Influencers vs. Facilitators: essay on enabling change congruently
Many learning tools and programs provide tools for Influencers – coaches, sellers, negotiators, leaders managers, and consultants – to help Others make the changes they seek. NLP codes the Others’ internal processes to enable practitioners to understand the proposed problem and ‘get in’ to make the change. Coaching programs teach how to recognize what the client is ‘really’ saying and offer the best techniques to help. Negotiators seek the BATNA. But all tools have one thing in common: they assume that the Outsider can, and should, be the one leading the change.
But I believe we’re focusing on the wrong outcome. I believe that because of everyone’s unconscious, subjective biases and identity-based beliefs, and our inability to know for certain what’s going on in another’s unconscious, it’s a risk for Outsiders to attempt to effect congruent change in Another; I believe it’s possible to enable people to manage their own change by facilitating them down their own route, using their own time frame and unconscious drivers, and their own identity-based criteria. Instead of Influencers, let’s be Facilitators – neutral navigators who enable Others to discover their own unique brand of excellence. But we need an additional skill set and focus. Let me explain.
OUR SUBJECTIVITY IMPEDES SUCCESS
The problem with outside Influencers is twofold: our subjectivity causes potentially erroneous paths to discovery and outcome (1-4 below); the outside-in approach covertly makes us Consultants/Experts/Leaders who run the risk of stripping our clients of their own capability and self-leadership (5):
1. Both client and influencer listen through unconscious, subjective biases and mis-hear, mis-interpret, mis-represent, misunderstand, confuse, resist, and sabotage accordingly. That’s just a fact: communication partners rarely fully or accurately understand what their communication partner intends. When researching my book on this subject (see What? did you really say what I think I heard?) I was quite shocked (and annoyed) to learn how little we correctly understand of what our communication partners mean to tell us, regardless of our training, knowledge, intuition, attention, or intent.
Inadvertently, each end of a communication is mired in subjective listening biases and cannot – cannot- hear the other without some element of partiality. And because our brains don’t even tell us how, exactly, they’ve altered what we think we hear, we have no way of knowing just what we’re missing. I must admit I was quite annoyed to learn this, believing passionately in my ability to ‘really listen.’ Unfortunately, our brains don’t allow it. In his new book The Undoing Project Michael Lewis says: “…the mind’s best trick…was to lead its owner to a feeling of certainty about inherently uncertain things.” (pg 42) “Confirmation bias is…insidious because you don’t even realize it’s happening” (pg 40). We actually, unwittingly, hear what we want to hear. And this, says Lewis, is especially true of Experts.
2. Both client and Influencer pose and respond to questions according to their subjective biases of what they each think should be achieved, thereby potentially missing huge swathes of necessary information, or opposition. Unfortunately, discovery is then determined and biased according to the capability and skills of the chosen Influencer using biased judgment in the form of ‘intuition’ and ‘gut reaction’ – particularly difficult on clients with a conscious desire to change that’s at odds with their unconscious preferring the status quo.
3. Our status quo – the internal, unconscious, subjective rules, identity, beliefs and experience – is systemic and will resist change unless beliefs and long-held unconscious rules shift to incorporate and accept anyuthing new. Regardless of its efficacy, any change – new ideas, advice, behaviors – needs buy-in from the areas within the system that created and maintain the problem we seek to fix (status quo) and will be effected by the change. When systems are asked to change without marshaling belief-based buy-in, they will resist or sabotage (regardless of the efficacy of the change) rather than be disrupted. And don’t be fooled: any change demands a reconfiguration of any number of seemingly unrelated internal issues.
4. Information, requests, facts, don’t teach a system how to change and potentially reroute our client toward our biased goals, potentially missing their own. Our advice, ideas, new activities, etc. become little more than an push against a system designed to maintain itself.
5. We all recognize that only people can change themselves. And yet tools Influencers use to ‘understand’ or ‘manage change’ are often based on their ‘intuition’, ‘gut’ feel, historic experiences, and behavioral approaches to address change. But this outside-in approach is successful only when the Other’s system shows up ready, willing, and able to shift – usually not something folks can do when we meet them. By being responsible instead for guiding them through their own systemic change, everyone can discover their own workable (albeit unconscious) answers and congruently shift the structure of their own internal change.
I know I’m stepping on toes here, and many of you are thinking ‘I understand how to help my clients and how to help them! I’ve been doing this for years!’ I can’t tell you how many hundreds of conversations I’ve had with leaders and coaches and managers who believe everything I’m saying – for another person. But we can’t know what clients mean when they’re not even aware of the role of their unconscious drivers that passionately fight to maintain themselves, or with the best will in the world, try valiantly to ‘do’ (behave) what we suggest, only to fall back on old patterns after we’re gone.
