How many times have you tried to sell an idea to a colleague, only to have it be misunderstood or ignored? Or offered important knowledge in a marketing piece or sales pitch meant to encourage or educate a prospect to buy, only to have it overlooked? Why don’t patients follow new healthcare regimens prescribed by doctors they trust, to heal an illness they know they have?
I began thinking about this recently when I heard a noted leader in healthcare say: “There is a persistent consensus that insufficient evidence exists that behavior can be modified.” Hmmm. And yet the industry is throwing hundreds of millions of dollars researching Behavior Modification (without a parallel model to test it against! So much for the scientific method.). This is similar to my own aphorism, after decades of facilitating prospect buy-in in the sales industry: “Selling doesn’t cause buying.” Both recognize that the outside-in push method for causing compliance isn’t an effective way to elicit permanent change. Indeed: as outsiders, we’re trying to cause behavior change, rather than elicit it.
The common thread behind both is the enduring belief (even with a 5% success rate in sales, and a only fraction of patients complying with necessary health-based regimens) that with the ‘right’ idea and the ‘best’ data, offered by someone who is ‘trustworthy’ and ‘credible’, written, offered, or spoken in a way that ‘inspires’ action, that people will act as they ‘should’ and make the ‘right’ choices we’re ‘certain’ they need to make.
But they’re not. And instead of recognizing that maybe we’ve got it wrong, that maybe we’re looking at the problem from the wrong angle while doing the same thing over and over hoping to get the results we want, we’re calling THEM irrational?? Seems to me we’re the very definition of insanity.
Is it any wonder people aren’t compliant? Pushing OUR ideas, OUR beliefs, OUR biases, OUR assumptions, onto another, in the format WE’VE chosen, assuming because we’re right, or smarter, or caring, or ‘scientific’ or or or, that they’ll do what WE want them to do! And then we’re surprised at the paucity of compliance?
We know this doesn’t work. For decades, if not centuries, sellers, coaches, leaders, and now healthcare providers, have bemoaned the lack of success we’ve achieved (even building failure into our expected results) with our push methods. And yet we continue, hoping that we’ll say it right this time, or offer impeccable research data, or use terrific apps, or pitches, or marketing that will instigate permanent change or decisions in our favor. Has it never occurred that just maybe outside-in push doesn’t work? Or is it just that we don’t know what else to do?
THE FAILURE OF PUSH
Selling doesn’t cause buying. Good content creation doesn’t cause action. Behavior Modification doesn’t cause behavior change. Do you see a pattern here? As reflected in our failed attempts across industries and time, an external push – regardless of how trustworthy, or researched, or ‘rational’, or necessary as it may be – cannot cause another person to change permanently.
As outsiders, we forget: change is an inside job. Yet our activity – all sales models and healthcare apps, coaching models and leadership trends – focuses on attempting to cause change from the outside. With our reports and regimens, proof and advice, stories and examples, we try to convince others to change before teaching them how to, and then complaining they’re not listening to us. Let me offer the reasons it’s not possible for people to change merely because we offer them terrific reasons why they should.
- Subjective Listening:This is the main hurdle with information push: people don’t hear the intent of a message, when it falls outside of their conditioned, subjective listening filters and habituated neural pathways, regardless of the efficacy of the information offered. When our clients, or children, or patients, ‘mis-hear’ us, it’s not their fault; their brains actually tell them something different from what was intended.
We all listen unconsciously, through our biases, assumptions, triggers, habits, and normalized neural pathways. I’ve written a book about the gap between what’s said and what’s heard (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?) and it’s formidable: our brains ‘kindly’ keep us comfortable and safe by hearing what they want, discarding bits of meaning and intent at will, without letting us know that what we end up ‘hearing’ is highly subjective and some unknowable percentage removed from what the speaker (or article, or app) intended. Try as we might – the best wording, or clever text/apps – whatever we say will be interpreted uniquely and not necessarily as we wish it to be interpreted; we’ll be heard more accurately only by those who already think exactly as we do.
So: information-in will probably not be heard as intended and translated according to some unconscious filtering that we outsiders cannot control. And this is compounded by our assumption that because we believe we’ve said something clearly it should be understood, i.e. ‘they’re not listening’. They are. To the very best of their unconscious ability. And it’s a good reason to not rely on sharing information as the way to influence change.
