Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Change Will Do You Good

Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favor.
- Robert Frost, The Black Cottage

When you least expect it, all the rules can change. People you once respected, let you down. People of whom you once had low expectations, miraculously come through. Is everything in flux or is it just me?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Former Bell Chimes In

It's good to see that even stodgy telecommunication companies can sometimes adapt to change. There is definitely a case to be made that AT&T is at the forefront of nimbleness among companies its size. They just recently announced their support of the FCC's recommendation that cable companies de-bundle their channel offerings. You can find some more details in USA Today.

On a seperate front, another large company tries to uphold the current view that they suck. Research In Motion (RIM), who has produced the Blackberry devices for way longer than they should have, got yet another legal smack-down recently. This recent ruling clears the way for an injunction against these insidious devices unless RIM can learn a little humility and actually bargain at the table with NTP in good faith.

Don't get me wrong, I thnk NTP is bunch of money-grubbing opportunists who are feasting on the carcass of our blatant communication ignorance. But they happen to have the clear right to manage their patent how they see fit. My only hope is that in their lust for money they raise prices on those crappy BlackBerrys so that more businesses invest in real networks that can actually be leveraged. Of course, that's asking for a lot.

A guy can hope, can't he?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Ahoy There

This past week I got a chance to ride the rides on the Stratosphere in Las Vegas. The build-up to the rides is quite exhilarating. There is a count-down as you wait for the full effect of exactly how high you are to filter into your brain. What was so interesting to me is that the second time I went on the ride, before the ride even began I could feel the pressure in my body that the ride would create.

Even though it was totally unintentional, the build-up to the ride and the count-down worked together to create an anchor for what my body was going to feel! My brain essentially remembered what had happened and reproduced the physical reactions necessary to handle the high G force that it knew would follow.

Anchors are any inputs which induce or trigger responses. For example, when you smell coffee it might invoke memories, or feelings. If someone said the word chocolate, it might make your mouth water. Anchors can take any form of input and provide almost any form of response. Of course, some work better than others. Here are some examples to consider:
  • sight - what makes a "power tie" powerful? why do we like shiny things? how did red become the "danger" color?
  • sound - ever heard a voice that was just "sexy"? what about running water when you have to pee?
  • touch - do you enjoy a soggy handshake? what makes silk sheets so great?
  • taste - doesn't something sweet after dinner just seem right? is eggnog only for the holidays?
  • smell - how can you tell if a car is really new? where do you eat popcorn?
Those are just some simple everyday anchors that you may or may not share. In reality, we all have them and we actually rely on them all the time. We use them to remember the words to songs, what errands we have to run, even the details of important dates.

In Practice
The cool thing about anchors is that you can use them to bring out responses you are looking for in yourself and others. Here is a simple exercise you can try on yourself. First, you need to be at rest. So sit back and relax. Now think of a very postive, enjoyable, and pleasing experience. Envision what you were seeing at the time. Recall and listen to what you were hearing at the time. Allow yourself to feel the same experience again. As you immerse yourself in the experience and the intensity builds, squeeze your thumb and finger together gently for a moment. Then come out of the experience by thinking of something else. It can be any random thing, like work matters, what errands you have to run, etc. Then squeeze your thumb and finger together the same as before. You should feel the relaxed, pleasing state return. Because we are using a tactile anchor it might help to gently pulse the anchor if you want to maintain the experience. In this case, that would be squeeze gently, release, squeeze again, release, and repeat.

There are several factors that can improve the quality and intensity of the anchor. You should have a strong base experience to work from. The more inputs you can apply to the anchor, the easier it will be to set. Apply the anchor before the experience peaks. You need to be really precise in how you trigger the anchor, timing is essential. The application of anchors works best as a form of "positive reinforcement".

Any parent, pet-owner, comedian, or good project manager will tell you these techniques work. They use them every day, just maybe not so deliberately. If you find them hard to master, don't give up, just take more time to practice.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Almost Ready...

He who hesitates...waits...and waits...and waits.
Hesitation is a normal part of life. We all hesitate, each of us to differing degrees. Hesitation is the primary obstacle to learning new things, pursuing our desires, and influencing change.