Behaviors are the action, and formal representation of, our Beliefs: without reorganizing the intricate system of beliefs, criteria, history and rules that have created the problem, any behavioral change runs the risk of being temporary. Having a dialogue or session based on content or need or problem solving – all behavioral – cannot effect change without constant pushing against the status quo.
But Behaviors will automatically change once the Beliefs change: When I shifted my Identity to become a Healthy Person, going to the gym (I hate it) became the Behavior that was one of the actions of my Belief; when I want to sleep in I ask myself, ‘Are you a Healthy Person today?’ and if the answer is ‘No’ I happily sleep in. Thankfully, it’s almost always ‘Yes’. If I had started out thinking I needed to go to the gym because my coach and I agreed it was healthy, I certainly would have stopped going after a while because there was no systemic buy-in or unconscious driver. Change comes from the unconscious; Behaviors are merely the manifestation of the change, not the focus.
WHAT’S OUR JOB
Facilitators can help Others make their own unconscious changes that are permanent, congruent and happily accepted. Let me respond to the original list above:
- Let’s become Neutral Navigators and help Others get to their own unconscious system to find a route to congruent change that’s acceptable and avoids inadvertent, biased, subjective blocks.
- Instead of posing biased questions or gathering data – both of which run the risk of restricting possibility – let’s help Others ask themselves their own most appropriate questions. I’ve developed Facilitative Questions that are systemic, formulated to traverse the route of the brain to engage the unconscious to discern rules, beliefs, resistance, and don’t include content until the system is ready for it. You can develop your own brand of question so long as you stay away from gathering data until the Other reaches a point of buy-in to change. And asking them if they’re ready, or trying to understand and direct, merely induces resistance.
- Since everyone’s status quo is systemic, self-perpetuating and self-maintaining, let’s enable the Other to discover why, how, and when to shift their own rules to buy-in and adopt change. That way we avoid overlaying our subjective biases that might cause them to miss their real inflection point.
- By eschewing ideas, suggestions, recommendations, and advice until the system is ready, we can enable Others to traverse the route to change through her own unconscious system and we can truly serve as healers and Facilitators – without bias. It might not look like we imagined, but change will happen idiosyncratically, permenently, and congruently.
- As Facilitators and Servant Leaders, we can enable congruent, permanent, effortless change, and people can possess their own transformation.
I know that Influencers take pride in understanding another’s needs. But let me suggest that no matter how good you are, you’re not good enough for every situation: your current skill sets only work on those who show up with beliefs, values, ideas, and change-capability similar to yours, and whose unconscious is readily accessible; those whose beliefs differ or cannot get to their unconscious drivers won’t achieve long-term success. This is where/how you lose clients, or your implementations fail.
People can’t accept information that doesn’t match the way their unconscious system functions. Let’s teach them how to recognize and recalibrate their own system so it can be congruent, adaptive, and seek excellence.
HOW FACILITATION WORKS: CASE STUDY
Facilitators hold different beliefs than Influencers:
- I help clients get outside their blame/shame/wrong/problem judgments and recognize their unspoken intention by playing back their metamessages with Presumptive Summaries. I developed these as another route to subjectivity and resistance-avoidance, and they work with systems listening. You can design your own way to help Others get into their Witness place. Working with folks who are stuck in Self, in their own problem space and blame, is difficult – especially when we, as Influencers might be stuck in Self as well.
- It’s important to enable Others to go down their own route to change – not yours. They might be slower, or incomplete, or go in a different direction than you’d recommend. But it’s not your call. You’re just there to facilitate their excellence along the route of their own change process.
- You’ll need a new tool kit. If you aspire to facilitating real change, you’ve got to save your information gathering, or time-lines, or any of the tools you’ve been using until toward the end of the exchange. You’ll need to pose systems-based questions that facilitate unconscious discovery, listen for what’s not said, and do a lot of summarizing. I’ve developed a model that does this (Buying Facilitation®) that I’ve been teaching in the sales and coaching field for 35 years. You can design your own. You just can’t enter conversations with a goal of fixing, or changing, anyone.
Here’s a simple case study. I recently got a call from a coach friend Joe who works with companies to help their staff be ‘better’. Joe’s client Susan retained him to help Louis who, with a long history as a terrific employee, couldn’t seem to do his newly assigned job although he knew he’d be fired if he didn’t comply. She wanted Joe to coach Louis in an attempt to save his job.
After 3 months of working together, Joe had the same non-compliance problems with Louis – he’d promise to do something and then not do it – and before getting him fired he figured we’d talk to see if there was anything he missed. We agreed to do a role play, with him playing Louis. I asked that he take on Louis’s personality using the data he’d gleaned from their coaching, and use his best guesses as to how Louis would respond if I posed different questions than his. Here was our role play.
