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Sharon Drew Morgen

Why Do We Listen to Each Other?

What 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.


About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is founder of Morgen Facilitations, Inc. (www.newsalesparadigm.com). She is the visionary behind Buying Facilitation®, the decision facilitation model that enables people to change with integrity. A pioneer who has spoken about, written about, and taught the skills to help buyers buy, she is the author of the acclaimed New York Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: Why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it.

To contact Sharon Drew at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com or go to www.didihearyou.com to choose your favorite digital site to download your free book.

Sharon Drew Morgen

How Sales, Marketing and Social Can Facilitate the Decision Path

Sales, marketing, and social marketing attempt to place solutions and create relationships by supplying great content, discovering likely prospects, and creating trust. Unfortunately sellers end up closing a small fraction – less than 5 percent – of those they reach, and marketers and social end up wasting a lot of time and don’t often meet their goals. What’s causing our failure? And is there one solution that can enhance all?

Problems with Our Current Thinking

Here’s a bit of flawed thinking that exacerbates the problems:

  • Sellers believe prospects are folks who SHOULD buy rather than those who WILL buy. It’s possible to know very early if the prospect CAN buy;
  • Marketers believe that content is king, that offering the right content at the right time enables a buying decision. But we don’t know the role the reader plays on the Buying Decision Team, how or when the content is being used, and if it’s making a difference in the buying decision (i.e. it might be just a resource);
  • Social believes that by engaging in relationships over time and developing trust, followers will come back when they are ready. But because we can’t know their decision path, or associates who need to buy-in to any change, or internal political issues, we can’t know if we are spending time wisely.

We can facilitate the buying decision and create more success with followers by employing different thinking to save us from:

  1. Merely guessing at, or manipulating, our results without knowing our true outcomes;
  2. Wasting time assuming if we play nice or offer good content people will buy or take action;
  3. Neglecting actions we can take to facilitate the decision steps buyers and followers take before they are ready to make a choice.

Let’s look at some new thinking to add to what we’re successfully doing.

What I Learned in the Trenches

We overlook the myriad of things that buyers and followers must contend with outside of the purview of the solution, need, or relationship:

  • People have complicated issues to handle before they can buy or change;
  • Figuring out the full complement of people to include in any purchase or change decision is complex. Each participant brings their unique criteria into the mix;
  • Given politics, internal relationship issues, history and future, it’s challenging to get buy-in from everyone involved with the final solution, yet the buy-in is necessary to ensure the status quo doesn’t implode with a new purchase or change.
    • I learned this as both a sales person and an entrepreneur. When Merrill Lynch hired me a stockbroker in the 1970s, I became a million-dollar producer my first year. But I couldn’t figure out why everyone with a need (especially those I had a great relationship with) didn’t buy. Where did they go?

      When I started up my tech company in London in the 80s I realized the problem: as a buyer, my direct needs were often superseded by the social, political, organizational, and relational considerations I had to manage. When sellers came to pitch they understood my need and gave fine pitches but had no way to handle the fights I was having with the Board, or the issues the distributor was having with my solutions. Nor did anyone even try.

      The sales model, I realized, was not designed facilitate the behind-the-scenes non-need-related issues I had to manage before I could consider buying anything. I then developed Buying Facilitation® to add to the front end of the sales model. My own sales team used it as a front-end to our sales process by first navigating buyers through their change management issues – buyers must do that anyway so we facilitated the stages and steps instead of sitting and waiting for the time it took them to figure it out on their own. That way we got onto the Buying Decision Team early and became great relationship managers. Our sales tripled and the time to close was reduced by two thirds.

      The takeaway here for marketers and social is the recognition that we are largely ignoring the hidden, systemic issues going on that are not available to outsiders yet fundamental for any change to happen. That is our Achilles Heel.

      What’s the Role of Change Management?

      Buyers and followers don’t know their journey to change when they begin and hence take longer than necessary. But we can help them, and make our value proposition our ability to be their GPS.
      There are two elements of the Buying Facilitation® model that can be added to create a ‘pull’ that’s change- and decision-focused.