- Status Quo:Every day we wake up being who we were yesterday. We live our lives and make decisions according to our unique Identity, our personal system of rules, experience, hopes, goals, culture, education, etc. developed over a lifetime, that cause us to operate in the world uniquely. This is how we wake up knowing how to brush our teeth and drive our cars, vote the way we prefer, and love who makes us happy – all regardless of the way others would like us to be.
When any change is required of us our entire habituated, unconscious system/status quo faces disruption: to be willing and able to change, we must find a way for our personal system to buy-in to the new, get rid of the old, and find a way to maintain the habits and beliefs that keep us stable. Indeed, when we ask someone to change, regardless of the need, benefits, or the efficacy of the solution, we are asking people to unravel their status quo and do something different before they know if change would threaten who they know themselves to be. Their system, their status quo, is sacrosanct, and we are asking them to risk who they are.
3. Trust: When we assume we have answers for another, we are basically telling them we know more than they do, that we’re ‘right’ and they’re wrong, that we don’t trust them to find their own best route to excellence. So with the best will in the world, we push against their personal, habituated, normalized system (and yes, it’s the same system that caused the problem in the first place), and get… wait for it… resistance. And then we call them ‘stupid buyers’ or ‘non-compliant patients’. By not trusting our clients, by not enabling them to traverse their OWN route to congruent change, by assuming we have their answers and working at getting them to comply, we’re causing the very resistance we blame them for.
- Beliefs: For some reason, outsiders attempt to change someone’s behaviors without realizing that behaviors are merely the transactions of our beliefs. It’s like trying to get an app to do something it’s not meant to do without changing the underlying programming. This is why Behavior Modification largely fails: it seeks to cause behavior change; only belief change, and systems buy-in, can elicit behavior change.
- Bias: Even when accurately assessing another’s needs and have solutions that could resolve problems, our own needs for specific results bias our interactions. We’re outside the Other’s system, using our own preferred languaging, our own biased choices of stories and examples, our own approaches, posing biased questions meant to pull the data we want to understand (often regardless of how the Other uses or hears language i.e. biased) and assuming we’ll be heard and heeded! By choosing the words and story line we adhere to, by choosing activities or making requests according to our own need to get our suggestions recognized, we’re unintentionally biasing our interactions and restricting success to those who think, act, assume like we do.
So with the best will in the world, with solutions that can actually save lives and fix problems, we’re inhibiting success. We must stop pushing the change WE want to have happen, and begin facilitating others through their own behavior change, from within. We must elicit change rather than attempt to cause change. We must trust that everyone has their own answers and lead them through, and design, their own route to discovery and change, within their own norms and identity, so they remain congruent.
We’ve not been given the tools to facilitate permanent change, depending instead on many ways to push information/change in. Yet information – heard through subjective filters, chosen, offered and presented in formats designed by biased do-gooders – doesn’t teach someone HOW to change congruently, from the inside. Inside-out. Pushing data in merely causes resistance. Here are the skills necessary to facilitate others through permanent, congruent change from the inside.
- The Steps of Change:There is a specific set of sequential steps that human systems follow unconsciously en route to change, starting with enabling Others to rise above the weeds, into an Observer position, so they can get into an unbiased and disassociated state to begin dispassionately noticing, assembling and assessing the elements that caused the systemic problem to begin with. [Note: information-in, and push models, cause people to dig in and defend.] I’ve coded the steps of change that every human system – i.e. every person, group, etc. – must traverse sequentially to remain congruent through change. Change will not occur until a person recognizes
- all of the elements of how they got where they’re at and the systems that hold them in place;
- they know without a shadow of a doubt that they cannot fix the problem with their known resources;
- that any proposed change could be factored into the existing system without fallout – i.e. the status quo would buy-in to change and be willing to do something different because it recognizes it won’t be harmed.
It’s possible to lead people down their own steps of change to make their unconscious beliefs conscious and enable them to consider if it’s time to change. No one, no one, from outside can ever, ever understand what’s going on in other’s personal system.
- The Direction of Change:People think in habituated patterns; to find the elements that maintain their status quo they must go beyond their habituated thinking to seek out bits of their unconscious that aren’t necessarily obvious. How to do this? By being Neutral Navigators, Change Facilitators, that guide the brain to its own answers. I’ve been thinking about this problem since 1980, understanding that conventional questions are biased by the Asker, and responded to accordingly. Repeat: any time we ask a question of another, it’s biased by our own need to know and word choices, and will be heard with biased ears.
