The Arrogance of Listening

When researching my book on the gap between what’s said and what’s heard (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?) I discovered that most people believe they listen accurately, and that any miscommunication or misunderstanding is the fault of the Other.

When my book came out, 20,000 people downloaded it in the first 3 months. I received hundreds of emails from readers profusely thanking me for the book, saying they were going to give it to their spouses/colleagues/clients so THEY could learn to hear to these readers without bias or misunderstanding. Did readers not grasp how our brains are wired to make it highly unlikely we understand what others mean without bias? How was it possible that they missed the fact that ALL brains operate this way, even their own?

I also received calls from managers saying they wanted me to train their teams so they could better listen to each other, and to their clients. Yet none of them hired me. Why? Their teams believed they didn’t need training cuz they listened just fine, thanks, that any miscommunication lie on the side of the client/colleague.

How Often Do We Misunderstand What’s Meant

There are two issues here.

Truth: our brains have constructed unconscious, subjective filters (biases, assumptions, triggers) over the course of our entire lifetimes, making it highly improbable to accurately hear some percentage of what others mean to convey (percentages vary according to how far they are from our own subjective biases). Additionally, our brains subjectively and habitually match what they hear, to stored, historic conversations we’ve had (some from decades ago, some wildly out of context), thereby altering our Communication Partner’s meaning – and what we think they’ve said – accordingly. Unfortunately for us all, it happens at the unconscious, making it difficult for us to change/fix/recognize.

Reality: because our brain only offers us the interpretation it has constructed, (and we have no idea what percentage of this is correct), we believe we ‘hear’ accurately. So if I say ABL and your brain tells you I’ve said ABP, you will fight me to the death that you heard ‘right’, or that I just didn’t remember what I said, without realizing that your brain may have altered the transmission all on its own, without telling you. I had one Active Listening professor wildly mishear and misrepresent what I said, yet claimed I was probably having a Freudian Slip (he actually said that) because what he ‘heard’ was ‘accurate’ and I was mistaken.

Sadly it’s impossible to accurately hear the full extent of what our Communication Partners mean to convey (although we might hear the words [which we remember for 3 seconds]). Obviously with folks we’re in contact with regularly, our brain recognizes those unique communication patterns via habits and memories and does a better job for us. Not so much with people not in our immediate sphere, or when we enter conversations with assumptions and biases that restrict the entire dialogue.

Sometimes We’re Just Wrong

But haven’t we all been burned over time with misunderstandings or assumptions? Haven’t we all realized that maybe, just occasionally, maybe sometimes, that we might have, on a bad day, misunderstood someone? And that it was actually our fault? What’s the deal about needing to be ‘right’?

In a recent conversation with my friend Carol Kinsey Goman (body language guru) we couldn’t figure out why the word ‘listening’ elicited so much denial. Why don’t companies demand their employees listen without bias? To hear clients without assumptions? To walk away from meetings with To-Do lists that actually represent what was agreed to at the meeting? Why is ‘listening’ a ‘soft skill’ when it informs all client interactions, team productivity, and creativity? Why do we assume we listen accurately?

Misunderstanding, misrepresenting, distorting what others say costs us all a lot – in personal capital, money, and possibility. So I ask you:

  • What needs to happen for each of us to recognize that we share 100% of our 50% of conversations? That when one person ‘mishears’ maybe there is a problem between both Communication Partners? That there is a probability of some distortion, and nip it in the bud after every conversation?
  • How will we know that it’s time to check in with our Communication Partner to ensure we’ve understood the same things – before we use the data we collected, or during an intense negotiation, or during/after a conversation or coaching session or employee review?
  • At what point in any misunderstanding or confusion might we be willing to say, “Could you please say that to me a different way?” to make sure you’ve understood the importance of what has been said? What will we hear/feel to recognize there is a problem?
  • What would you need to believe about yourself to admit that you, like every human being with a brain, are at best a mediocre listener? Because once you believe this is true, you might – you just might – be willing to be someone who occasionally misunderstands, or once-in-a-while makes a wrong assumption or mishears. Being Right is an expensive position to hold. At what point is the Greater Good more important than Being Right?

Until we’re all – all – willing to admit that we’re biologically inadequate listeners, and be willing/able to include in dialogues some check points of agreed understanding (not to mention the occasional apology), or learn how to supersede our biases, we will suffer from Arrogance of Listening, and our lives, our relationships, and our incomes, will be restricted.

