When most of us think about moving our people to take action – be it to shift their darn behavior to achieve better workplace results or simply to make the commitment to invest in themselves/their organization by purchasing our company’s product or solution, we usually think about understanding where that person is coming from. We’ve been told and taught to be empathetic to the problem(s) said person or people are experiencing. And for most of us, we spend our time choosing words and sculpting messages that are persuasive and invite people to take action NOW, by focusing on the solution.
In his new book, To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink suggests that actually, we’ve got it all wrong. It’s not enough to get inside people’s hearts…even though we know most people make decisions based on the way they feel. We actually need to spend more time getting inside their heads.
To prove his claim, Pink gives a variety of examples, including a 2008 negotiation where a group of negotiators were divided into 3 groups – 1/3 of the negotiators were told to imagine what the other party was feeling (empathy), 1/3 of the negotiators were told to imagine what the other party was thinking (perspective taking), and the final 1/3 was told nothing (the control group). The 1/3 that focused on perspective taking, as I’m sure you have surmised, were more able to strike a mutually-beneficial agreement.
If we approach Pink’s conclusion from neuroscience, this claim is irrefutable. Because we know from neuroscience, and if you’ve been in my world for a period of time you’ve heard me say this umpteen times, that our belief systems shape our moment-to-moment thoughts. And the way we think, gives birth to the way we feel. And yes, the way we feel determines the actions we take. However, it’s our belief systems that jumpstart the process toward action. If we want people to act – whether we are negotiating, presenting, giving feedback, or seeking to resolve conflict – the lesson is that we need to dial-up our listening and the questions we ask to elicit information so that we really understand what’s going on inside of people’s heads, rather than allowing ourselves to get stuck overprocessing their emotions.
Another one of Pink’s bold and potent claims, which on first read sounds counter to what “good” sales training or persuasion posits, is that we need to shift from seeking to solve other people’s problems to enabling them to find new ones. According to Pink, most of the people whose behavior we are seeking to shift have interpreted their problem incorrectly. For example, perhaps we have an employee or client who is chronically late and it’s driving us – and probably in most cases, them – bonkers. Most habitually late people – and those of us seeking to shake the late out of them – would see this as a time management problem and prioritize time management strategies. However, most people’s behavior is indicative of the symptom rather than the source of a problem. In actuality, the person could have any number of problems that s/he – and we – don’t see. Employee/client doesn’t use direct communication at home to ask his/her partner to share in the responsibility of driving a child to school. Employee/client suffers privately from debilitating self-talk, of which lateness is just one manifestation. The key, from a moving people to take action perspective, is shifting from answering our people’s questions (or assuming we know what they are and going straight to speaking at them) to “asking questions- uncovering possibilities, surfacing latent issues, and finding unexpected problems” which we can co-create solutions to.
I invite you to bring to mind someone whose behavior you are seeking to shape. Consider what is going on inside that person’s head. You can start by describing the behaviors to yourself, and then move backwards. Momentarily think about how that behavior is likely a product of the way the person is feeling. (Another book I’m reading right now, Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, suggests that shame is often the feeling spawning a lot of our behavior.) Then, allow yourself to climb into that person’s head to see the belief system(s) that are likely producing the person’s thoughts which are producing the observed behaviors. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, consider how you can empower the person to identify the real problem, likely a new yet to be voiced problem, that s/he needs support solving. My guess is that you will find you are having a different, more effective conversation as a result.