      1. Listen for systems: instead of coding, noticing, tracking details that will help us guess at who’s reading, who’s a decision maker, where they might be in their sales cycle, etc. let’s begin listening for, and designing, tools to facilitate the movement along the decision path that change decisions goes through; let’s ensure the right people are all involved (some not so obvious) and address consensus-building. We now listen for what we want to hear rather than listening for issues with decision making, change or choice.
      2. Use Facilitative Questions: instead of waiting until they do this on their own, Facilitative Questions guide people through their buy-in and change management issues (necessary for both small purchases and large solutions) and facilitate the trajectory through their steps. Facilitative Questions are a type of criteria-recognition and choice format I developed.

      It’s possible to develop assessments, questionnaires, intelligent contact sheets, CRM tools that provide the capability to lead buyers and followers through the steps they must take, send out just the appropriate data at the right point in the cycle, and facilitate the consensus and buy-in as they ready themselves for change. We can add these to the sales, marketing, and social models to truly serve our buyers and followers and close more. It will be an addition, and the results will stronger relationships and more conversions.


      About the Author

      Sharon Drew Morgen is founder of Morgen Facilitations, Inc. (www.newsalesparadigm.com). She is the visionary behind Buying Facilitation®, the decision facilitation model that enables people to change with integrity. A pioneer who has spoken about, written about, and taught the skills to help buyers buy, she is the author of the acclaimed New York Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: Why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it.

      Need help developing content, tools, training or questions that will enable a buyer’s buying decision process? A speaker at your next conference? Contact Sharon Drew at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com or visit her website: www.buyingfacilitation.com.

Sharon Drew Morgen

How to Listen to Hear What’s Intended

Like most of us, I assume I understand what my communication partner is saying and respond appropriately. I don’t think about it; I just do it. I don’t realize anything is wrong until it’s too late. But why do I make that assumption? I was never taught how to hear what others meant to convey.

From kindergarten through university, there are no programs taught on how to accurately hear what others intend to convey or how to make adjustments if there is a breakdown. Current Active Listening models don’t go far enough into the problems of misinterpretation: how, exactly, do our brains make it so difficult for us to avoid biasing what it hears? And what’s the cost to us in terms of relationships, creativity, and corporate success?

What is Listening?

Our listening skills seem to be largely intuitive: we instinctively know how to listen to music and to listen carefully when getting directions to a wedding. But sometimes we mishear or misinterpret what someone said. Or interpret something incorrectly and adamantly believe we are correct. Or lose a client or friend because we’ve not really heard their underlying message. Sometimes we listen for the wrong thing, or listen only to a part of the message.

Do we even know what listening is? We all recognize it as a core communication skill – core to our lives, our relationships, our ability to earn a living and share ideas and feelings. But how do we do it? And how do we do it right – and know when we are doing it wrong? Who’s to blame when we get it wrong? Are there skills that would enable effective listening in every conversation?

My broad interests and unique professional life have brought me in contact with an extensive range of people and situations. Along the way I’ve had thousands of successful conversations with people from many walks of life and in 63 countries. The conversations I found frustrating were my communication partner’s fault. Or so I’d like to think.

My lifelong curiosity with listening was piqued to the point of finally writing this book when reflecting on a seemingly simple conversation I heard at the tail end of a meditation retreat:

Transportation Guy: “You can either leave your luggage near the back of the go-cart and we’ll take it down the hill for you, or you can bring it down yourself.”

Woman: “Where should I leave it if I do it myself?”

Transportation Guy: “Just put it in your car.”

Woman: “No… Just tell me where I can leave it off. I want to walk it down myself when I go to the dining room.”

Transportation Guy: “Just put it in your car. I don’t know why you’re not understanding me. Just. Walk. It. Down. And. Put. It. In. Your. Car.”

A simple exchange. Simple words, spoken clearly. Words with universally recognized definitions. Yet those two folks managed to confound and confuse each other, and instead of asking for clarity they assumed the other was being obtuse.

Indeed, it sounded like they were having two different conversations, each with unique assumptions: the man assumed everyone had a car; the woman assumed there was a specific space set aside for suitcases.