About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is founder of Morgen Facilitations, Inc. ( 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 [email protected] or go to to choose your favorite digital site to download your free book.

The Problem With Information

Information, when used to influence or sell, advise or share, has cost us untold loss in business and relationships. It actually causes resistance.

Information Causes Resistance

For some reason, we maintain a long-standing belief that if we offer the right people the right information at the right time, presented in the right way, those it’s intended to influence will be duly impressed and adopt it. But that’s erroneous. Just think how often we:

  • patiently explain to our kids why something is bad for them,
  • present a well-considered idea to our boss,
  • share an important idea with a friend,
  • offer great data as rationale to lead change initiatives,
  • offer brilliant pitches to prospects to explain our solution

and how often our brilliant delivery and logical (and probably accurate) argument is not only ignored but rebuffed. Certainly the ineffective behaviors continue regardless of the logic of the information we offer. Are they just stupid? Irrational? We’re ‘right’ of course: we’ve got the rational argument and data points; what we have to share is what Others need to hear.

But is this true?

It’s not. And we’re wrong. We’re actually creating resistance, losing business, destroying relationships, and impeding change.

Here’s why. When we present rational data, or make arguments based on logic or wisdom or knowledge, and hope it will sway an opinion or get a new decision made, we’re putting the cart before the horse. While the data itself may be important, we are merely using our own biases as the motivation, not to mention our timing may be inappropriate. You see, until there’s internal buy-in for change people have no place to put the information.

We believe that part of our jobs as leaders, sales professionals, coaches, managers, or even parents is to be the arbiters of change, with information the main ingredient. But information in and of itself does not teach someone how to change: information promotesknowledge that may not be understood or pursued by that person at that time. Change requires a systems overhaul.

Let me explain. Everyone – people and teams, companies and families – possesses unique internal beliefs, values, histories, biases (systems) that are idiosyncratic and determine our behaviors. Indeed, these internal systems are so clearly defined and defended that we don’t even know how to listen when information is offered that’s outside our conventional thinking. Regardless of how important our information is, it will be resisted until/unless there is internal buy-in for it.

Offer Information Only When System Ready for Change

It is only when parts of the system seek a new level of excellence and can figure out how to change without disruption will any sort of change be considered, regardless of our initiatives as outsiders to influence the change. If the system had recognized the need to change and knew how to fix it congruently they would have fixed the problem already.

At the point the need for change is considered, even by a small part of the system, the system must get buy-in from everything and everyone that will touch the new solution and knows how to change its underlying rules in a way that insures minimal disruption. In other words, no buy-in/no agreed-upon safe route forward = no change considered = no information accepted: the information doesn’t fit anywhere, can’t be heard, can’t be understood. We end up pushing valid data into a closed system that doesn’t recognize the need for it.

Telling kids why they should clean their rooms, telling prospects why your solution is better, telling managers to use new software doesn’t create the hoped-for change, regardless of how cogent the information except where the kids, buyers, managers were already set up to/seeking change and know how to move forward congruently (i.e. the low hanging fruit).

Here are a couple of simple examples.

  1. As you run out the door to get your daughter to school your spouse says, “I think we should move.” Huh! “We’ll speak more tonight,” you reply. On your way home you notice a great house for sale and you buy it. Do you think the information about the house is relevant to your family at that point (even if it’s the perfect house)?
  2. You and your team are getting ready to launch a new product you’ve been developing for two years. Your boss tells you the company has been bought out and it may affect the launch, certainly effects next year’s budget, your work location, and the team. Then a sales person calls selling team building software. Do you think the information about the software is relevant at this point (even if it’s a perfect solution)?
  3. You’re a consultant hired to lead a team through a reorganization. The team is stable, has been working successfully together for three years and enjoys great productivity and camaraderie. Do you think the information about the rationale of reorganization will be adopted effortlessly and effectively?

It’s not about the need or efficacy: change cannot happen until the system knows who or what:

  • will be affected by the new solution;
  • an acceptable solution should be that considers all;
  • the criteria that must be met;
  • the parameters for change to ensure minimal disruption;
  • the level of buy-in or change necessary;
  • the new rules and norms that must be adopted.

