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Asperger’s put to work: an essay on coding choice and decision making

Submitted by on Monday, 12 September 2016


I wasn’t diagnosed with Nonverbal Learning Disorder – NLD, similar to Asperger’s – until I was 61. For most of my life it’s felt like I live in a quarantined room with glass walls, watching people live seemingly normal lives on the other side, but unable to touch them. But my world, although far less social, is rich; every day I awake filled with curiosity and visions of possibility; every day my heart aches with the need to use my abilities to make a difference and help everyone have the tools to be all they can be.

Since I was a kid I’ve had to navigate social situations that render me confused and obnoxious: expected social norms are often incomprehensible to me (I’ll never understand why strangers ask “How are you?” when it’s such a personal question.). My listening skills, apparently, aren’t conventional either: I hear, and respond to, the meaning behind words rather than those spoken. [Note: Like many Aspies, I hear whole circles/systems when spoken to, and often respond to the metamessage intended instead of the words spoken. It gets to the heart of any communication quickly. Clients love it, friends tolerate it, strangers mock it or call me ‘rude’.]. The world’s just different for me.

As a kid my grades suffered until someone figured out I should be given essays instead of multiple choice tests (Then I got A’s). I couldn’t make friends (no sleepovers, or parties, either in high school or college!) even though I was a cheerleader, the school pianist, and editor of the school paper. And everyone, including my confounded parents, tried to make me ‘normal’ when I did something ‘odd’ or ‘bad’. [In those days there was no diagnosis]. Why couldn’t they see/hear/feel me and appreciate my ideas and heart? Why didn’t anyone just accept and encourage me? I knew I was smart and kind. It confused me that others couldn’t see me because I was different.

I prayed to be normal, to understand what responding ‘appropriately’ meant. I longed to join the world, to fit in when I wanted to, but didn’t want to lose my authenticity or ideas. I was determined to figure out how Others made choices, how I made mine, and note the differences. I remember telling myself that since I was in trouble all the time anyway I might as well be in trouble for doing what I thought was right, so long as I knew the difference. This formed the foundation of my life’s work: figuring out how people could make new, congruent choices. In retrospect, I cannot imagine what made me think I could accomplish this. But I did. I just did it my way.


Starting at age 11 I stole away to a large, flat rock in a nearby reservoir to think. From 1957 – 1963 I filled notebooks with ideas, drawings and doodles, and fantasized possibilities. [No Google, no computers, no neuroscience or behavioral science or Daniel Kahneman. Just me, a rock, some paper and pen, and intense curiosity.] It became my ‘topic’: What caused people to think, and act, differently from each other, sometimes with the same set of ‘givens’? Could people be taught when, if, or how to make different choices? Could I change? Could anyone?

I also wrote down conversations – with my parents, and those I overheard – noting similarities and differences in words, responses, and intent; I noted when Others’ behaviors and dialogues were confusing, and when I got in trouble for not making the right choices. I wrote down my own internal dialogue when I was apparently out of step, and noted the social situation when I noticed others said something different than they meant.

It was obvious that people reacted differently to the same stimulus. Seemed everyone’s subjective experience (I call it a system of unique rules, norms, beliefs, experience, history etc.) creates the unconscious biases that cause their habitual choices.

1. Everyone’s choices come from their unique, historic, subjective internal realities and are largely unconscious.

I collected data in my jobs: From 1975 – 1979 I ran pre-discharge groups and family therapy in an in-patient state psychiatric center giving me an invaluable opportunity to learn about group communication, hidden agendas and veiled meanings, and the vulnerability of maintaining the status quo. 1979-1983 I was a stockbroker on Wall Street. From 1983-1989 I founded a tech company in London, Hamburg, and Stuttgart and had the opportunity to negotiate and have clients/staff from different countries and cultures. I’ve run training programs in 5 of the 7 continents. I founded a Not-For-Profit around Europe. Then, and to this day, I mapped communication, choice, and belief-based decision making.


