up information gathering or understanding needs, although starting here gives you a paltry close rate and wastes 95% of your time. I am suggesting that you first facilitate the complete decision path (some folks call this pre-sales) – and then use sales. Buyers have to do this anyway, with you or without you. You might as well learn a new skill and stop chasing the low hanging fruit.

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I’ve developed Buying Facilitation®, which is an add-on to the sales process to help buyers understand and collect their pre-sales decision factors. It includes a different set of skills than sales, including Listening for Systems, and uses a new form of question called a Facilitative Question. Contact me to discuss training, coaching, and consulting: sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com. Or read Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell at www.dirtylittlesecrets.com or Buying Facilitation®. Or read my newest book What? on how to hear others without bias: www.didihearyou.com.

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28 Apr

Guest Blog: Do You Want to Sell? Or Have Someone Buy?

by Sharon Drew Morgen

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Sharon-Drew MorgenPart 1 of a 2 part series on understanding a buyer’s needs.

Do you know the difference between how you sell and how buyers buy – and why the difference matters? After a conversation with my colleague Erik Luhrs (we’re developing a Lead Facilitation pilot http://guruselling.com/) I’d like to expand the definition of ‘buying’. But first, a question:
Would you like to enter, influence, or understand your buyer’s buying process earlier in their process?

To do so, it will be helpful to better understand the differences between how you sell, and how buyers buy.

SELLING VS BUYING

Let me start with a made-up story:

Background: Pretend you’re a sales person selling smartphones in a big box store. You know your product well and are great at selling it. When buyers come in you carefully pose questions to understand their problem and need, and then position your answers accordingly to help them choose their solution.
A buyer comes in. She has performed some or all of these by the time she meets you:

  1. She thought long and hard about replacing a phone she loved, and somewhat reluctantly decided it might be time to buy a new one; she had been resisting due to her comfort with the (limited) functionality she enjoyed.
  2. She called friends to find out the upsides and downsides of what they liked about their phones and providers, to add to her list of considerations and comparisons.
  3. She went online to gather data from what she learned from friends and ads she’d seen.
  4. From her thinking and online research, she put together her list of buying criteria she’d need to have before being fully comfortable with any change: the pluses and minuses of changing phones, functionality, models, and/or providers; the ease of learning a new phone. Also, she included the trust factors she’d need to consider for new providers.
  5. As per friends’ advice she contacted her current provider to learn of any deals for the models she was considering; she looked up prices on Amazon, Best Buy, etc. to compare prices and functionality. She weighed all of her criteria and made a decision.
  6. Choice/decision made, she went to the store to purchase the phone with the help of the seller.

Until Step 5 this buyer had not fully defined her problem or her complete set of needs (some of which having nothing to do with a specific solution). Understanding the specifics of her problem or one phone over another was only a portion of her many decision criteria.

Until Step 5, her activities were idiosyncratic, criteria-driven, not fully formed, and independent of a specific solution, and included other ‘decision makers/influencers’ (her friends).

If a seller had entered before Steps 5, asking about needs would ignore some of her most important decision factors and not address her ability to define her personal criteria, not factor in her friends’ recommendations, or her ease and resistance to anything new as per her current phone.

To summarize, by the time this customer shows up to buy, she has

  • gone through an idiosyncratic, personal discovery process
  • to  understand and get comfortable with the range of criteria she wants to meet
  • to decide whether or not to buy a new phone and
  • researched and considered all angles of  all types of solutions and providers
  • before finally deciding to buy.

To clarify jobs and roles:

Seller: meticulously understands the product he is selling; differentiates his solution and brand from the competition; works with buyers to gather data, understand needs and underlying problem, place the appropriate solution. THIS CONSTITUTES SALES.
Buyer: figures out her emotional- and values-based criteria for buying something and for making a change; figures out what, when, if to buy; gets references from friends on several possibilities; does research; contacts current vendors; compares prices and solutions. THIS CONSTITUTES BUYING.

THE BUYING DECISION PROCESS IS ONLY PARTIALLY SOLUTION-DRIVEN

You do some of the same things during your buying decision process. We all do. Our prospects and clients do also. No one begins at the end – the point of choosing a solution. No one (especially the more complex B2B sales) begins by knowing their full landscape of considerations. Usually others are involved with defining the full range of unique criteria. Always, there are hidden aspects of historic considerations that come into play. And all this must happen well before defining solutions. That means buyers cannot know the full complexity of the problem or need at the point sellers usually attempt to gather information.