In the book Change (Watzlawick, Weakland, Fisch) there is a story about a student who was struggling to complete a thesis. Watzlawick directed the student to go into three stores in the next week and make absurd requests. The student followed through and experienced a shift in his attitude. A short time later he finished his thesis.

Testing this theory seemed straight-forward, so I gave it shot. I went into a fast-food restaurant and waited in line. My heart rate sped up and so did my breathing. My body was responding to my mind telling me I was in danger, even though there was nothing to fear. When it was my turn I looked the lady right in the eye and asked for a slice of pepperoni pizza. She stared back and asked "What?". After I repeated myself she let me know they didn't sell that. I said thanks and walked out.

So this was a simple thing to do and more than a little silly. But the more I tried this, the easier it became. Which by itself isn't that interesting. But the change to my attitude was significant. The more I allow myself to do things that are unusual or out of the ordinary, the easier it is for me to step up and tackle the mundane things too.

If you want to try this, you will see that it works. If you do this, keep in mind that you should be very polite, non-threatening, and maybe come off a little confused. The typical response you get is amusement.

The reason this technique becomes significant is because it changes how we interpret responses. As humans we become conditioned to avoid mistakes. We are taught that mistakes are bad or dangerous. On the contrary, mistakes are an outrageously important tool for learning and growing. When you can get over your fear of the feedback from unusual behavior, you open the way for efficient learning and truly powerful communication. If you are going to be influencing others, you need a willingness to make mistakes. It's learning from the mistakes that makes it possible to find the right kind of influence you are looking for.

You will see a similar effect around how people handle money. I think I'll cover that one next.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Is your vision HD?

A couple of years ago I ran into a trainer who worked with dolphins. As we talked about his work, he mentioned that you have to be very careful when working with them not to reinforce the wrong behaviors. The reason is because they are incredible perceptive and notice everything. Often they would notice a pattern that he wouldn't even be aware was in place. When the dolphins would detect a pattern that reinforced something he wasn't aware of, they would use it to their own advantage. The key to their perceptiveness is peripheral vision.

Focal vision is the central element in your visual landscape. It is primarily what you use to distinguish details or read. Your focal vision is very much a conscious activity. On the other hand, peripheral vision is wide, fuzzy, and happens subconsciously. Your peripheral vision is excellent for detecting movement and establishing a frame of reference.

You can use your peripheral vision in many situations to obtain excellent information about other people. It is the primary way to easily absorb specifics such as breathing patterns, gestures, and eye movements. These are all key things you would want to be mindful of as you try to build rapport.

In Practice
It's pretty easy to practice using your peripheral vision. When you are in any low-risk situation, use your peripheral vision to see what else you notice during the conversation. When you are working with groups of people, you can notice what’s going on for all the people you are not looking at directly. You can practice reading the signals, gestures, and expressions being made by the people who think you can’t see them. You can learn a lot while practicing this at times when you are not the primary speaker.

Monday, October 31, 2005

The Manner of Speaking

Each of us has a different speaking pattern. We choose our words and phrases to uniquely match our view the world. The way in which we speak reflects the way we think. Our choice of speech pattern is therefore influenced by the how our thoughts are processing the information we receive. From this simple understanding we are able to infer that the five sensory inputs have quite a bit to do with how we process information, and from that, how we communicate.

The connection between their senses and their thought processes and then to their speaking patterns can be easily discerned simply by listening to someone speak. Someone who is very visual will reflect this in their words and phrases. For example, they will utilize words such as "imagine", "picture", "focus", or "perspective". That same visual person would be more apt to say "can we focus", "i can just see it now", or "from my point of view". An auditory person would choose words such as "sound", "hear", "ring", or "buzz". Touching people use words like "feel", "handle", "smooth", or "grip". Smelling people would use words such as "sour", "rotten", or "fresh". Tasting people might choose "bland", "sweet", or "spicy".

Here are some examples for each category:
  • Sight - Look/see, Imagine, Focus, Brilliant, Bright, View
  • Sound - Hear, Listen, Ring, Buzz, Recall, Harmonious
  • Smell - Sweet, Rotten, Fishy, Fragrance, Funky, Scent
  • Touch - Feel, Grasp, Hold, Push, Drive, Tough
  • Taste - Bitter, Sweet, Sharp, Salty, Bland, Spicy
To be clear, we don't focus on the same sense all the time in all our language. But in specific situations or conversations we will gravitate towards a primary. And regardless, we all have primary that we default to when given opportunity.