The missing piece, of course, was that the woman was being picked up by a friend and didn’t have a car. The transportation guy didn’t ask for the missing piece and the woman didn’t offer it. When they didn’t get the responses they sought, they each got exasperated by the other’s intractability and, most interesting to me, were unable to get curious when confused. Two sets of assumptions, reference points, and world views using the same language. And when the communication broke down both thought they were right.

Why We Misunderstand

Because we filter out or fabricate so much of what is being said, we merely hear what our brains want us to hear and ignore, misunderstand, or forget the rest. And then we formulate our responses as if our assumptions were true. Our communications are designed merely to convey our internal assumptions, and how people hear us are based on their internal assumptions.

So it merely seems like we are having conversations. We are not; we are just assuming what we hear means something, leaping to false conclusions based on what our brains choose, and blaming the other person when the communication falters. Surprising we don’t have more misunderstandings than we do.

How humbling to realize that we limit our entire lives – our spouse, friends, work, neighborhood, hobbies – by what our brains are comfortable hearing. We are even held back or elevated in our jobs depending on our ability to communicate across contexts. Our listening skills actually determine our life path. And we never realize how limited our choices are.

Would it be best for us to communicate only with those we already know? Seems the odds of us truly hearing and being heard are slim otherwise: unless the speaker’s intent, shared data, history and beliefs are so similar to ours as to share commonality, the odds of understanding another’s intent – and hence what they are really trying to tell us – are small.

But make no mistake: the way we listen works well-enough. We’ve constructed worlds in which we rarely run into situations that might confound us, and when we do we have an easy out: blame the other person.

What if it’s possible to have choice? In Did You Really Say What I Think I Heard, I break down filters, biases, assumptions and communication patterns to enable every reader to truly hear what their Communication Partner intends them to hear, diminish misinterpretation, and expand creativity, leadership, and management.

This article is an excerpt from Sharon Drew Morgen’s new book Did You Really Say What I Think I Heard? coming out in late 2014 with AMACOM. Look for it in bookstores.


About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is founder of Morgen Facilitations, Inc. (www.newsalesparadigm.com). She is the visionary behind Buying Facilitation®, the decision facilitation model that enables people to change with integrity. A pioneer who has spoken about, written about, and taught the skills to help buyers buy, she is the author of the acclaimed New York Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: Why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it.

Want to enhance your or your team’s listening skills? Contact Sharon Drew at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com. Learn about her training programs and speaking topics at www.buyingfacilitation.com.

Sharon Drew Morgen

Do you want to push your solution? Or implement creative, collaborative change?

Here’s a scenario: as you’re just leaving the house one morning your spouse says to you:

I think we need to move.

Huh! How interesting! You tell her you’ll continue the conversation when you get home, and go out the door. On your way home, you see a terrific house with a ‘For Sale’ sign on it, and you buy it. You arrive home with great news:

Honey! I just bought us a new house! We can move next week!

What’s wrong with this story? The problem isn’t the house. In fact, it might even be the best solution. But that’s not the point. And in fact you have no idea if it might be the best solution or not. You haven’t discussed or agreed on how, if, when, why you would move, or how to factor in all of the elements that must be included in any decision to make a change.

  • Do you know your spouse’s criteria around a move? Do you need to be in agreement to move forward with any decisions or action? Is there some piece of information your spouse needs to share that you are unaware of that is driving the need to make a change and has been hidden from you until now?
  • What is the commensurate level of involvement for everyone on the Decision Team (i.e. family members in this case)? How will their level of involvement bias the outcome/need or where/if/when a move is necessary? What if there are several competing factors – i.e. is nearness to a school vs closeness to a job?
  • What issues would need to be agreed upon for a solution to get group consensus and buy-in?
  • What does the housing market look like for the sale of your house? How much is it worth and how much could you spend on a new one? What would be the time factor?

In sales, coaching, change implementations, or negotiating, the focus has been on ‘the house’. And you end up with resistance, delayed sales cycles, implementations studded with costly errors and insufficient data, regardless of the efficacy of your solution. A description of the house is the very last thing you need.