I would hereby like to (re)define the term Buying Decision (a term I coined in 1985) to mean: The process a buyer goes through to get their ducks in a row to manage all of the factors involved prior to, and including, making a purchase.

Is there a case to be made for assuming all buyers – regardless of the solution they seek – go through some form of ‘Pre-Sales’ decisions? That Steps 1-6 (there are 13 steps in B2B sales) are part of the Buying Decision Path – and not just step 6 in which the sales person and specific solution are involved?

Is there something to be gained by entering and influencing the Buying Decision Path before buyers have clearly defined their problem? If so, the sales process is not the best way to begin: it limits sales people to finding those buyers who have gone through their pre-sales processes already.

Part 2 (next week) explains what happens when we sell too early, and introduces a way to facilitate each stage of the pre-sales, criteria-based buying decision path. Right now, sellers close approximately 5% of their prospects (starting with first call) because the sales approach is directed toward understanding problems and placing solutions before they have been fully formed. But we can get much better results by entering earlier. We just can’t do it with the sales model alone.

Go to Part 2

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I’ve developed Buying Facilitation®, which is an add-on to the sales process to help buyers understand and collect their pre-sales decision factors. It includes a different set of skills than sales, including Listening for Systems, and uses a new form of question called a Facilitative Question. Contact me to discuss training, coaching, and consulting: sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com. Or read Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell at www.dirtylittlesecrets.com or Buying Facilitation®. Or read my newest book What? on how to hear others without bias: www.didihearyou.com.

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21 Apr

Guest blog: Do you want to lead? or have someone follow?

by Sharon Drew Morgen

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Sharon-Drew Morgen

I’m a dancer. When I studied the Argentine Tango there was a foundational rule that I believe is true for all leaders: The leader opens the door for the follower to pass through, and the leader then follows. If anyone notices the leader, he’s not doing his job. The goal is to showcase the follower.

Much of what is written about leadership falls into the category I call ‘trait-centered leadership’: someone deemed ‘at the top’ who uses his/her personality, influence, and charisma to inspire and give followers – possibly not ready for change – a convincing reason to follow an agenda set by the leader or the leader’s boss. Sounds to me like a mixture of Jack Welch, Moses, and Justin Bieber.

What if the leader’s goal overrides the mental models, beliefs or historic experiences of the followers, or the change is pushed against the follower’s values, and resistance ensues? What if the leader uses his/her personality as the reason a follower should change? Or has a great message and incongruent skills? Or charisma and no integrity? Adolf Hitler, after all, was the most charismatic leader in modern history.

IF YOU CAN’T FOLLOW, YOU CAN’T LEAD

Whether it’s for a group that needs to perform a new task, or someone seeking heightened outcomes, the role of leadership is to

  1. Facilitate congruent change and choice,
  2. in accordance with the values, skills, and ability of the follower,
  3. enabling them to shift their own unique (unconscious) patterns,
  4. to discover and attain new behaviors congruently and without resistance,
  5. within the parameters of the required change.

It demands humility and authenticity. It’s other-centered and devoid of ego, similar to a simple flashlight that merely lights the existent path, enabling followers to discover their own excellence within the context of the change sought. It’s an inside job.

Being inspirational, or a good influencer with presence and empathy, merely enlists those whose beliefs and unconscious mental models are already predisposed to the change, and omits, or gets resistance from, those who should be part of the change but whose mental models don’t align.

This form of leadership has pluses and minuses.

  • Minuses: the final outcome may look different than originally envisaged because the followers set the route according to their values and mental models.
  • Pluses: everyone will be enthusiastically, creatively involved in designing what will show up as their own mission, with a far superior proficiency. It will more than meet the vision of the leaders (although it might look different), and the followers will own it with no resistance.

Do you want to lead through influence, presence, charisma, or rationality? Or facilitate the unique path to congruent change? Do you want people to see you as a guide? Or teach them how to congruently move beyond their status quo and discover their own route to excellence – with you as a GPS system? Do you want to lead? Or enable real change? They are opposite constructs.

POWER VS. FORCE

Here are some differences in beliefs between trait-centered leadership and more facilitative leadership:

Trait-centered: Top down; behavior change and goal-driven; dependent on power, charisma, and persuasion skills of a leader and may not be congruent with foundational values of followers.

Facilitation-centered: Inclusive (everyone buys-in and agrees to goals, direction, change); core belief-change and excellence-driven; dependent on facilitating route between current state and excellence, leading to congruent systemic buy-in and adoption of new behaviors.

