Many learning programs provide tools for Influencers – coaches, sellers, negotiators, leaders, healthcare providers, managers, and consultants – to help clients make the changes they seek. Coaching programs teach how to recognize what the client is ‘really’ saying and offer the best techniques to help. Doctors offer reasons and rationale as to why patients need to change daily regimens. Negotiators seek the BATNA. But all tools have one thing in common: they assume that the Influencer controls the change.
I believe we must take on a wholly different job: instead of influencing change, I suggest we lead others through to their own route to change via their relevant brain circuitry, time frames, beliefs, criteria, and unconscious drivers and develop new neural circuitry for new, permanent behaviors.
Instead of Influencers, let’s be Facilitators – neutral navigators who enable Others to discover, and design, their own answers, their own unique brand of excellence. But we need an additional skill set and focus. Let me explain.
OUR SUBJECTIVITY IMPEDES SUCCESS
The problem with outside Influencers is twofold: our subjectivity causes potentially erroneous outcomes (1-4 below); the outside-in approach runs the risk of stripping our clients of their own capability and self-leadership (5).
1. Both client and influencer listen through unconscious, subjective biases and mis-hear, mis-interpret, mis-represent, misunderstand, confuse, resist, and sabotage accordingly. That’s just a fact: our communication partners rarely fully or accurately understand what’s been said, regardless of the importance of the message or our intent at clarity.
When researching my book on this subject (see What? did you really say what I think I heard?) I was quite shocked (and annoyed) to learn how little we correctly understand of what our communication partners mean to tell us, regardless of our training, knowledge, intuition, attention, or intent.
Inadvertently, each end of a communication is mired in subjective listening biases and cannot – cannot- hear the Other without some element of partiality because our thoughts and ideas come from, and are restricted by, our historic brain synapses and pathways. And because of the speed and unconscious nature of how words are interpreted in our neural circuitry, our brains don’t even tell us how, exactly, they’ve altered what we think we hear. Net, net we end up with no way of knowing just what we’re missing.
I must admit I was quite annoyed to learn this, believing passionately in my ability to ‘really listen.’ Unfortunately, our brains don’t allow it. In his new book, The Undoing Project Michael Lewis says: “…the mind’s best trick…was to lead its owner to a feeling of certainty about inherently uncertain things.” (pg 42) “Confirmation bias is…insidious because you don’t even realize it’s happening” (pg 40). We actually, unwittingly, hear what we want to hear. And this, says Lewis, is especially true of Experts.
2. Because Influencers pose questions according to their subjective biases of what they think should be achieved, they potentially miss huge swaths of necessary information embedded in a client’s brain and not necessarily retrievable with a standard question. Unfortunately, discovery is then restricted and biased according to the chosen words and filters of the Influencer who’s biased judgment (‘intuition’ and ‘gut reaction’) may overlook clients with a different set of beliefs and biases.
3. Our status quo – the internal, unconscious, subjective rules, identity, beliefs, and experience – is systemic and will resist change unless beliefs and long-held unconscious rules shift to incorporate and accept anything new.
Regardless of its efficacy, any change – new ideas, advice, behaviors – needs buy-in from the areas within the (brain) system that created and maintain the problem we seek to fix (status quo) and will be affected by the change.
When systems are asked to change without marshaling belief-based buy-in, they will resist or sabotage (regardless of the efficacy of the change) rather than be disrupted. And don’t be fooled: any change demands a reconfiguration of any number of seemingly unrelated internal issues.
4. Information, requests, facts, don’t teach a system how to change and potentially reroute our client toward our biased goals, potentially missing their own. Our advice, ideas, new activities, etc. become little more than a push against a system designed to maintain itself. And of course, it’s resisted.
5. We all recognize that only people can change themselves. And yet tools Influencers use to ‘understand’ or ‘manage change’ (i.e. conventional questions) are often based on the Influencer’s ‘intuition’, ‘gut’ feel, historic experiences, and behavioral approaches to address change.
But this outside-in approach is successful only when the Other’s system shows up ready, willing, and able to shift – usually not something folks can do when we meet them.
By being responsible instead for guiding them through their own systemic change, lead them consciously through the neural circuitry that causes their choices and behaviors, everyone can discover their own workable answers and congruently shift the structure of their own internal change.
I know I’m stepping on toes here, and many of you are thinking ‘I understand how to help my clients! I’ve been doing this for years!’ I can’t tell you how many hundreds of conversations I’ve had with leaders and coaches and managers who believe everything I’m saying – for another person.
But no Outsider, no coach or doctor or influencer, can know what clients mean when the Influencer can’t be aware of the role of the client’s unconscious drivers that passionately fight to maintain the very actions they caused. Sure our clients will try valiantly to ‘do’ (behave) in ways we suggest, only to fall back on old patterns after we’re gone.
WHAT ARE BEHAVIORS?
