As an influencer, how often do say to yourself “Why doesn’t she understand me?” or “If he understood me better this decision would be a no-brainer.” It’s natural to assume Others will understand – and comply with – your suggestions. Have you ever wondered what’s happening when they don’t?
As influencers, part of your job is to change minds. But how? In general, you’ve likely used different forms of information (story, article, pitch, etc.) to ‘hook, grab, engage, guide,’ assuming your words carry the meaning you intend to convey. But do they?
Sometimes people misinterpret you and your audience is unintentionally restricted to only those who naturally understand your message. Sometimes people ignore you, regardless of how important your message or how engagingly you deliver it or how badly they need it.
What if ‘changing minds’ was easier without content or information? Or that it was the last thing needed? I’d like to begin by explaining how brains interpret language and how this facilitates decision making.
OUR BRAINS ARE THE CULPRIT
Thinking about using information as a persuasion strategy, let me share a confounding concept: words have no meaning at all! According to John Colapinto in his fascinating book This is the Voice,
Speech is a connected flow of ever-changing, harmonically rich musical pitches determined by the rate at which the phonating chords vibrate, the complex overtone spectrum is filtered by the rapidly changing length and shape of the mouth, and lips, interspersed with bursts of noise…It is our brain that turns this incoming stream of sonic air disturbances into something meaningful. (pg 54)
Indeed, it was only when researching my book on the gap between what’s said and what’s heard that I discovered words have no inherent meaning until our subjective brains define them.
Here’s a greatly simplified explanation of how brains translate incoming words. Seems words enter our ears as meaningless sound vibrations. These ‘puffs of air’, as many books call the vibrations, soon become signals that our Central Executive Network, or CEN, dispatches to what it deems an historic ‘similar-enough circuit’ (one among 84 billion) for translation.
People understand us according to the existing circuits the incoming signals are sent to, regardless of meaning, or of how different these circuits are from our intended message.
And where the signals don’t match the existing circuitry, a listener’s brain kindly discards the difference!
In other words, people don’t hear us according to the messages we send but by what they already know and believe, potentially outside of our intent.
Unfortunately, because this brain activity is electro-chemical and automatic, neither Speaker or Listener understands how far from accurate the translation is. Listeners assume their brains tell them exactly what’s been said; Speakers assume they’ve been heard accurately. Turns out these assumptions are false; communication potentially ends up biased and subjective.
THE INFORMATION PROBLEM
The misinterpretation problem gets exacerbated when your words get sent down Other’s circuits that unwittingly incur resistance. If my brain tells me you said ABL it’s hard to convince me you said ABC. I’ve lost friends and partners that way and didn’t understand why until my book research. And sadly, because it all takes place outside of conscious awareness, we have no control over it.
This possibility of misinterpreting incoming information makes the case for providing information when it can be most accurately translated: when the Listener knows exactly what they are listening for, the brain will have a more direct route to the right circuits.
But by shifting your goal there’s a way to get your message to invoke change: lead Others to where their brains seek new data and then share the information to fit! In other words, help Others figure out the information they need from you then supply content that will be heard accurately.
One of my clients said that instead of shooting an arrow to hit a bullseye I taught him to first shoot the arrow then draw the bullseye where the arrow lands! I’ll discuss how I figured this out.
After 60 years of studying, and developing models for, systemic brain change and decision making, I’ve realized that information is the very last thing anyone needs when considering doing something different (i.e. buying, changing habits, etc.). And yes, it goes against most conventional thinking. But hang with me.
As a kid, my then-undiagnosed Asperger’s caused me to act differently than people around me. I was in trouble often, and never understood why. I began reading voraciously – dozens of books! – on how to change my behaviors: how to visualize, to motivate myself, make plans. But they were all based on trying to fix my seemingly automatic actions. And I failed repeatedly to make any of the changes permanent.
After trying unsuccessfully for decades, I realized my brain was the culprit and began developing neural workarounds to create new brain pathways to new behaviors. I know, I know. It’s odd, and there was lots of trial-and-error. But eventually I figured it out.
It proved so powerful I dedicated the rest of my life to developing, writing about, and teaching systemic brain change models. Thankfully, my concepts caught on in sales, coaching, leadership, and change management.