So why is this important? Depending on which of the five senses they are more intuned with, we can match our speaking pattern to more closely match their own way of thinking. When the game is influence, speaking the same language is absolutely critical. If you are speaking primarily in touch language to someone who is smell-oriented, you are in effect requiring them to translate your language. The more work required of your listener, the less influence you have. Consider that smell-oriented person. Imagine the responses to saying "can you feel the excitement", versus "can you smell the potential". These may not appear obvious in such limited context, but we make these distinctions in our speech all the time. If you are speaking the same language as your listener, you have a greater chance of creating rapport which is key to influence.

From Another Angle
Sometimes when we have issues communicating it can be that we using different senses, which means we are speaking different languages. Consider the following exchange:
  • A: We need to talk about this some more.
  • B: Why? Everything looks fine to me.
  • A: Well, something just doesn't sound right.
  • B: You haven't shown me any reason to worry. From my point of view things will work out.
  • A: You're not listening to me. We all need to be dancing to the same tune…
In Practice
One technique to practice this skill is to write down the names of people while you are in meetings and keep track of the sensory words they each use. This is a common technique that is used in many fields. Not only is it useful for your own practice, as well as understanding your coworkers, but when you do speak, your words can have a better connection with your listeners. The more you practice identifying these words, the easier it will be for you to notice when someone shifts from one sense to another. That will help you to quickly get in harmony with their patterns and build rapport quickly.

Going Deeper
You can combine matching the sense someone is using with the Pacing and Leading techniques I wrote about previously to create a powerful effect. This is especially useful when dealing with people who are stuck in a particular mode and resisting communication efforts. Using words that match their primary sense and then leading them to new words from a different sensory state can often provide a much smoother and quicker transition for your listeners.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

A Verbal Stepping Stone

In discussing how to be obtain and exercise influence it is important to realize the importance of perspective. Perspective and context have everything to do with being able to move someone from where they are towards where you'd like them to be. Simply put, you can't give someone directions until you know where they are coming from.

This point was been well understood. For example, when coming before a court in Ancient Greece, the participants were required to state the opposition's case to the oppositions satisfaction before stating their own case. This ensured that both parties fully listened to their counterpart prior to seeking judgement.

So what about cases, where you start off opposed? Or situations in which you don't have access to the context the other party is working under? In this post I'll discuss a common technique for influencing that works around these issues.

The technique is called Pacing and Leading. It is similar to the Mirroring which we discussed previously. It primarily consists of providing statements that allow the listener to establish a pattern of agreement with "true" statements. Establishing this positive pattern is known as Pacing. Once you have established a positive pattern of agreement you can then deviate from the pattern using "speculative" statements. The established pattern of agreement with the true statements influences the listener to continue in agreement with the speculative statements. That deviation is called Leading. Let me give an example to clarify.

As a consultant, I am often called into situations where the state of the client is relatively unknown. Will they be hostile? Are they accepting of outside help? Do they realize the issues I've been called in to address? These are typical concerns. When kicking off one of these projects I usually give a little introduction similar to:
So this is Client X, we've all made it onsite successfully, it's Monday morning, and I've brought donuts and coffe for everyone. You probably are wondering when we are going to get requirements, after all we all know how important it is to get solid requirements quickly. You are each going to have a chance to review them and I'm sure you'll have great feedback...
While it seems innocuous, let's break it down into the kinds of statements I've made. There are "true" statements which are the Pacing statements.
  • We've all made it
  • It's Monday morning
  • There are donuts and coffee
  • Getting solid requirements quickly is important
  • You will have a chance to review them
And there are "speculative" statements which are the Leading statements.
  • You are probably wondering...
  • I'm sure you'll have great feedback...
As I deliver the pacing statements I'm setting up a pattern of "I Agree" or "That is True" with the listeners. This is because as humans we crave the familiar. We fall easily into habit and routine because our brains seek out patterns and repetition. This is such a motivating force that once you've said "yes" a certain number of times, it can take actual effort to say "no" the next time. So in this case, as I slip from things that are accepted as true to things that are only possibly true, the listeners don't pick up the transition.