One of my persistent bewilderments was why people behaved in destructive ways even when they had relevant data suggesting they try something else. As I got better at mapping the elements behind my own decision making process I realized the complexity of the problem: there’s a broader set of considerations involved than just ‘fixing’ it, or weighting choices.  Seems there are iterative, sequential steps that must occur internally before any system is ready for change. Without ‘Systems Congruence’ a system will fight to remain stable and refuse to, or sabotage, change. Here are the stages of change that I defined (Read Dirty Little Secrets for a complete discussion.):

2. A. assembling the full, unique data set that comprises the status quo. Includes rules, values, goals, relationships/people, history, events, etc.;
B. a recognition of anything missing [recognizable from the complete set of givens; omitting anything causes incomplete, possibly inaccurate data; attempting to push anything in prematurely, causes resistance to avoid system destabilization.];
C. the preference to fix what’s missing from within the system;
D. the need for any change to fit within the given rules and is accepted by the system.

Given the subjectivity and sophistication of this process, change obviously had to be initiated, defined, and accepted from within the system; change being pushed from outside would be resisted because it potentially offended the system. The system was sacrosanct.

3. Change must come from within the system that created and maintains the status quo.
4  Any potential change must be agreed upon by the system of rules, experiences, history, people, values (etc.), that hold the initiating problem in place.

How could I facilitate change if the change factors were in my unconscious and my unconscious would fight to maintain the status quo?


In the mid-1980s I discovered NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP – the study of the structure of subjective experience) and studied for three years (Practitioner, Master Practitioner, and a unique Beyond/Integration year). NLP unpacks how/why we do what we do and is the most important communication tool of the twentieth century. I loved the depth of the discovery process. Unfortunately, like other influencer models (sales, leadership, coaching, etc.) the practitioner attempts to push/design change from outside, when it’s far more consistent, relevant, accurate and integrous to enable Others to traverse, repair, and integrate the comprehensive route of their own change. Then they end up with the change they can live with rather than change imposed by external bias.

5. Until the system determines how to garner buy-in and consensus in a way that’s congruent with its rules, and make room for something new in a way the system won’t face disorder, change will be resisted rather than threaten the status quo.

In the late 1980s I discovered the books of Roger Schank who said questions could uncover unconscious criteria. Really? Conventional questions were biasted, restricting responses to the bias of the Asker. Since change is an inside job, how could questions enable choice?

I played with this problem for a year and eventually developed a new form of question (Facilitative Question) that uses specific words, in sequenced steps, as an unbiased directional device (much like a GPS system – left right left, with no bias) . By getting guidance to efficiently and congruently traverse the route from consensus to change, Responders can make quick decisions and shifts in ways that their system deems tolerable. An example:  ‘How will you know if it’s time to reconsider your hairstyle?’ instead of ‘Why do you wear your hair like that?’ – leading Others  directly to the route down their own unconscious change criteria, rather than manipulating the change sought by the Questioner.

6. As neutral navigation devices, Facilitative Questions direct the Other’s unconscious down the sequence of change without bias, enabling consensus from the system, congruent to their own norms.

Used in sales, coaching, negotiating, leadership, decision making, and management, these questions help the Other get straight to the heart of their decisions, enabling influencers to quickly determine how – or if – to proceed with integrity, collaboration, and authenticity. {In sales, Facilitative Questions quickly eliminate those who would never buy, discover and teach those with a need (initially recoznized or not) AND an ability to buy, and close sales in half the time. Buyers need to take these steps (Pre-Sales) prior to any buying decision anyway, and usually take them bhind-the-scenes while sellers wait.}

In the 80s and 90s, I found the books of Benjamin Libet and Maurice Merleau-Ponty who confirmed my early theories that behavior comes from subjective experience. I’ve met with, and read close to a thousand books and papers from, communication experts, behavioral scientists, neuroscientists. I even inerviewed for a PhD in Behavioral Sciences, but was told my work was 20 years ahead of the current research at the time so I couldn’t use my own work as my PhD thesis. I did begin an experiment at Columbia with a behavioral scientist on the criteria people used to make decisions with (behavioral vs belief), but our funding got cut as we were set to begin.