As I say in Dirty Little Secrets: the system is sacrosanct (Read this book to understand each stage of decision making.). We learned about homeostasis in 6th grade: anything that is seen to be pushing the system out of balance will create resistance. Giving information too early merely causes resistance as the system fights for balance. And so, our brilliant, necessary, cogent information gets ignored, resisted, objected to, or misunderstood and we must handle the ubiquitous objections and resistance that we have created (and sadly miss real opportunities to facilitate change). Hence long sales cycles/lost sales and implementation problems, ignored advice, and lost opportunities. So: manage change first to set up the buy-in; then offer information.

Conventional sales, marketing, training, coaching, parenting, and leadership models use sharing and gathering information at their core. I’ve developed a model called Buying Facilitation® which is a generic decision facilitation model that enables a system to manage change and manage all of the behind-the-scenes elements needed to garner buy-in first; information is offered once there is agreement for adoption – and by the time you offer it, there is already eagerness for change. If you’re a coach, negotiator, seller, purchasing agent, leader, doctor, or implementer add it into your current skills. Then when it’s to offer information, your clients will be ready for it and eager to accept it.

About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is founder of Morgen Facilitations, Inc. ( 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 [email protected] or go to to choose your favorite digital site to download your free book.

Checklist for Influencers: questions for sellers, coaches, leaders, change agents

Most of you are really good at what you do: as influencers, sellers, coaches, change agents, or leaders, your intuition, excellent skills, and history of success guide your ability to facilitate change for your clients. And yet… Using conventional models and questions – both designed to drive the predisposition of the facilitator – it’s inevitable that your interactions will have bias, and will unwittingly restrict possible outcomes accordingly. Here’s a checklist of questions to help you determine the extent of your bias:

When attempting to influence someone (as sellers, leaders, etc.) can you be certain that your natural assumptions, unconscious expectations, and goals play no/little role in biasing or restricting the outcome?

Are you aware of, and make allowances for, your full range of biases? Can you think of the role your biases play that might predispose outcomes?

Can you think of any of your Communication Partner’s (CP) biases that were overlooked but ended up determining the outcome? How do you manage your CP’s biases, triggers, filters, and assumptions to expand choice and possibility, and avoid unconscious resistance, fallout, and restricted results? (Not to mention lost sales and difficult implementations.)

Do you know what you’d need to do differently to enter a conversation without bias or assumptions to facilitate your client in determining their own systemic parameters?
Are you aware how your curiosity and questions are subjectively biased toward the goal you think you need to reach – and 1. potentially lose a more congruent outcome, 2. alienate many who might need your solutions?

How can you be certain you’re speaking to all the right people, or using the best questions for them, specifically, to gather the most appropriate information given their idiosyncratic knowledge and culture?

Do your current methods of avoiding resistance work?

Are you aware of how much your brain filters what you hear and how much more is being said than what you’re hearing? Are you aware of the cost of misunderstanding what’s going on outside of your goals and expectations?

How much of the early data you gather turns out to be accurate? How do you know when/if you ever get to the accurate data? How do your expectations and the bias in your questions interfere with the Other’s recognition of the full fact pattern (largely unconscious at the start)?

What would you need to believe differently to consider that your current skill set, biased mind set, and habitual set of expectations is creating a diminished ability to influence the full extent of real change and avoid resistance?

How often do you assume something is ‘working’ or was successful – a coaching client was changing, or a buyer was going to buy – and you were wrong? Do you know for certain what happened behind-the-scenes that caused the failure and you could have circumvented?

Are you aware of how your own biases, assumptions, triggers, and filters, have gotten in the way of success – or do you believe you’re right and the other person wrong/stupid?

What would you need to believe differently to be willing to add some new skills to use less bias? To enable your CPs to recognize and manage their unconscious systems elements that have informed all choices and need to be shifted for change (a purchase, an implementation) to occur so they can easily buy, change or adopt your terrific material?

Facilitating Choice

We’re all in the business of influencing, or attempting to get what we want. Yet we fail a very high percentage of the time; sellers loses 94% of their prospects; coaches lose 70% of follow on clients; implementations fail 97% of the time. It’s not our fault: we fail because our conventional skills are focused on:

  • content push
  • premature goal setting
  • the facilitator’s expectations
  • listening for pre-determined details

and miss the unspoken metamessages, values, history, rules, and consensus issues that make up our CPs status quo. It’s possible to enable our CP partners to do the change work from within, without us biasing and limiting possibility to our own subjective view.

