Why Pitching, Persuading, Guiding, and Influencing are Largely Unsuccessful – a thought paper for sellers, coaches, leaders, parents, and managers

You recognize what someone needs and offer just the right guidance, product data, or experience to help. Yet, except for occasionally, they don’t act on your brilliance. Why? Why would they prefer to keep doing what they’re doing when it‘s obvious, even to them, they’re less-than-effective? Because making the switch to behave differently is not as simple as desiring to do something different: your information, brilliant and well-intentioned as it is, is not heard accurately, nor do people know how to translate what you’ve offered into action. They’re not ignoring you: they just don’t know what to do with the information.

This article is about systems, Beliefs, change, and our status quo – a thought paper on why giving information (pitches, suggestions, rationale, directives, counselling) doesn’t necessarily produce changed behaviors. It’s a bit wonky; more conventional articles are on my blog

Our Status Quo Acts Habitually

Our information, our new ideas or implementation requests, our product descriptions and presentations are relevant of course. But they can only be heard accurately and acted upon when our audience has bought in to, and learned how to manage, any proposed change, and all relevant ‘systems’ are GO.

Adopting new behaviors challenges our ingrained, personal, habitual systems. Our status quo (that mysterious mix of unconscious elements developed over a lifetime that define us) does not shift easily: doing anything – anything – different means replacing a familiar choice with something unfamiliar, with no guaranteed results or precise outcomes.

How can we know up front whether any change is worth the risk? How can we keep our system – our habitual, historic, comfortable, and interconnected configuration of rules, relationships, beliefs, goals, etc. – congruent if we behave outside our proscribed standards?
Without answers to these questions, the risk is too high to change. The change itself isn’t the problem, it’s the disruption. So how can we promote change that a person is willing/able to consider? One way is to stop sharing information until the system has prepared itself to change. Or we can actually facilitate the change before offering information. Let me explain what’s going on.

Behaviors vs Beliefs: Why a System Changes

Whether it’s personal or work, our lives are defined by a set of Beliefs we’ve each developed over the course of our lifetime. We live in neighborhoods, work at jobs, and choose friends in accordance with our Beliefs. We even listen (see What?) according to our Beliefs. Everything we do (our Behaviors) emerges from our Beliefs.

Except when we’re incongruent, our Behaviors carry out our Beliefs. As a life-long liberal, I Believe I must contribute, care for the environment, treat others respectfully. My Beliefs inform my politics, my choice of city, my choice of friends; they are hard-wired, and make me me. And I happily bias my actions and decisions against them. This all happens unconsciously, of course. And therein lies the problem.

New input, and suggestions that require change, challenges the status quo which has been ‘good-enough’ until now. We’re asking people to change their Behaviors before they’ve managed buy-in or figured out how to maintain systems congruence: without knowing how to convert our Beliefs into new Behaviors we face incongruence and feel threatened, causing us to reject, sabotage, forget, misconstrue, or ignore what we’ve heard.

Buy-in is the problem because it means altering rules, changing expectations, or reconsidering outcomes like job descriptions, or timing, or relationships. Everything that will ultimately touch the proposed change must buy-in or the system will continue to reject the information.

Therefore, our information – our brilliant recommendations, thoughts, solutions, or leadership, even when directed by bosses or family – cannot even be heard even if the data is valid or important until the system itself knows how to prepare a new pathway to expected results, comfort, and congruence. We protect our system at all costs. (See Dirty Little Secrets for a thorough explanation of this topic.)

When Information is Applicable

Sales and marketing folks, managers, trainers, coaches, leaders – any profession that focuses on offering advice or promoting action – must stop trying to ‘pitch’ even if someone needs to hear it. Stop trying to lead according to your own vision of what needs to happen. Your job is to facilitate buy-in to promote Excellence. And it might not look like a set of actions you’re familiar with. Once you get agreement and the system creates a way to shift congruently so its Beliefs are upheld (in accordance with the foundational rules, expectations, relationships, etc.), then you’ve got a shot that you’ll be heard or followed.

I’ve developed a change facilitation model (Buying Facilitation®) to manage this buy-in/conversion that I’ve been teaching to sellers, leaders and coaches for decades. But you can design your own model. Here is the relevant question you need to address: How can you design a way to help others find a route to their own excellence by helping them be willing to modify their status quo in a way that shifts congruently?

Once they have a route through to changing the status quo and know they’ll come out butter-side-up, they’ll know what they need to buy, and how and when they want to change. And THEN you can pitch, offer, suggest, or influence.

About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is a visionary, original thinker, and thought leader in change management and decision facilitation. She works as a coach, trainer, speaker, and consultant, and has authored 9 books including the NYTimes Business BestsellerSelling with Integrity. Morgen developed the Buying Facilitation® method ( in 1985 to facilitate change decisions, notably to help buyers buy and help leaders and coaches affect permanent change. Her newest book What? explains how to close the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She can be reached at [email protected]

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