I've provided an arguably simple example but I wanted the point to be complete. However if you think back to some conversations you've had, how often do you hear people saying "uh-huh", or "mm-hmm", or just nodding along. I'm sure you can think of situations when you are commiserating with a buddy and they are just agreeing right along with you even about things or situations they may not know anything about.

In Practice
Hopefully you can see how this technique is great for moving people to consent quickly, but what about more difficult situations? This technique can be invaluable in situations where you are being opposed directly or met with skepticism. In those cases, you can apply this technique in combination with other techniques to achieve great results. There are many techniques to diffuse a situation, and this is an excellent way to get yourself out of a minefield and get people heading in the right direction.

Like all techniques, the key is to practice. Find a low-risk environment such as with a friend and practice pacing them. Start with the simple true statements using known commonalities. For example with my Joss Whedon friends I might say how Serenity was such a great flick, then mention how I liked a particular scene, then bring up how the DVD is coming out in December, and then suggest that Wonder Woman might be a stretch for him. True, true, true, speculation.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Road to Influence

This post was a struggle for me because it covers some specific techniques that are a little intense. But it shows a little of the depth of what's possible when you have a serious goal of being able to influence people effectively. I just decided to jump right in rather than ease up to it. The next few posts are a little less extreme and cover topics that might be more accessible and applicable to the less hard-core.

There was a study by some smart people from Boston University Medical School in 1993 where researchers reviewed films of people involved in conversations. They noticed an interesting phenomena in which the people in the conversations began to coordinate their movements. Not in a deliberate way at all, in fact the people exhibiting this behavior were unaware of the effect. The coordination included how they moved fingers and hands, blinks, stance and posture, and head nodding. Digging further they moved on to monitoring the participants using electroencepholographs, a device which monitors brain activity. You have probably heard these devices referred to by the common abbreviation, EEG. When monitored like this they discovered that their brain waves shared common activity spikes. This was in addition to noticing that their heart rates and breathing patterns also began to synchronize. This was just one small piece in a significant body of research to understand how humans develop connections. These kinds of connections are generally referred to as Rapport.

In a general way you can think of rapport as the connection that develops when you are interacting comfortable with someone else. A comfortable interaction usually involves trust and feelings of mutual understanding.

One of the most important aspects of rapport is that you can't force or manufacture rapport. It is a side-effect that emerges when successful connections are made and exercised. Of course, just because you can't fake it doesn't mean you can't increase the possibility of rapport developing during specific interactions.

The Copycat
We all like people who are similar to ourselves. Sure, variety is nice, but sharing commonalities is a basic human motivator. We can put that motivator to work for us when we are seeking to build rapport with others. A common technique for this is called "Mirroring". Like the name implies, this is simply selecting a behavior or action of another person and then repeating that behavior or action. If you can observe the behavior you can mirror it. Common behaviors include:
  • gestures
  • posture
  • vocal pattern including pace, rhythm, and tonality
  • phrasing
  • head and extremity positioning
  • breathing pattern
  • facial expression
  • blink pattern
So let's say you choose to mirror someone who nods. When you observe them nod, delay for a breathe or two and then nod with the same energy and duration. The effect you are going for is for the other person to feel like they are looking in a mirror. If you do this smoothly and with grace it won't be easily noticeable. A good approach to practicing this technique is to mirror people from television, like during interviews or talk shows. Using a one-way situation such as that can allow you to practice being subtle and graceful.

To be very clear, you should always be respectful and subtlety is important. Mirroring is also a two-way street, so you don't want to mirror people who are mentally unbalanced, or who have behavioral issues.

As you become more practiced at mirroring you may notice others using this technique on you. Or you may simply notice that you happen to be in quick rapport with someone. You can break that rapport simply by switching up your behaviors and environment. You can look away, change your vocal rythms, shift your posture dramatically, etc.

If You Lead, They Follow
One of the time-tested techniques for building and confirming rapport is called Pacing and Leading. This is essentially mirroring and then infusing new behaviors into the exchange. A good example of this would be to mirror someone for a while and then when you think you have rapport, do something really different like scratching your ear. If shortly thereafter (less than a minute) they lift their hand to their ear or face or hair, then you have successfully led them. It confirms that you were in rapport and more importantly confirms that you can now influence them at least somewhat.