I have developed a generic change management model with a unique skill set that facilitates decision making and change at the core unconscious, systemic level and avoids bias and resistance. I developed it over many decades by coding my own Asperger’s systemizing brain and designing a new form of listening, a new type of question, and coding the steps that happen unconsciously during all change. I’ve trained it to 100,000 sales people, coaches, leaders, and negotiators globally. It’s a model that must be learned and added to your current skill set; it takes some time to learn and practice because it’s so different from conventional models. But it’s scalable. DuPont, for example, trained 8,000 sales people and KPMG trained 6,000 consultants.

Using this new decision facilitation model, you’ll be able to help others determine how to quickly and congruently buy, change, implement, etc. themselves in the area you are facilitating. No more delayed sales cycles or lost prospects; no more failed implementations; no more resistance to change. You can close 40% of all qualified prospects from first call, in half the time; you can help coaching clients discover their unconscious incongruences on the first call; you can implement large change events with no resistance.

I can teach you how to unhook from your personal biases and enter conversations in a way that leads/ discovers/ creates all that’s possible through win/win, servant leadership and congruent change. Imagine being able to enter every conversation and have it reach its most ethical, financial, and creative possibility. Imagine.

About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is founder of Morgen Facilitations, Inc. ( 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 [email protected] or go to to choose your favorite digital site to download your free book.

The Skills of Kindness: a guide for sellers, coaches, leaders and facilitators

I believe our ultimate kindness is in helping Others be all they can be, to achieve their own brand of excellence that works best for their own unique system. But inadvertently and unwittingly we bias and restrict our interactions: Regardless of our message or willingness to truly serve, our own subjectivity may limit possibility. In this article I’ll explain why and how we fall short, and introduce new skills to enable us to truly serve Others.

We Connect Through Our Own Subjectivity

Here is how and why we restrict possibility:

Biased listening: We each hear through subjective filters, created during, and restricting, our lives. To wit, with only biased, unconscious filters to work with (i.e. out of our control) our brains idiosyncratically interpret what Others mean to convey (although they may hear the words accurately). Unfortunately, we believe what our brains are hearing and sometimes have little way of knowing what we’re missing unless there’s a problem. As a result we make faulty assumptions, or are triggered to past experiences or habits. Not to mention potentially experiencing one of over 100 biases.

I wasn’t fully aware of the extent of this (although on consideration, realized nothing else could be true) until I researched my book on how to hear others without bias. With the best will in the world we end up only accurately hearing, and thereby responding to, some percentage of what our Communication Partners (CPs) mean to share, regardless of our intent. It’s all outside of our conscious awareness. It’s necessary to listen using a different part of our brain (not Active Listening) that we’ve never been taught to use intentionally.

Fact #1. We hear Others through our subjective biases and beliefs, causing us to misinterpret what’s been said.

Subjective expectations: We enter into each conversation with expectations or goals (conscious or unconscious) of what we want from a conversation, thereby limiting outcomes to those within our set of expectations making it difficult to achieve all that’s possible.

Fact #2. Entering conversations with goals or expectations (conscious or unconscious) unwittingly limits the outcome and full range of possibility, discovery, or creativity.

Restricted curiosity: Our historic subjective associations, experiences, and internal references limit our ability to query or recognize complete fact patterns during data gathering or analysis. Our questions and support are often biased, assumptive, leading, habitual etc. thereby reducing outcomes to the limits of the Facilitator.

Fact #3: We enable Others’ excellence, and our own needs for accurate data, to the extent we can overcome our own unconscious biases.

Cognitive Dissonance: When the content we share – words, questions, information, education, advice, written material – goes against someone’s (conscious or unconscious) personal beliefs and system of Self, we cause Cognitive Dissonance and resistance regardless of the efficacy of the information. This is why relevant solutions in sales, marketing, coaching, implementations, doctor’s recommendations etc. often fall on deaf ears. We are unwittingly causing the very resistance we seek to avoid as we attempt to place perfectly good data into a closed system.

Fact #4. Information doesn’t teach Others how to change behaviors.

