As professionals a big part of our jobs is to influence change. We assume we know the appropriate means to get where we want to be. Certainly we think we know the right questions to get the data we think we need.
But sometimes our questions miss the unconscious drivers, and the incomplete data we collect as a result skews our outcomes. Or we unwittingly cause resistance even when our solutions are important and well-conceived.
WHAT ARE QUESTIONS AND WHAT DO THEY DO?
The questions we use aren’t achieving what we want them to achieve. Here’s why:
- Questions seek to extract information, usually for the benefit of the questioner or to enhance the questioner’s outcome. Due to the restrictions in the wording and intent, they can miss the real answer.
- Conventional, or information-based, questions are biased: biased by the Questioner who seeks a specific type of response; biased by the Responder who: is led by the bias in the question to find a ready answer, make up an answer, fails to answer accurately, or some combination of all.
Information-based questions are the standard, but because the focus of the Questioner may not address the full fact pattern or cirumstances of the Responder, they unnecessarily bias outcomes, activities, and data accuracy. What if it were possible to formulate a question that would:
- influence change,
- promote efficient implementations, buy-in, and sales cycles,
- avoid resistance and bias, maintain personal integrity,
- lead the Responder to discover their own possiblity unconscious – but accurate – answers?
Questions, posed with the goal of enabling Others to change themselves and discover their own answers, can be a vehicle for true leadership, change and discovery. But not the conventional information-based ‘pull’ questions (based on curiosity and needs of Asker) we are accustomed to.
Since I’ve been a teenager I’ve studied the brain for ways to impact our own unconscious choices, so difficult to influence because of the elusive nature of the unconscious and the problem with subjective bias that can skewer results. I was particularly curious if it were possible for an outside influencer to help us make good decisions that would maintain our integrity by helping uncover and re-weight our unconscious criteria.
In 1988 I read Roger Schank’s The Creative Attitude. The book discusses how the unconscious biases all decisions. I was most interested in his ideas about how our brains store data in memory indices. The idea that inspired me to action remains with me: the only way to get to these hidden bits of memory is through questions. Hhmmm. I found that interesting. Was it possible to use questions to unlock everything in the indices – including the unconscious drivers, the beliefs, the values, the emotions? How could they be used without causing resistance, given the biased nature of questions?
I began experimenting with new forms of questions that would uncover unconscious drivers and weight the hierarchies in each of us that create our status quo, in hopes it might be possible to help others change from the inside out. I finally came up with a model that enables an outsider to facilitate unconscious choices.
[I’m going to walk you through an overview of how I came up with the solution I’ve been teaching in corporations for 25 years. It’s a bit different than you’re used to, so hang with me. And I’m always available to discuss it. At the end of the article I’ve linked to ways you can learn more. For this article, I’m introducing the concepts.]
I recognized two main factors that offer the foundation to thinking of questions and decision making differently: information and systems.
Information: because the focus of the Questioner may not address the full fact pattern or cirumstances of the Responder,
- Sellers gather and pitch information they believe would be relevant to influencing a sale – i.e. outside-in – without any real capability of enabling systemic change or eliciting new decisions;
- Coaches, consultants, facilitators and leaders seek to cause change from the outside (i.e. outside-in). To that end, they pose biased questions, share advise, stories, research, plans, etc. all based on the data they think would influence the Other.
- Decision analysts gather, weight, and analyze information to compare choices.
But information-gathering is a biased endeavor – biased by the beliefs/needs/goals of the Questioner – and avoids engaging core beliefs; without addressing the gooey, human stuff that makes up the foundational beliefs, system, status quo that has created, and maintains, the status quo and are in effect to ensure each person remains congruent onto themselves. Given the inherent bias in the Asker’s content-based questions, it’s not possible for conventional questions to discover the full array of possible data points, or encourage change.
Systems: To understand the difficulty of influencing unconscious choice – necessary for success in any sort of change (buying, change management, decision facilitation, etc.) – we must recognize it as a systems problem: since change involves some sort of insult to our internal and unconscious system/status quo, any change must include buy-in of everything within the system that will touch the final solution or the system will resist. It’s the principle of homeostasis – systems maintain equilibrium, and change without buy-in puts the system out of balance. We are all familiar with the repercussions of what happens when unconscious issues rear their ugly heads during implementations or group decisions. No change can happen until all of the systems elements that will touch a new solution knows how to continue functioning well despite the change. The system is sacrosanct.
Eventually I developed a new type of question: Facilitative Questions 1. assume that only the system (person, group) itself has knowledge of the accurate answers to their own questions, 2. are used as directional devices to parts of the unconscious that will clarify and capture the appropriate, most relevant decision criteria (sometimes unconscious) from a Responder’s memory indices and make their appropriate systemic drivers conscious. These questions enable people to illuminate their own criterial issues necessary to include in new choices for Systems Congruency. We are shifting the onus of responsibility from the Asker wanting the answers to the Responder being the only one that has the answers. In other words, outsiders – sellers, coaches, therapists, friends, clients – are facilitators who enable Others to discover their own Excellence.
- open new choices within the unconscious of the Responder to unlock the means to fix whatever issues stand between the Responder and his own excellence;
- construct new decisions to act based on unconscious belief/values-based criteria;
- are non-manipulative;
- offer change agents a new skill to engage the right people, address the right problem, and manage change without resistance;
- eschew information exchange for systems intervention within the unconscious of the Responder to unlock the means to fix whatever issues stand between the Responder and her own excellence;
- eliminate resistance by eliciting commitment and buy-in at the very beginning of any project or initiative or buy cycle;
- enable Responders (facilitated by sellers, change agents, negotiators, or coaches) to simultaneously uncover the unconscious core of the problem and create the necessary change.