Going Deeper
There are a great many people who are familiar with rapport-building techniques such as mirroring. One technique that is particularly common is mirroring posture. Because it is so common, there are many people trained to notice the use of this technique. If you are in a situation where someone might pick up on your use of this common technique you can mix things up by using counterpoints. This is essentially substituting your own action as a counterpoint to their action. For example, you can match your finger tapping to their breathing pattern, or your blink pattern to their gestures.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Limiting Beliefs

There are many factors that can prevent people from Moving Forward in their lives. In my own experience the common ones include:
  • Lack of clear Goals
  • Hidden Benefits - Ignoring the benefits of the current situation
  • Limiting Beliefs
  • Habits - the good, the bad, the ugly
Having broached the first few aspects, this post will move on to Beliefs. Beliefs can be an extremely delicate subject but there's lots of good material to draw on.

What the thinker thinks, the prover proves
In the excellent book Prometheus Rising, the author Robert Anton Wilson models the mind as having two main parts; a thinker and a prover. The thinker is extremely flexible, and can think any number of things. The thinker can think the earth is flat; the thinker can think the earth is spherical. It can think all men are evil; it can think all men are essentially good. The thinker can think that women are intuitive and men are rational; it can think the opposite. It can think that there isn't enough to go round; it can think we live in a world of unlimited abundance. The thinker can think pretty much anything.

The prover on the other hand, is much more predictable: what the thinker thinks, the prover proves. Whatever the thinker is thinking, the prover will sort for evidence to support it. If a person thinks that all homeless people are lazy, the prover will sort through their experience to find evidence to support that idea. If they think all homeless people are victims, the prover will find evidence to support that idea. If a person considers themselves to be stupid, the prover will find evidence to support that belief. If a person thinks they are brilliant, the prover will reason a path on which that must be true. What the thinker thinks, the prover proves.

The power of a Belief
The thinker/prover is a straight-forward way of understanding how our beliefs can be so completely valid and realistic, even when we are horribly wrong. Beliefs are one of the most powerful forces of human nature. They empower us with a sense of certainty and direction in an unpredictable world. They are so foundational to our world view that we often fail to remember that they're not necessarily "true". It is these untrue beliefs that can keep us from moving forward. The unspoken "I can't", the invisible "I'm not worth it", the totally bogus "They'll just say No". These are the limiting beliefs which hold us back.

A funny story I once heard that shows the power of Limiting Beliefs is about a girl invited her friend over. She was making a roast for dinner and before putting it in the pan, she cut off the ends. Her friend asked why she did that. She replied that she had always seen her mother do it, so that's why she did it. Later, as she spoke with her mother on the phone, she brought up her friends question. Her mother laughed and explained that her own pan was never big enough to hold the roast and that is why she cut the ends off.

As someone who has mentored dozens of business professionals, I can say that the best part of my day is when I get to help someone who has a limiting belief set that belief aside for just a moment. Watching their face and their eyes light up, like someone pulled back a curtain or turned their vision from black and white to color.

In Practice
The most common way to practice many of the techniques I'll be sharing in these series is through writing. This particular topic is no different. If you want to find out what is inhibiting you (or others), start by writing down the underlying beliefs that are inhibiting you. Sometimes it only takes seeing them on paper to change your perception. Often times it becomes clear that they made sense at one point in time, but haven't necessarily been kept up to date, just like the girl who was cooking the roast.

Once you have the list of limiting beliefs you can begin to add the facts that contradict or do not support these beliefs. Usually during this step you are just assembling data, you aren't judging or making decisions.

Just removing the beliefs that restrict you isn't enough. To begin to move forward you then need to counteract these by finding beliefs that are empowering and positive. You will also want to look for facts that support these beliefs. Once you have your positive beliefs, you can imagine that they are "true", and detach yourself from your Limiting Beliefs.

Another Exercise
To emphasize this point when teaching a group of people I will often conduct an exercise where I get people to shake hands with each other. The first time they imagine that the other person is going to be difficult to deal with. Then they shake hands again, this time pretending the other person is a great friend who has offered to help them. The difference is always profound. Among the many things it demonstrates is that what you are thinking changes the signals you give off.

Going Deeper
When we talk about our beliefs using language, they are structured as cause-effect statements (x causes y) and complex equivalences (x means the same as y). When you're working with others, they'll rarely offer you a full belief statement. Instead, they express only fragments. For example, "I'll never be able to snowboard".