Real change happens at the belief level. Attempting to change behaviors without helping people change their beliefs first meets with resistance: the proposed change pushes against the status quo regardless of the efficacy of the change.

New skills are necessary for facilitation-centered leadership:

  1. Listen for systems.This enables leaders to hear the elements that created and maintain the status quo and would need to transform from the inside before any lasting change occurs. Typical listening is biased and restricts possibility.
    2. Facilitative Questions. Conventional questions are biased by the beliefs and needs of the Questioner, and restrict answers and possibility. Facilitative Questions enlist the unconscious systems and show them how to adopt change congruently.
    3. Code the route to systemic change. When asking folks to buy-in, build consensus, and collaborate, they don’t know how to make the necessary changes without facing internal resistance, regardless of the efficacy of the requested changes. By helping people move from their conscious to their unconscious back to their conscious, and facilitating buy-in down the line, it’s very possible to avoid resistance.

If you seek to enable congruent change that captures the passion and creativity of followers, avoids resistance, and enables buy-in, open the door and follow your followers.

Sharon Drew Morgen is the author of 9 books, including NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and What? Did You Really Say What I Think I Heard?  She has developed facilitation material for sales/change management, coaching, and listening. To learn more about her sales, decision making, and change management material, go to www.sharondrewmorgen.com. To learn more about her work on closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard, go to www.didihearyou.com. Contact Sharon Drew for training, keynotes, or online programs at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com. Sharon Drew is currently designing programs for coaches to Find and Keep the Ideal Client, and Lead Facilitation for Lead Generation

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13 Apr

Guest Blog: We Don’t Really Hear Each Other

by Sharon Drew Morgen

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Sharon-Drew MorgenWe are not always able to accurately hear what others mean to convey. Sometimes we hear only a fraction of what’s been said and our brains misunderstand or bias the rest – and we might not realize it until it’s too late, causing us to believe we’re right and others are wrong, or moving to action using the wrong assumptions. We’re left with restricted communication and creativity, failed relationships, and lost profit. And none of it is our fault.

We try to attend carefully to what’s being said. Yet our pesky brains do some pretty sophisticated stuff, all without our conscious consent: they

  • Delete or misconstrue or filter out what sounds wrong or goes against our beliefs or is unfamiliar, then
  • Matches what’s left with a historic memory of a ‘similar-enough’ conversation and
  • Throws out what doesn’t match that memory.

Whatever is left is what we believe has been said.

In conversations with familiar folks, there is less of a gap; with folks we don’t know, in dialogues that are outside of our habitual knowledge base, or when we enter conversations with a rigid goal, we accurately understand far less of what was actually meant. A problem occurs when we are convinced – certain – that what we heard is accurate, and don’t know when, if, or how, to take measures to fix a problem we don’t believe we have. As a result we unwittingly compromise relationships, business, partnerships, creativity, and success.

With little control over what our brains tell us we’ve heard, we’re left with the fallout:

  • Misunderstandings that remain unresolved because we believe – we’re certain – we’re right;
  • Bad feelings and take-aways caused by misheard communication;
  • Biased assumptions that cause inadequate responses and failed initiatives;
  • Misheard facts that lead to inaccuracies in business, technology, relationships;
  • Restricted creativity, laps in leadership, therapy, coaching, and medical advice.

We misunderstand doctors, make assumptions with our teenagers and vendors, bias communications with family members and colleagues, set up filters before conversations with historic relationships. Our lives are influenced by how accurately we hear what others mean to convey.

But a new book is out that will resolve these problems. What? Did you really say what I think I heard? not only describes how, exactly, our brains create the instinctive actions that limit our ability to hear others without bias or misunderstanding, but also shows how to intervene our automatic behaviors and hear others as they intend to be heard.

Different from books on Active Listening which merely enables listeners to hear words, What? focuses on understanding intended meaning. Using exercises and assessments, funny stories and authentic appeal, author Sharon Drew Morgen has written a game changer, a book that thoroughly breaks down every aspect of how we interpret what others mean to tell us, how the understanding gap between Sender and Receiver is created, and the skills to avoid any misinterpretation or bias at all. It’s a book that will be the foremost communication book for decades and the book is being offered for free (no opt in).

Go to www.didihearyou.com where you can get the book, and peruse the learning tools that accompany the book for those wishing to recognize any obstacles with their listening habits (Assessments) or learn how to overcome any bias and misinterpretation issues (Study Guide) that occur during conversations.

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31 Mar

Leadership Behaviors – Bad Habits That Hold You Back

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