To have greater success, you’d need to begin your initiative – whether it’s sales, change management, leadership, or negotiation – by facilitating the components of systemic change first. Here’s a rule:

Until or unless everyone and everything that will touch the final solution agrees to a change, knows how to adapt congruently, and adds their two cents, they cannot buy/change.

The solution is the very last thing to take into account. Until the above happens, you might end up with the wrong house, in the wrong neighborhood, at the wrong price, with the wrong number of bedrooms. It’s not about the house.

There is no need for long sales cycles, resistance, or faulty implementations so long as you add a facilitation capability to your initiatives. Let’s start a conversation and discuss your failed initiatives, and between us, figure out new ways to have greater success.


About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is founder of Morgen Facilitations, Inc. (www.newsalesparadigm.com). She is the visionary behind Buying Facilitation®, the decision facilitation model that enables people to change with integrity. A pioneer who has spoken about, written about, and taught the skills to help buyers buy, she is the author of the acclaimed New York Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: Why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it.

Want to enhance your or your team’s listening skills? Contact Sharon Drew at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com. Learn about her training programs and speaking topics at www.buyingfacilitation.com.

Sharon Drew Morgen

Assessment: How much do you stink at listening?

Answer these questions to see how accurately you hear what your communication partner intends you to hear, and how much business you are losing as a result.

  1. How often do you enter conversations to hear what you want to hear – and disregard the rest?
  2. How often do you listen to get your own agenda across, regardless of the needs of the speaker?
  3. How often do you have a bias in place before the speaker’s points or agenda are known?
  4. Do you ever assume what the speaker wants from you before he/she states it – whether your assumption is accurate or not?
  5. How often do you listen merely to confirm you are right… and the other person is wrong?
  6. Do you ever enter a conversation without any bias, filters, assumptions, or expectations? What would need to happen for you to enter all conversations with a totally blank slate? Do you have the tools to make that possible?
  7. Because your filters, expectations, biases, and assumptions strongly influence how you hear what’s intended, how do you know that your natural hearing skills enable you to achieve everything you might achieve in a conversation?
  8. How much business have you lost because of your inability to choose the appropriate modality to hear and interpret through?
  9. How many relationships have you lost by driving conversations where you wanted them to be rather than a path of collaboration that would end up someplace surprising?

As I am writing my new book, Did You Really Say What I Think I Heard? I’ve gotten notes from all around the world: everyone thinks they listen accurately. Ah… But do they hear what’s intended?

It’s physiologically impossible to accurately hear what our communication partner intends us to hear. We have biases, filters, triggers, assumptions, and habits that get in the way. And people don’t accurately represent what they mean for us to hear, leaving out details that they assume will be understood and aren’t, or choosing words that have different meanings for listeners. Or the situation we find ourselves in has any range of situational biases that make it difficult. We hear according to our education, family history, religious beliefs, political beliefs, age, ethnicity…

Are you getting the picture here? Not even close to possible. So what is it we are defending? What is so important about believing we hear what’s intended when we don’t – and it’s not even possible?

My new book will break down the good, the bad, and the ugly of how we hear, why we don’t, where we have problems (lots of assessments and fun exercises), and ways to fix it. Lots of funny examples of just plain dumb conversations between really smart people. And trust me: my snarky personality will lead readers through the process. I can’t wait until it comes out next year.

Email me with questions about listening. Speak to others about the project. Let’s make ‘hearing what’s intended’ the new buzz phrase. Because if we all can hear what’s intended, we can make a huge difference in the world.


About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is founder of Morgen Facilitations, Inc. (www.newsalesparadigm.com). She is the visionary behind Buying Facilitation®, the decision facilitation model that enables people to change with integrity. A pioneer who has spoken about, written about, and taught the skills to help buyers buy, she is the author of the acclaimed New York Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: Why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it.

Want to enhance your or your team’s listening skills? Contact Sharon Drew at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com. Learn about her training programs and speaking topics at www.buyingfacilitation.com.