You can get to the missing portion of the belief statement by asking questions. A good general question to a belief fragment is "How do you know?". When you ask "What makes it like that?" or "Why is that so?" you are paving the way for "because" story. For example, "I'll never be able to snowboard because I'm not coordinated." When the person who offered the fragment tries to answer, they'll inherently work through the internal strategy associated with the belief. By watching and listening you can derive a wealth of information. Not only will the verbal response include some or all of what is needed to complete the fragment, but you will have the context needed to begin shifting those beliefs.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Obstacles to Progress

My previous post about the Two Questions brought out a simple technique that can help you focus.  Understanding what you are really working for is absolutely critical if you want to make forward progress towards a goal.  But what about the other factors that can make it difficult for us to accomplish our goals?

Hidden Benefits
To help explain the concept of Hidden Benefits, let me tell a story.  The story is about a team that had been without a leader for quite a while. They were continually reacting to new issues, rushing around trying to solve one issue before the next would invariably pop up. I was brought in to get things on track.  As I looked around it was obvious that if we were going to make any progress at all we needed a more proactive approach. As I worked them through the business variation on the Two Questions (remember the Three Questions variation?) we were able to establish some specific goals for the team that they seemed genuinely excited about. Once we had focus on the goal we moved on to obstacles towards meeting these goals. They were able to list the obvious risks, but those were the easy ones.  If it was as simple as listing obstacles, assigning people to remove them, this group would have gotten back on track already.  So I pushed hard and used a different plan of attack.  It started with turing the Questions on their head and asking a different question:
"What are the benefits of NOT achieving these goals?"
As you can imagine, once you've spent time dreaming up goals and have identified the clear obstacles to success, it would appear that there is no good reason not to achieve their goal. They were quick to point that out. Unanimously they were adamant that there were no benefits to the situation staying as it was.  By continuing to push and providing some starter hints, they were able to start finding benefits.  For example
  • By only reacting, they never really had to prioritize work items.  Everything was always about handling the current crisis.
  • Since everything is happening to them, they couldn't be held accountable for any lack of progress.
  • The chaos of the current crises always gave them something to complain about.
  • They'd be in crisis mode so long, it had become familiar and normal.
Do you see the pattern? This exercise allowed them to uncover all of the hidden benefits they received simply by leaving the situation intact. Should the situation ever get better they would be forced to find other ways to obtain these same benefits.

You can find hidden benefits in almost any situation. Once you have uncovered these benefits, you can then begin to find other ways to reproduce them and still achieve your goals. On the other hand, by not becoming aware of the hidden benefits in a situation, you ignore obstacles to change.

To remove the obstacles that these hidden benefits can pose, you need to identify the needs or wants that the hidden benefit is addressing. There are many potential wants or needs, but they can usually be distilled down into a few general categories. You can use your own categories but I happen to like how Anthony Robbins talks about them. He outlines six basic human needs which go something like:
  • Love and a connection to other people
  • Contribution to something bigger (family, community etc)
  • Predictability, familiarity and security
  • Unpredictability and surprise
  • Growth and learning
  • A sense of importance
Once you have identified the needs or wants being catered to by the hidden benefits, you can then move on to figuring out how to meet your goals and those needs at the same time.

Familiarity as an Obstacle
From time to time you will come across situations where you are certain that there are no benefits to be found in the current situation. When you run into this, examine how long the current situation has existed. Most likely it has been around long enough to have grown familiar. As human beings we have a deeply ingrained desire for familiarity.  To counter this, you can look for alternative ways to provide the same level of consistency & familiarity while still inciting the changes necessary to meet your goals.  Some examples might include daily practices like meditation, exercise, reading, or journaling. These techniques can provide a much needed foundation of stability in a volatile situation.