SDM – Hey Louis. Before we begin, I’d love to know how you feel about Susan assigning me to coach you without your consent. [Note to Influencers: having clients who are prisoners, who have not agreed to the process, sets up automatic resistance.]
LOUIS – Well, I would have loved to have chosen my own coach, but I’m aware Susan is unhappy with me, and I’d like to keep my job, so I’m happy to comply. I realize everyone wants to help me.
SDM – If you find you don’t like working with me let me know and we’ll find you someone you’re more comfortable with.
LOUIS – Thank you. I appreciate it.
SDM – So I hear that Susan asked you to take on some new tasks that you’ve agreed to but so far haven’t yet achieved successfully. [Presumptive Summary] And given your history of being an excellent employee, I’m sort of surprised. What would you need to know or believe differently to find it easier to do this new job, or discovery clarity where you find yourself resistant? [Facilitative Question that avoids blame, confines the two ends of the possibility spectrum, points him specifically to where to seek the corresponding beliefs and unconscious drivers in his brain, begins to get him into his Witness place to see the situation from above, and avoids judgment.]
LOUIS – I’d need to know what success would look like. I don’t feel any resistance – I’m happy to do it, but no one has shown me what it would look like if I was achieving success as well as I do in my current job. I was hired originally to do X because I do it well. Now they’re asking me to do stuff I can’t do as well. What if I fail? I’m not competent in this new job. They say it doesn’t matter for a while, but what does that mean? What if I take too long? Plus will the person taking over my current job do it as well as I do it?
SDM – It sounds like you’ve made promises to do the new job without understanding what doing them at your preferred level of excellence would look like, or what failure looks like. And I hear how important an excellent job performance is to you – especially your discomfort at leaving your current job to someone who might not do it well. And you certainly don’t know the expected time line for you to be excellent. [Presumptive Summary.]
LOUIS – Right. I guess when I promised to do the new job I meant it. But I just realized I have no picture of what ‘good job’ looks like, or the time frame I’ve got to get good. [The problem is his lack of vision of excellence and fear of failure, not willingness.]
SDM – And it sounds to me like this is not a conversation you’ve had with Susan or I’m sure she would have happily complied. [Presumptive Summary] What has stopped you from telling Susan you’d need to better understand what ‘excellence’ looks like, her expectations for your learning curve, and how to leave your current job in good hands? Or even to ask for someone who now does the new job excellently to coach you through your daily activities? [Facilitative Questions mixed with summary statement and information he needs.]
LOUIS – If I ask her what a good job looks like and her expectations of my learning curve, tell her I’m afraid I won’t initially be as good at the new job as I am with my current job, and my need to have my current job handled well, we could set up stages of learning and timelines for me and I’d be comfortable moving forward and possibly failing.
This dialogue would have occurred as our first coaching session, and might have only needed a quick follow up. Joe was surprised at the outcome, and the differences between our outside-in/inside-out approaches. He certainly was surprised at how much data he had unconsciously gleaned from Louis during his conversations but hadn’t known to use.
“I concentrated on helping him ‘do’ what Susan wanted him to do, and never considered helping him figure out how to manage the problem his own way. The answers I found myself giving you were a surprise to me, even though I suspect they were pretty accurate.”
In his session, Joe had concentrated on finding out why Louis wasn’t compliant and creating time lines of activity – the doing – without helping Louis recognize and manage his own unconscious beliefs and drivers which biased his behaviors. But I didn’t need to know why or why not he didn’t do what he promised – it’s all subjective, and ultimately a guess. I enabled him to find the place where he made decisions to act/not act – the real problem – and then lead him through to his own action plan that he would obviously be congruent with.
Here’s the question: do you want to lead the change? Or enable the change to happen congruently? You’d need to trust that the best outcome would be achieved – most likely different from the one you envisage – and put aside your ego, your need to be The Problem Solver and professional tools for a bit. If you want to truly serve, help Others discover their own path.
Serving Others is an honor. Let’s use our position to enable Others to change in their own ways and be their own Teachers. They do indeed have their own answers if we can help them find where they are stored. We might think we have an answer for them, and sometimes we do. But that’s not the point. Let’s become Servant Leaders.
Sharon Drew Morgen has spent her life designing facilitation models for sales, coaching, management, training, communication, and influencing. She is the author of 9 books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon best seller What? Did you really say what I think I heard?. Sharon Drew is a speaker, consultant, trainer, and coach, as well as a blogger of one of the top 10 sales blogs: www.sharondrewmorgen.com. She also has trained Buying Facilitation® to over 100,000 Sales and Coaching Facilitators in many global corporations. She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.