Systems congruence: Individuals and groups think, behave, and decide from a functioning and intricate system of beliefs and rules, history and experience, that creates and maintains their status quo. We know from systems theory that, because of the connections, it’s impossible to change only one piece of a system without effecting the whole. Also, we can never understand the ramifications of what any new ideas or solution would entail in an Other’s environment especially when every group, every person, believes it’s functioning well, Thank You Very Much. Outsiders offering solutions ‘foreign’ to the system and without the tools to teach the relevant parts of the system to make the appropriate changes, face resistance as the new solutions get rejected out of hand. Systems are willing to change only when there is buy-in from the relevant elements involved and a clear route to manage the change congruently – not merely because there appears to be a need, or we want to educate, or sell, or or or.

Fact #5: Change cannot happen until there is a defined route to manage disruption, and the appropriate elements buy-in, for those elements that are disrupted.

People or groups are unable to change, regardless of their need, or desire, for change, without somehow managing the implications any change causes to the status quo – all unknowable at the start, when change is considered. We all face a challenge accepting/using information offered by others who expect us to accept it. I face this with you, my readers.

Most fields have been designed in a way that disregards this in their sales, marketing, leading, coaching, healing, etc., practices. Since conventional skills focus on placing the idea/solution/information, we haven’t been taught skills to manage the behind-the-scenes activity Others go through to handle their own internal change. All change must include this. When we merely enter at the end, we lose the opportunity to serve and facilitate, not to mention losing business, or having delayed sales cycles, or merely moderate success changing minds or behaviors. It’s possible to facilitate their journey in a systemic, unbiased way; we just need a few more skills. I’ve developed them.

The Skills of Change

To enable expanded and managed choice, we must first facilitate Others in recognizing if they can congruently change their status quo (necessary for new decisions and change to occur). They may have buy-in issues down the line, or resource issues, or some host of issues. By focusing on facilitating choice/change first rather than pushing data, we teach Others to achieve internal, systemic congruence where possible and then join them with our solutions as appropriate. Otherwise, our great content will only connect with those folks whose beliefs systems already mirror the incoming data. In other words, when we Facilitate (sell, coach, lead, etc.) using our biased skills, we only help those who are biased in the same way. Unfortunately, those who most need us are the very folks who aren’t ready as their “good-enough/functioning” system is set up to continue as is.

Simplistically, it’s a belief change problem. Beliefs form the foundation of who we are and inform our biases, our actions, what we hear, our goals, etc. Our beliefs convey who we are: they are largely unconscious, and represent our identity. Our behaviors are our beliefs in action. When we offer advice or information for new solutions, we are offering new “behaviors” without shifting the system that holds our underlying beliefs and behaviors in place and attempting to add something to the existent system that functions ‘well’ without it. There is no agreement or home for the new behaviors; our new solutions have no way to take hold, and the system resists.

To facilitate change we must divest ourselves of bias and subjectivity and facilitate Others to first examine their web of (unconscious) beliefs, and then carefully manage any disruption to their system, before sharing our solutions. To accomplish this we must listen differently, ask entirely different questions, use the sequence that systems uses to change itself, and ensure there is buy-in at all the appropriate levels (stakeholders or personal).

I’ve developed a generic model that gives Facilitators the skills to facilitate change at the belief and systems levels. Developed over 50 years, I’ve coded my own Asperger’s systemizing brain, refitted some of the constructs of NLP, coded the system and sequence of change, and applied some of the research in brain sciences to enable Left Brain evaluation and go beyond the pull of protection and bias to determine where/if/how new choices fit. In other words, I teach choice. Using it Others can consciously self-cue – normally an unconscious process – to enable and recognize the full range of choices possible and design change without resistance. I’ve trained the model globally over the past 30 years in sales, negotiation, marketing, patient relationships, leadership, coaching, etc.

Below I introduce the main skills I’ve developed to enable change and choice – for me, the real kindness we have to offer. For those interested in learning more, I’m happy to chat, train, and share.

Observer: to disconnect from bias on both ends, (Speaker and Responder), a non-associative state is necessary to help others accomplish conscious self-cueing, avoid bias, and see the full range of elements that make up the status quo. Associative state – Self (limited choice); Non-associative/witness state – Observer (full range of choice).

Listening for Systems: from birth we’re taught to carefully listen for content (exemplified by Active Listening) which misses the underlying, unspoken system. This new type of listening hears in Observer, and enables hearing what’s meant, at the metamessage level, and supersedes all bias on either end.