Behaviors are the action, and formal representation of, our Beliefs – our Beliefs in action, as it were: without accounting for and reorganizing the intricate system of beliefs, criteria, history, and rules that have created the problem, any requested behavioral change that isn’t a direct output from the brain runs the risk of being temporary or resisted. Having a dialogue or session based on content or need or problem-solving – all behavioral – cannot effect change without causing resistance.
But Behaviors will automatically change once the Beliefs change. As a very simplistic example, I reorganized my input messaging and changed my resistance to going to the gym. When I shifted my Identity to become a Healthy Person, going to the gym (I hate it) became the Behavior that was one of the outputs, the actions, of my Belief; when I want to sleep-in I ask myself, ‘Are you a Healthy Person today?’ and if the answer is ‘No’ I happily sleep in. Thankfully, it’s almost always ‘Yes’. If I had started out thinking I needed to go to the gym because my coach and I agreed it was healthy, I certainly would have stopped going after a while because there was no systemic buy-in or unconscious driver. I’ve actually developed a How of Change™ model that teaches how to reorient our brains for new outcomes.
Change comes from the unconscious, from neural circuits and 86 billion neurons that have stored our history, our ideas, our behaviors, since birth and have ready circuits they prefer. Behaviors are merely the manifestation of the change, the output, not the focus. And you can’t permanently change behaviors by changing behaviors.
I suggest Influencers instead become Facilitators, Facilitators who trust that Others have their own answers.
WHAT’S OUR JOB
Facilitators can help Others make their own unconscious changes that are permanent, congruent and happily accepted. Let me respond to the original list above:
- Let’s become Neutral Navigators and help Others get to their own unconscious system to find a route to congruent change that’s acceptable and avoids inadvertent, biased, subjective blocks.
- Instead of posing biased questions or gathering data based on our own assumptions – both of which run the risk of restricting possibility – let’s help Others ask themselves their own most appropriate questions and lead their brains to where their answers are stored. I’ve developed a new form of question I call Facilitative Questions that are systemic and formulated to traverse the route of the brain to engage the unconscious in the exact right places.
- Since everyone’s status quo is systemic, self-perpetuating and self-maintaining, let’s enable the Other to discover why, how, and when to adopt their own type of change. That way we avoid overlaying our subjective biases that might cause them to miss their real inflection point.
- By eschewing ideas, suggestions, recommendations, and advice until the Other’s system is ready, we can enable Others to traverse the route to change through her own unconscious system and we can truly serve as healers and Facilitators – without bias. It might not end up looking like we imagined, but change will happen idiosyncratically, permanently, and congruently.
- As Facilitators and Servant Leaders, we can enable congruent, permanent, effortless change, and people can be the designers of their own transformation.
I know that Influencers take pride in understanding another’s needs. But let me suggest that no matter how good you are, you’re not good enough for every situation: your current skill sets only work on those who show up with beliefs, values, ideas, and change-capability similar to yours, and whose unconscious is readily accessible; those whose beliefs differ or cannot get to their unconscious drivers won’t achieve long-term success. This is where/how you lose clients, or your implementations fail.
People can’t accept information that doesn’t match the way their unconscious system functions. Let’s teach them how to recognize and recalibrate their own system so it can be congruent, adaptive, and seek excellence.
HOW FACILITATION WORKS: CASE STUDY
Facilitators hold different beliefs than Influencers:
- People can only change themselves. A Facilitator’s job is not to understand or fix, but to enable Others to make their own unconscious, systemic, appropriate change. Nothing is broken: clients only need to find the route to their own best answers and then, only when the system agrees it needs change – and that, my friends, demands a complicated internal unraveling. Otherwise, we take away their power.
- It’s necessary to listen for systems – for the underlying metamessages – rather than for content which is subjective, incomplete and murky. So ixnay your curiosity-based, biased questions. Remember: conventional listening is wholly subjective. The more you listen for what’s said, the less you’ll hear of what’s meant.
- It’s important to enable Others to go down their own route to change – not yours. They might be slower, or incomplete, or go in a different direction than you’d recommend. But it’s not your call. You’re just there to facilitate their excellence along the route of their own change process.
- You’ll need a new toolkit. If you aspire to facilitating real change, you’ve got to save your information gathering, or timelines, or any of the tools you’ve been using until toward the end of the exchange once your client has discovered their belief-based, unconscious, drivers.
I’ve invented a new form of question (Facilitative Questions) that leads people through their brain circuitry to find their unconscious answers. These, along with listening for systems and assuming Others have their own answers, will go a long way to truly serving.
- I’ve developed a generic model that does this (Buying Facilitation®) that I’ve been teaching in the sales and coaching fields for 35 years. Read some of the articles up on my blog www.sharon-drew.com.