Here’s a simple example of the differences between conventional questions and Facilitative Questions:
Information-based question (conventional question used by a questioner to extract information or gather data for the questioner’s purposes): Why do you wear your hair like that? This is a biased question which extracts historic data from the responder’s memory according to the needs of the questioner, and may cause her to defend past decisions as the query might bump against underlying beliefs. The responder might have no idea of the reasons behind the question but certainly already knows the answer from a previous decision made. The question might feel invasive and her response will be commensurately biased.
Facilitative Question (sequential navigational question used by a facilitator to help responders discover unconscious belief-based criteria): How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle? This question neutrally brings together several indices that might make the responder curious without resistant, offers him the curiosity to examine choices and change possibilities, and compares current choices with past and future choices – all without manipulation, bias, or data gathering, and with no potential threat to the current system. The questioner as the facilitator becomes the change agent/servant leader.
In the example above, the question How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle the words ‘how’ ‘know’ ‘if’ ‘time’ ‘reconsider’ are all carefully placed and chosen to be resistance-avoidant, and directed to prior decisions while considering change and obligations. And most important, it doesn’t attack current or previous choices.
THE COMPLETE MODEL
Using Facilitative Questions, and incorporating my historic knowledge of systems, I then developed a decision facilitation model (called Buying Facilitation® as its initial use was in sales) that offers Influencers (sellers, coaches, leaders, management, marketing, doctors, etc.) the ability to help Others sequentially traverse their unconscious indices and design creative answers that discover their OWN answers and maintain Systems Congruence. Used and formulated most effectively, Facilitative Questions use specific words, posed in a specific order, and follow a specific sequence that makes change comfortable and resistance-free. In other words, buyers can recognize issues that would cause them to recognize the need to buy (or not); coaching clients can recognize their best path to change and eschew resistance; doctors can elicit behavioral change in patients rather than push to try to cause change, etc. By enabling Others to discover their own unconscious path we not only help them find their own best answers but act as Servant Leaders to permanent change and decision making.
Think of Buying Facilitation® as a GPS system that knows the (systems) coordinates and can navigate people to their exact destination without needing to know the type of function the car is headed. It’s a systems thinking model that initially ignores the information we are so accustomed to and believes that all change is systemic and must be driven by, and within, the system that would need to change. So a facilitator, seller, or coach would first be neutral navigators that unwrap the unconscious and achieves buy-in, then uses conventional questions to gather and introduce specific data points.
The skills necessary for Buying Facilitation® include those people don’t normally possess or deliberately use together:
Listening for systems: we naturally listen for content and information. To formulate Facilitative Questions, it’s necessary to listen neutrally for the underlying meta messages where the unconscious lie and eschewing content. Later in conversations, listening for content is imperative. I’ve written a book on this topic: What? Did you really say what I think I heard? is about the gap between what’s said and what’s heard, and teaches Disassociative Listening.
Presumptive summaries: people often don’t consciously recognize the import of what they are saying. By offering a type of summary statement that delineates the underlying meaning behind the words – what is meant vs what is said – the responder gets help unwraping unconscious drivers.
Decision sequencing: there are 3 stages to all decisions. Asking Facilitative Questions in the order of the stages enables people to face change without resistance and include the criteria necessary for congruency.
My clients have achieved great success with the model: buyers buy in half the time as they are led to immediately enlist the proper Buying Decision Teams and uncover their personal buy-in criteria; teams go through change implementations with collaboration and creativity and avoid resistance; leaders get buy-in and participation for initiatives easily; facilitators find the core of issues quickly. It’s a Servant Leader model: people are self-motivated to find their own best answers, and become learn exactly how and where in their unique system to make congruent changes in a very short time. Change with integrity: no external coercion, persuasion or advocacy.
The big idea here is the switch from seeking or pushing specific data to being a neutral navigator or Servant Leader to lead a responder through her own values and systems structure toward a potential willingness to change while maintaining Systems Congruence. After all, there really is no way for an outsider to ever know the full extent – the connections, history, values, complications, etc. – of how someone’s internal system is set up. The differences are important:
- from seeking and pushing content to achieve the influencers goals to facilitating the person’s own discovery of beliefs, values, identity issues and systemic drivers and eliciting (not causing) permanent change;
- from manipulation to Servant Leadership and neutral navigator;from pushing into a closed system to being accepted into a foreign system as a change agent;
- from bias and resistance to participation and creativity;
- from directing change and creating resistance to discovery, buy-in and participation.
To use Facilitative Questions and Buying Facilitation® requires a different sort of thinking and a different level of control. It requires that your outcome be to truly serve the other, to help her initiate and manage change from within – not with any content or directive from you, but true buy-in from her. Obviously your intent will shift as will your success: your sales, initiatives, implementations, and projects will be easier, shorter, and less costly. You’ll just have a different type of control: from attempting to have the answers to being the true leader that elicits congruent answers.
What would you need to know or believe differently to be willing to add a new questioning technique to your already superb questioning skills? How would you know that adding a new skill set would be worth the time/effort/cost to make you – and your clients – even more successful?
Sharon-Drew Morgen is the author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and the Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? She is the inventor of Buying Facilitation® which she’s trained to sales people and coaches worldwide since 1985. Sharon-Drew is an original thinker, thought leader, keynote speaker, coach, and consultant.
For those interested in learning more about Buying Facilitation® or Facilitative Questions, Sharon-Drew wrote about this extensively in Dirty Little Secrets. For those wishing to learn how to use this material, visit her store at sharondrewmorgen.com and look up the Guided Study material. Or contact her directly: sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.