In Practice
Throughout this series of posts I'll be discussing topics that apply clearly to yourself and your own life. In addition to the personal aspects, I will from time to time explore how these techniques can be applied towards situations outside your personal life.  In this post, I gave some insight into how you can identify Hidden Benefits in the situations you face. But how can you be aware of the hidden benefits that motivate others? By paying attention to inconsistencies in behavior and other non-verbal cues.  In some circles, Hidden Benefits may be referred to as "secondary gain". Secondary gains are often pursued outside of conscious, deliberate action. Those actions that aren't conscious and deliberate are governed by the subconscious mind. Now it just so happens that the subconscious mind is also responsible for body language, voice analogues, and other non-verbal communications. In situations where some form of secondary gain is motivating, you will often be able to detect this.  Examples that would indicate that there are secondary gains present include:
  • verbalizing an affirmation ("yes", "sure") while shaking their head.
  • verbalizing positive statements ("great.", "wonderful.") using a flat or neutral tone.
  • a negative facial expression (grimacing, frowning) while verbalizing a positive desire or outcome.
  • a negative mannerism (pushing motion, leaning back, fidgeting) while verbalizing a positive desire or outcome.
It is easy to incite this behavior simply by asking the person in the situation what the effect of getting what they want will be. Secondary gain incongruities will often show up in their response.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Two Questions

My recent discussions with some friends has encouraged me to begin a new series of writing. The series is about personal effectiveness, successful communication, efficient influencing, and a smattering of other items. It's really a polish on many posts that I've been working on for weeks and months now. Since I've got a few ready to go, I've decided to just start the series and that should spur me to keep the posts coming.

Quite some time ago in a management training class the instructor asked the class if we'd like to know two questions which could change our lives. Since then, I have indeed used those questions consistently. They have undoubtedly been among the most useful questions I've ever asked. Actually, "Is it plugged in? Is it turned on?" would be the most useful questions I've ever learned to ask, but we'll discuss those another time. The questions this particular instructor asked were: "What do you want?", and "How will you know when you've got it?"

People who have worked for me have learned a variation on that theme over the years. With everyone I have trained they are taught to ask three questions to ensure a path to success.
  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • What are steps that will get us there?
  • How will we know we were successful?
Obviously, these are very business-centric versions of the same core principles. In everyday life you might not want to be so deliberate, controlling, and meticulous. Then again, if you have things to accomplish in your life, you may very well want to operate at that level.

What do you want?
This question takes advantage of the fact that humans psychology is fundamentally ‘goal-seeking'. In other words, we operate most effectively when we have a goal or objective. In any specific situation you are faced with, you can invariable begin to focus your thinking by simply asking yourself this question and paying close attention to your answer. You will be surprised at how much the way you answer will reveal about how you think.

A little example of what I'm talking about is the phrase "You Can't Do a Don't".

When you think about your answer, consider if you stated it in the positive or the negative. Examples of the positive would be things such as "to get fit & healthy", "to double your income", "to start a new business", etc. Examples of the negative would be "to quit smoking", "to lose weight", "to stop spending so much", and so forth.

The key to why this is important lies in the fact that negative statements aren't processed psychologically in the same way they are linguistically. For example, if I told you not to think about orange eskimos, you would find it hard to comply. Simply put, you'll organize your actions based on what your thoughts focus on, so if your goal is stated in the negative, you're making it more difficult for yourself. Ensure that you state your goals positively, and it will make it easier for your habits and actions to follow through.

How will you know when you've got it?
When interviewing candidates to mentor and often in casual contact I come across people who will state that their goal is to become rich. When pressed about how they'll know when they are rich, the typical answer involves having more money. My response is to give them a quarter and say "Well done. You're now rich."

More money is of course not specific enough. The next exercise with such a person would be to go into the detail of what they would see, hear, feel, and do when they are rich. A sensory exercise can provide such a rich representation of what success looks like for any particular goal. It is a great way to focus and frame your efforts for the future.

We've discussed how you asking yourselves these questions can be important. How do you apply this to the rest of your life? By asking others those same questions, of course! The trick is that when you ask someone "What do you want?" it's really important to pay attention while you are asking the question. Especially during when they are preparing to give an answer. People will run all sorts of unconscious strategies while searching for the answer to a question. If you are watchful you can discover:
  • how they represent a successful outcome to themselves
  • how they stop themselves from getting what they want
  • how they want several things that are in conflict with each other, etc.
This peripheral information is often not available to the person at a conscious level, so it is imperative that you watch and listen for the eye movements, hand gestures, head movements, and language patterns. As you become skilled, you will realize that most of the time the context and periphery of the response contains more information than the words. I'll discuss other techniques along this line in subsequent posts.