Facilitative Questions: conventional questions are biased by the Speaker and interpreted in a biased way by the Responder. Facilitative Questions (FQ) are not information focused. They are formulated in a specific order, with specific wording; move CPs into discovery via Observer; create a collaborative dialogue around congruent change in the area of the Facilitator’s solution (solution discussion comes much later). Conventional questions or data gathering cannot achieve this type of change facilitation. Here is a simple (out of sequence) example of the differences between conventional questions and FQs:

  1. Conventional Question: Why do you wear your hair like that? This question, meant to extract data for the Speaker’s use, is biased by the Speaker and limits choices within the Responder. Bias/Bias
  2. Facilitative Question: How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle? While conventional questions ask/pull biased data, this question sequentially leads the Other through focused scans of unconscious beliefs in the status quo. Formulating them requires Listening for Systems.

Using specific words, in a specific order, to stimulate specific thought categories, in specific areas within the system, FQs uncover systems issues the Other would need to handle prior to making any changes. Others usually do this sort of weighting, and deciding, and considering, etc. on their own but takes them longer. Now we can be part of the process with them much earlier in the path toward change.

Sequenced change: Change occurs in a specific sequence. Until the Other can accurately (without bias) analyze their status quo (largely unconscious) to notice any unseen problems, get consensus from the appropriate people (not always obvious) needed if change were to occur, and understand how to recognize and manage any disruption (physical or mental/emotional) a proposed shift would incur, they can take no action or make any changes; their habitual functioning is at risk. Offering them our information is the final thing they’ll need when, or if, all of the systemic change elements are managed.

There is no way to enable change by starting with attempts to offer/gather information, successful only when the Other has already accomplished all of the above – unlikely in sales, coaching, implementation, or leadership where we fail by pushing the ‘end’ too soon and face resistance when the system goes into self-preservation. We are indeed limiting all of our interactions to helping only those who are entirely set up to change (the low hanging fruit), and failing with those who might need us but aren’t quite ready. We can help them get themselves ready.

The Skills of Kindness

Using my Buying Facilitation® model (The term ‘buying’ doesn’t relate to sales. It’s a generic model.) Facilitators can lead Others through

  • an examination of their unconscious beliefs and established systems
  • to discover blocks, incongruences, and endemic obstructions,
  • to examine how, if, why, when they might need to change, and then
  • help them set up the steps and means (tactically) to make those changes
  • in a way that avoids system’s dysfunction
  • with buy-in, consensus, and no resistance.

Being kind means helping Others be all they can be THEIR way, not OUR way. Whenever we attempt to push our own agenda – regardless of the need or possible outcome – we are being manipulative, self-serving, selfish, etc, and we’re missing the larger picture. We can be true servant leaders and change agents to facilitate real, lasting change.

There are a lot of ways to be kind. I believe that those of us that have something important to share that would truly serve others need the skills to enable Others to hear us. Instead of pushing our great ideas into people-systems that don’t know how to listen or adopt, let’s use these new skills to facilitate real change and then, when Others know how to change congruently, our important solutions will be heard.

About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is founder of Morgen Facilitations, Inc. ( 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 [email protected] or go to to choose your favorite digital site to download your free book.

Buying Decisions, Buying Decision Path, Buy Cycles, and Pre-Sales

I’d like to set the record straight. In 1985 I coined terms that I’ve written extensively about in best selling books, magazines, and hundreds of articles. Unfortunately, when finally adopting them, the sales field defined them differently than originally intended, causing important concepts to be lost. This article presents the intended definitions and explains how I came to coin the terms.

In 1979 I became Rookie (stockbroker) of the Year at Merrill Lynch with 210 accounts (the market was 777). I couldn’t understand why prospects who ‘should have’ bought didn’t buy. When I started up a tech company in London in 1983 and became a ‘buyer’ I realized the problem and developed a new skill set to migrate it. Here’s how I figured it out.


As an entrepreneur with needs, I invited sellers in to pitch me. But regardless of their professional skills or my potential need, I couldn’t decide what or if to buy before

  • the people involved shared their thoughts and concerns, and bought-in to any changes a new solution would involve,
  • we discerned any fallout to the company, relationships, people, policies etc. that change would incur and figure out ways to minimize it,
  • we tried workarounds and determined we couldn’t fix the problems with known resources.