Here’s a simple case study. I recently got a call from a coach friend Joe who works with companies to help their staff be ‘better’. Joe’s client Susan retained him to help Louis who, with a long history as a terrific employee, couldn’t seem to do his newly assigned job although he knew he’d be fired if he didn’t comply. She wanted Joe to coach Louis in an attempt to save his job.
After 3 months of working together, Joe had the same non-compliance problems with Louis – he’d promise to do something and then not do it – and before getting him fired he figured we’d talk to see if there was anything he missed. We agreed to do a role play, with him playing Louis. I asked that he take on Louis’s personality using the data he’d gleaned from their coaching, and use his best guesses as to how Louis would respond if I posed different questions than his. Here was our role play.
SDM – Hey Louis. Before we begin, I’d love to know how you feel about Susan assigning me to coach you without your consent. [Note to Influencers: having clients who are prisoners, who have not agreed to the process, sets up automatic resistance.]
JOE/LOUIS – Well, I would have loved to have chosen my own coach, but I’m aware Susan is unhappy with me, and I’d like to keep my job, so I’m happy to comply. I realize everyone wants to help me.
SDM – If you find you don’t like working with me let me know and we’ll find you someone you’re more comfortable with.
JOE/LOUIS – Thank you. I appreciate it.
SDM – So I hear that Susan asked you to take on some new tasks that you’ve agreed to but so far haven’t yet achieved successfully. [Presumptive Summary] And given your history of being an excellent employee, I’m sort of surprised. What would you need to know or believe differently to find it easier to do this new job or discovery clarity where you find yourself resistant? [Facilitative Question that avoids blame, confines the two ends of the possibility spectrum, points him specifically to where to seek the corresponding beliefs and unconscious drivers in his brain, begins to get him into his Witness place to see the situation from above without bias, and avoids judgment.]
JOE/LOUIS – I’d need to know what success would look like. I don’t feel any resistance – I’m happy to do it, but no one has shown me what it would look like if I was achieving success as well as I do in my current job. I was hired originally to do X because I do it well. Now they’re asking me to do stuff I can’t do as well. What if I fail? I’m not competent in this new job. They say it doesn’t matter for a while, but what does that mean? What if I take too long? Plus will the person taking over my current job do it as well as I do it?
SDM – It sounds like you’ve made promises to do the new job without understanding what doing them at your preferred level of excellence would look like, or what failure looks like. And I hear how important an excellent job performance is to you – especially your discomfort at leaving your current job to someone who might not do it well. And you certainly don’t know the expected timeline for you to be excellent. [Presumptive Summary.]
JOE/LOUIS – Right. I guess when I promised to do the new job I meant it. But I just realized I have no picture of what ‘good job’ looks like, or the time frame I’ve got to get good. [The problem is his lack of vision of excellence and fear of failure, not willingness.]
SDM – And it sounds to me like this is not a conversation you’ve had with Susan or I’m sure she would have happily complied. [Presumptive Summary] What has stopped you from telling Susan you’d need to better understand what ‘excellence’ looks like, her expectations for your learning curve, and how to leave your current job in good hands? Or even to ask for someone who now does the new job excellently to coach you through your daily activities? [Facilitative Questions mixed with summary statement and information he needs.]
JOE/LOUIS – If I ask her what a good job looks like and her expectations of my learning curve, tell her I’m afraid I won’t initially be as good at the new job as I am with my current job, and my need to have my current job handled well, we could set up stages of learning and timelines for me and I’d be comfortable moving forward and possibly failing.
This dialogue would have occurred as our first coaching session and might have only needed a quick follow up. Joe was surprised at the outcome, and the differences between our outside-in/inside-out approaches. He certainly was surprised at how much data he had unconsciously gleaned from Louis during his conversations but hadn’t known to use.
“I concentrated on helping him ‘do’ what Susan wanted him to do, and never considered helping him figure out how to manage the problem his own way. The answers I found myself giving you were a surprise to me, even though I suspect they were pretty accurate.”
In his session, Joe had concentrated on finding out why Louis wasn’t compliant and creating timelines of activity – the doing – without helping Louis recognize and manage his own unconscious beliefs and drivers which biased his behaviors. But I didn’t need to know why or why not he didn’t do what he promised – it’s all subjective, and ultimately a guess. I enabled him to find the place where he made decisions to act/not act – the real problem – and then lead him through to his own action plan that he would obviously be congruent with.
Here’s the question: do you want to lead the change? Or enable the change to happen congruently? You’d need to trust that the best outcome would be achieved – most likely different from the one you envisage – and put aside your ego, your need to be The Problem Solver and professional tools for a bit. If you want to truly serve, help Others discover their own path.
Serving Others is an honor. Let’s use our position to enable Others to change in their own ways and be their own Teachers. They do indeed have their own answers if we can help them find where they are stored. We might think we have an answer for them, and sometimes we do. But that’s not the point. Let’s become Servant Leaders.
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.