To overcome bias, to help people find their own answers, and knowing that conventional questions are biased by the Asker, I’ve developed Facilitative Questions that actually direct the brain sequentially, through its own givens, to discover best answers (often unconscious) and avoids the bias of influencers who net/net seek answers/pull information THEY think relevant. (Definition: Facilitative Question – a systemic, action-based, directive question, (not information-pull) that uses specific words, in a specific order, to lead people through sequential steps of discovery and buy-in without bias.) These questions can be used in surveys, questionnaires, and research to elicit ‘good’ information, without bias. I know this is a bit outside of mainstream thinking, but I’ve been successfully teaching the formulation of these questions for decades, in sales with Buying Facilitation®, coaching, and leadership – any place congruent change is required. Sometimes new ideas are needed, right?
- The Who of Change:By taking on the mantel of Change Agents, Facilitators, Influencers regardless of field (i.e. in apps, in sales, in coaching), we must begin by trusting Others to discover and design their own change, not attempt to cause change with wizzy content, Behavior Mod approaches, pricing ‘deals’ or any other outside-in push techniques. They don’t work – hence a 95% failure rate in sales, and patients regularly not completing regimens that would help them heal. Once people recognize how to change themselves in a way that’s congruent with their personal system, they will then need outsiders to supply relevant information. First facilitate change for Others; then supply necessary data according to THEIR needs.
- Testing for Change:By only doing research on Behavior Mod or other behavior change approaches, we’re ignoring the real problem and not helping people make permanent change. Let’s begin doing research on Change Facilitation practices in side-by-side experiments with behavior change approaches. Then we’ll have real answers.
For those who want to think about the inherent problems of pushing change from the outside, below I’ve summarized the baseline beliefs in this article so you can begin thinking of why an inside-out approach is the only way to elicit successful change (Note: I’ve designed a Change Facilitation approach to handle this; design your own, or call me to discuss.):
- We can never have answers for others, regardless of their need or the efficacy of their solution. Think about how you can enable others to address their internal beliefs to come up with their own answers that will normalize and habituate a new, more beneficial, habit pattern.
- People (or groups, etc.) won’t change until they can go beyond their habituated patterns, recognize that their current unconscious system is flawed and they cannot resolve a problem themselves; bringing in a ‘foreign’ solution is initially avoided as it would disrupt the status quo.
- Systems (i.e. people’s status quo) won’t change if the cost of the change is higher than the fallout from continuing the problems in the status quo. The system must discover this itself; telling only gets resistance.
- If offered information or activities run counter to the existent beliefs and entrenched, normalized habits within the system, they will be resisted, regardless of efficacy.
- Information is unnecessary, not understood, ignored, not accepted, until or unless the system has recognized it’s ready, willing, and able to change and knows exactly what it needs to assist it – and can hear the intended message without bias or resistance. That’s why we have success only with the low hanging fruit – those who have already gone through their own internal change process. So information last, Change Facilitation first. By asking them biased questions based on our need for information, by offering them our regimens, pitches, stories, reasons, proof, etc., we restrict success to those who need that specific piece of information at that moment, and ignore those who may need to change but otherwise resist.
- There is a sequence of change that all systems go through unconsciously to open a place for congruent change that avoids resistance. It is not information based, but belief-change. Focus first on leading patients and prospects through discovery before offering data.
It’s possible to develop healthcare apps that first enable Others to be ready for change prior to offering Behavior Mod. It’s possible for sellers to first facilitate prospect buy-in, notice those who WILL buy and are ready for change on the first call. It’s possible to facilitate coaching clients through permanent change. And I know that influencers like to be the pivot point, the arbiter of change. But if an outside-in line of questioning or directing is used, only people who have done their own change work first will be compliant. Let’s elicit change; let’s stop pushing.
I’m happy to discuss the above with anyone, and seek situations to test, use, offer my stuff to enhance excellence. Sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com
Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker and change agent. She is the developer of a unique Change Facilitation model currently used in sales (Buying Facilitation®) and trained to many Fortune 500 companies globally. Sharon Drew is the author of nine books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestseller’s Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers don’t buy and sellers don’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard?. She uses her original ideas as a foundation for thoughtful essays and articles on topics such as decision making, change, listening, trust, systems, and collaboration. All of her models and thinking are based on Servant Leadership, and how we – as companies and individuals – can serve each other to become Excellent. Sharon Drew lives on a floating home in Portland OR. firstname.lastname@example.org www.sharondrewmorgen.com