Even though we were only a $5,000,000 company, I had a closely knit team and flourishing business to consider before bringing in anything that might rock the boat with my employees, investors, clients, company strategy, bottom line, brand, daily routines and systems. With a focus on placing solutions and ‘understanding’ needs (impossible to answer accurately until we all comprehended the scope of the givens) the sellers pitched solution data I didn’t know how to consider responsibly and potentially lost me as a buyer. That’s when I realized the problem I had had with buyers not closing:

The sales model focuses on placing solutions (seeking folks with a ‘need’ who ‘should’ buy) and ignores the confounding human-, policy-, and system-specific issues buyers must handle before a purchase could even be considered (folks who ‘will’ buy). By entering only during the final element of choice (vendor, solution), sellers squander the ability to influence the major portion of a buyer’s decision process which has little to do with needs or purchase.

Indeed, the sales model promotes the cart before prospects even know if they have a horse or have mapped out a destination, ensuring only those who have their cart ready to go (knew the obstructions, route alternatives, and danger signs) would buy. Promoting solutions, and asking questions in service of a sale, merely captures the low hanging fruit – those ready, willing, and able to buy – and ignores the possibility of influencing, enabling, and serving the early, Pre-Sales components in the decision-making path (whether selling/marketing online or through customer contact) – not to mention loses untold amount of business.

I realized all buyers must do this; and as I seller I had been sitting and waiting while buyers did this on their own, without me. Indeed, the time it took them to complete this was the length of the sales cycle. I figured if I could facilitate the buyer’s decision path, I could accelerate their decisions to ‘buy’ or ‘not buy’, stop wasting time, close more sales (quickly) and really serve. So I coded the entire change/decision arc (13 Steps, 9 of which [70% of the decision process] are outside the scope of how/what we sell), learned how systems make decisions to change, coined some new terms and developed some new models for questioning and listening without bias, and built this into a front end to sales so I could enter, facilitate/serve, and influence, earlier. I named this process Buying Facilitation® to denote the difference in focus between ‘selling’ and ‘buying’ and help buyers do the initial stuff they had to do anyway, but without sellers:

  • assemble all appropriate stakeholders ((Buying Decision Team) to get their input;
  • get consensus for types and levels of change manageable;
  • research options;
  • discover easy, economical workarounds where possible;
  • decide how to identify handle any disruption a new addition would cause;
  • weight risks with stakeholders to discern the efficacy of buying anything (Buy Cycle);
  • choose solutions and vendors.

To be fair, the sales job has never been about facilitating change, using a restrictive ‘solution-placement’ model since its inception without recognizing the low close and enormous time wastage is anything more than a problem finding buyers. This singular focus has been so endemic that sales hasn’t accounted for either the idiosyncratic issues buyers must address prior to buying anything (even for inexpensive items) or the opportunity to influence and serve buyers much earlier than the final point they might reach to buy, believing that if they find creative ways to offer content earlier it will mitigate the problem. But it doesn’t.

The industry close rate of 4% has always been an indication of a problem: the centuries-old bias toward placing solutions (How can we accept a 96% failure rate [from first contact] as standard?) ensures all sales models, including Challenger, create resistance, potentially turn off real buyers who need your solution (80% of prospects buy a similar product within 2 years of your interaction), and ignore the ability to influence 70% of the Buying Decision Path.

Indeed, buyers don’t want to buy anything, they just want to resolve a problem congruently, without major disruption to that which works well. Indeed a purchase happens only when there is no alternate resolution; and we haven’t had a skill set that blends with the sales model to help: except for visionary areas within the global companies I’ve trained over the last 30 years, the sales field found my ideas and newly coined terms pointless. But sellers who added Buying Facilitation® to their sales activities experience upward of a 6x increase in sales as they truly facilitate buying decisions. My dream has always been that Buying Facilitation® be taught as part of sales training for all sales professionals.

Buying Facilitation® Facilitates 70% of Buyer’s Decisions

I taught my sales team how to add Buying Facilitation® to their current sales skills; we quickly experienced a 40% increase in sales (from first call) and I only needed half the sales staff. My tech team used the material to involve all the right people immediately and extract the most vital information quickly, making programming and implementing more efficient, and insuring early project completion and no ‘user errors’. I began teaching the material to clients, coaches, and managers.

Approximately five years ago my terms began entering the sales field. But, as happens when a new idea enters mainstream, the terms were not defined as I defined them, but re-defined to be a part of the very concepts I was fighting against.