Putting all of my learning and ideas together, it presents a very different picture than the one we currently use to influence, lead, or serve others. Here’s a recap.

1. Everyone makes decisions based on their own unique, unconscious subjective biases. External data will be resisted, accepted, misunderstood accordingly, regardless of the need or efficacy of the information.
2. Everyone, and every team, exists within a system of idiosyncratic rules that create and maintain the status quo, and will resist change (buying anything, shifting behaviors) until the system has bought-in to shifting congruently.
3. Conventional questions are biased by the Questioner, and lead to restricted data collection and responses. Facilitative Questions lead the system through assembly, consesus, and change mangement so it can make its own best decisions and discover its own type of Excellence.
4. People can only hear/listen according to the parameters of their internal biases, and will misunderstand, mishear, forget, filter any data that is not aligned.
5. Change can only happen from the inside, regardless of the external ‘reality’ or need.
6. Information cannot teach anyone how to make a new decision; all change/choice comes from shifts within the existent, systemic beliefs. Information is only useful once all elements of change are in place.
7. Until a system knows how, if, when, where to change congruently, no change will occur regardless of any external reality.
8. It’s possible to facilitate Others through congruent change, be part of their decision making process, potentially expand their choices, and work with those who are ready, willing, and able. This enables influencers to truly serve rather than depend on ‘intuition’ or their own biases.

I know we spend billions creating pitches, rational arguments, data gathering, questionnaires, training, etc. But this only captures the low hanging fruit – those who have gotten to the place where new ideas, solutions, trainings fit. People who

  • think differently,
  • have rules, expectations or beliefs that run counter to the offered information (but can be recalculated), or
  • have not yet reached the realization that they need what you’ve got on offer (but do need it)

will either mishear, misunderstand, or resist when presented with any outside push or data. That means we’re offering our solutions before the system is set up for change, finding only the low hanging fruit who have already determined their route to change. Conventional models that push/offer/pull information – rational or otherwise – cannot do better than be there when the fruit’s ready to fall. But by adding some skills that first facilitates change readiness, it’s possible to become part of the decision process and a place on the Buying Decison Team.

My core thinking remains outside of conventional thinking because it’s not academic (although it’s more accepted these days). But after 60 years of study and mistakes, 35 years of training clients and running control groups, I’ve accomplished my childhood goal. My generic facilitation model (Buying Facilitation®) has been taught globally since 1985; it does just what I always wanted to do: offer scalable skills to anyone seeking to truly serve others by facilitating their own brand of excellence. In other words, I can teach people to know how, when, if to make new choices. It’s an unconventional model, and certainly not academic. But it’s been proven with over 100,000 people globally.

These days, I continue to learn, read, study, and theorize. Should anyone be interested in learning more, or collaborating, or or or, I’m here.


Sharon Drew Morgen has been coding and teaching change and choice in sales, coaching, and leadership for over 30 years. She is the developer of Buying Facilitation®, a generic decision facilitation model used in sales, and is the author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity. Sharon Drew’s book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? has been called a ‘game changer’ in the communication field, and is the first book that explains, and solves, the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. Her assessments and learning tools that accompany the book have been used by individuals and teams to learn to enter conversations able to hear without filters.
Sharon Drew is the author of one of the top 10 global sales blogs with 1700+ articles on facilitating buying decisions through enabling buyers to manage their status quo effectively.
To learn Buying Facilitation® contact sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com 512-771-1117 and visit www.newsalesparadigm.com


  • Patrick

    Hi Sharon! How nice to hear from you again through this wonderful post. I’ve had the privilege of meeting you at Machu Pichu in 2000 and since then the ideas an principles behind your work have always been in my mind. It goes to show that even though one feels like one is behind glass walls one still touches the lives of others. Thank you, and take care! Patrick