My facilitation models help people orchestrate their own change; in sales, my Buying Facilitation® model teaches people on route to fixing a problem how to traverse their change management steps to become buyers. I enable people to discover, and act on, their own excellence and as needed, influencers then supply the information or skills.
For those of you whose job is to get others to do something you want them to do, let’s look at it from the Other’s side – the people on route to change, those who have discovered a problem they want resolved. Once you understand what goes on between the status quo and doing something differently, it’ll be easier to facilitate change. Here are some points to consider:
Conform to norms: Change is more than doing something different, but a reconfiguration of the status quo that must end up conforming with the norms on which it was developed. And it’s only when something has gone wrong that something different from the status quo is required. Obviously the timing is dependent on the changee, regardless of when an influencer wants change to occur.
Cost: It’s not until the ‘cost’ (resource, results, disruption) of a fix is identified that anyone knows whether a problem is worth fixing. Unfortunately, as I’m sure you’ve recognized, no one naturally seeks out change if all seems fine, regardless of the problem or the efficacy of the solution.
Disruption: Because our internal systems seek balance (homeostasis), we avoid disruption. And the time it takes us to change in a way that avoids disruption is the length of time it takes us to buy, change, or decide.
Personal: For change to be sought, the Other must discover their own route to change and maintain control over their own criteria, not to mention ensure their underlying system ends up matching the Identity and Beliefs of the original configuration. The status quo does not like being altered!
It only takes a shift in thinking and a focus on helping Others first discover how to handle their own change issues. Here’s a situation where I used a carefully crafted sentence to direct a friend’s thinking to where her choice points lie.
I have a lovely young friend who, to me, had serious energy problems. Some days she had difficulty getting out of bed, even with 5 children. Some days she didn’t have the energy to cook or work. And she’d been having this issue for decades. After knowing her a year I finally said, “If the time ever comes that you wish for additional choices around your store of energy to be more available for your kids, I have a thought.”
By shifting the context to her children, by giving her control over her choices and not trying to change her, by leading her to each of her decision points, her system didn’t feel threatened. She welcomed my thoughts, got help (My naturopath discovered she was actually dying from a critical lack of vitamin B12.) and now is awake daily at 5:30 a.m. with endless amounts of energy.
No matter what the problem or solution may be, if a system is adjusted to the status quo and can’t do anything different without major disruption, if the cost is too high, it won’t consider doing anything different. So how can we help Others find their own excellence?
13 STEPS TO CHANGE
You must begin by trusting Others have their own criteria for change and that as an outsider, you can’t know it. But as you lead them through their steps to excellence, they’ll notice where they can’t accomplish it on their own and know exactly what they need from you. Then they’ll be ready to hear your information. And as you’ve already helped them help themselves, they’ll come to you for their needs and trust has been established.
The facilitation model I developed leads them through to excellence. It involves 13 specific steps that follow the sequence all brain change takes as a precursor to behavior change. It provides the tools to help the Other figure out their own steps to change so you can then offer the information at the point they needed it:
- recognize the full set of givens involved;
- identify all stakeholders and get them involved early;
- try workarounds to fix the problem internally if possible;
- understand what the change/fix involves if getting help needed;
- get buy-in to adopt the new.
It’s not so simple as an outsider gathering information or posing questions to help the influencer understand. Because until they know that the cost change will be equal to or less than their status quo, they will not take action.
Historically, I’ve taught this facilitation process successfully to 100,000 sales professionals and coaches. But with the new technology, it’s quite possible to use it in marketing for Deal Rooms, ABM discussions, and Sales Enablement.
Recently I’ve developed a new Buying Enablement practice to enable marketers to first facilitate the buying decision process and remain a thought leader during the customer life-cycle.
So as you consider delaying your storytelling or pitching until you’ve facilitated change, ask yourself:
- Would you rather speak or be heard?
- What is your job – to serve Others through to their own form of excellence or get your point across to anyone who can listen?
- Do you seek a quick hit or a long-term relationship?
- Would you rather be a servant leader or an information hawker?
You decide. It’s possible to serve Others and be available with information when and as they need. Sellers can first facilitate buying, coaches and facilitate permanent change, and marketers can develop content that leads people through to brain change. I’m here if you have questions. Or go to www.sharon-drew.com to learn about my facilitation and brain change models.
Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharon-drew.com She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.