Terms Defined

I have no illusions that the mis-definitions will continue and some mainstream sellers will think they ‘do this’ already. Hopefully some folks will seek to learn the material (and training is required as the model employs entirely different thinking and skills). But just for my own piece of mind, I’m offering the definitions of the terms I coined in 1985. They include some form of the word ‘buy’ to denote the disparity between the act of buying and the process of selling. And the underlying belief is that as sellers we should be using our unique positions as corporate representatives and knowledge experts to be servant leaders and truly serve buyers to discover their own path to excellence, hopefully, ultimately, with our solution (But if not, we end quickly and gently. Otherwise, we close in half the time.).

Buying Facilitation®. A generic change management model for coaches, sellers, managers, etc.) that enables efficient, congruent change, that employs a specific type of listening (Listening for Systems), and new form of question (Facilitative Questions – not information gathering), used in a specific, coded sequence, for facilitators to enable excellence through congruent change. It manages all of the unconscious, upfront, endemic change issues that would have to accede for change to happen. Until buyers (or anyone) know how to manage this, they cannot agree to change/buy, hence the length of the current sales cycle.

Helping Buyers Buy. The term comes from the first Buying Facilitation® training I delivered in 1988 to KLM. By ‘helping buyers buy’ we facilitate the full Pre-Sales Buying Decision Path.

Buying Decisions/Process. The outcome of resolving all of the change/decision issues into an action: consensus of all stakeholders who will touch the new solution; the route forward to change without disruption or resistance; deciding to move beyond their workaround; AND THEN the solution/vendor choice issues. The term is being misdefined by sales to merely include vendor/solution choice issues.

Buying Decision Path. 13 steps that traverse the elements of change management: starting with an idea (Step 1) through to a purchase (Step 13). It includes people, systems, implementation, resistance, workarounds, relationships – and comes well before any decision is made to buy anything, and quite separate from any ‘need’. The sales field uses this term erroneously to denote how buyers choose one vendor/solution over another, line up the funds, etc. – a usage dynamically opposite to the original definition.

Buy Cycle. The entire set of givens necessary for buyers to end up with excellence (either internally or with a purchase). Again, it’s not only the solution/vendor choice issues.

Buying Decision Team. The full set of stakeholders – some not obvious, some not ‘decision makers’ – who will touch the final solution and need to add their ideas, concerns, knowledge, and feelings to the discussion. Usually sellers (or change agents) aren’t privy to the internal machinations necessary before a purchase (or any change) can happen. Hence the 4% close rate.

Buying Patterns. The way the buyer has traditionally bought/changed in the past. Do they always use known vendors? Will they never take cold calls or meetings with sellers? Sellers traditionally use their comfortable selling patterns and cannot connect with buyers with divergent buying patterns.

Marketers currently use the term Buyer Persona to denote ‘influencers’ who will enable a sale. This ignores most of the early decisions buyers make and keeps marketing from entering effectively much earlier. Using different types of content it’s quite possible to influence different points along the Buying Decision Path.

Time for Change

Think about it. Are you happy with your low close rate? Your horrific waste of time and resource running around after people who will never buy (and who you could know on the first call weren’t buyers) or responding to RFPs that fail? The time waste seeking prospects who will take an appointment only to have one person on a data gathering mission show up – and then you never hear from them again (not to mention the hours planning for the meeting!)? Have you never wondered where buyers go when YOU think they have a need?

The current sales model closes a fraction of people who need your solution, and costs much more than necessary on wasted resources (large sales forces, presentations, proposals). The problem isn’t finding the buyers; the problem is facilitating those who can buy. As an example, using Buying Facilitation® at Kaiser, sellers went from 110 visits and 18 closed sales in a month, to 27 visits and 25 closed sales, an increase of 600%, not to mention the time saving.

I go back to the original question I posed decades ago: Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They are two different activities. And I’ve developed terms that help sellers think through the steps that help buyers buy. Maybe it’s time to begin learning the ‘how’ of helping buyers buy, the ‘what’ of the buying decision path, and the ‘who’ of the buying decision team. Let’s begin using the terms properly and stop ignoring such a large piece of the puzzle.

About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is founder of Morgen Facilitations, Inc. ( 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 [email protected] or go to to choose your favorite digital site to download your free book.