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the best sales people have no shame

April 22, 2014

“The best way to avoid punch, is no be there!”
- Mr Miyagi, The Karate Kid (1984)

Why is it that some people seem to ignore that advice and are able to keep coming back for more?

Most of us don’t. We avoid the punches and for good reason. It makes sense to get out of the way of a fist. But having learned how, we apply the principle unthinkingly to other parts of our lives.

  • We stay in our current job because if we don’t apply for that interesting new role then we can’t be told no.
  • We remain single because if we never ask that interesting other they cannot decline.
  • We don’t call because if we never make a sales call then there is no opportunity for the person on the other end to indicate their level of interest by hanging up on us.
  • We don’t write that story, paint that picture, create anything that scares us ….

Corporate woman with boxing gloves striking a man in a tieWe find apparently valid reasons for not applying, not asking, not creating or not calling to protect ourselves from a future in which our request might be declined – avoiding a punch that may only possibly come our way. We anticipate the punishing bad feelings associated with hearing someone say “no” to us and, understandably, we take (in)action to avoid it.

That is the best way right? I mean Mr Miyagi said so…

No.

There are huge costs associated with avoiding the experience of being told no. I was recently presented with the following numbers in a sales context:

  • half of all sales people NEVER follow-up with a prospect;
  • around a quarter of all sales people make a 2nd contact and stop; and only…
  • 10% of sales people make more than 4 contacts.

When you are avoiding punches that makes perfect sense. A second contact implies the first resulted in a blow to our ego, a third means two previous blows. Each new decline hurting just as much if not more than the first that took much of the wind from our sails. But what have we lost by avoiding the shame triggered by hearing them “no thank you”?

  • only 5% of sales are made on the 1st or 2nd contact;
  • 15% of sales are made on the 3rd or 4th contact; and
  • 80% of sales are made on the 5th to 12th contact.

Why is it that some people can keep coming back for more? What makes them different from the other 90% of the population who give up after just one or two contacts?

The answer lies in how we listen to a “no” and in our strategies for dealing with the negative affect that it triggers.

One way to listen to someone who has declined to take a call from you is that they are declining because of who you are. To hear their rejection of your offer as a rejection of who you are and as evidence that there is something fundamentally wrong with you. After one or two no’s listening that way can cause you to start questioning yourself, whether you are cut out for this sort of work, whether you are actually good at anything.

Another way to listen is that they are declining because of something that you did (or didn’t do). To hear their rejection of your offer as a rejection of something that, for now, they don’t believe they need. One or two of these declines will cause you to start questioning how you are going about things. Can you find out why what you are offering doesn’t meet their needs? Maybe you have failed to make clear what it is you are offering? Are you even calling the right people?

The first decline lands like a punch, the second more like a nudge in a new direction. The first, aligned with Dweck’s “fixed mindset”§, diminishes our global capability by adding one more thing to the list of things that we cannot do. The second, aligned with a “growth mindset”, identifies a local opportunity for us to learn something new or something that requires more practice until we can do it.

In both cases the rejection triggers the punishing feelings associated with the shame affect. What we do with the information it provides is the key.

It is not that the people who do the best in sales have no shame – it is that they are able to notice it and to quickly move past it to ask questions about what they can do differently next time. They use their affect system the way it was designed, as a signal they need to take a different course of action.

The implications extend far beyond people who are “in sales” to putting yourself forward for a new role, writing, painting, sculpting or doing anything creative that others will see. If you want to succeed, instead of asking “What are your strategies for dealing with fear?” find strategies to move yourself past the negative affect triggered by being told “no”. Sometimes it can be as simple as saying “That’s really interesting. Could you tell me more about why you have said no?”

It is that easy. And for many of us, to be honest, it is that hard.

***

§ Dweck, C. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. http://mindsetonline.com/

If you would like me to come and share with you and your team the insights that come from the experiential learning environments that I create, make me an offer via the Contact Me page or via my LinkedIn profile.

If you enjoyed reading this or my other posts and you would like to read more, you can subscribe and receive them via email simply by putting your email address into the Email Subscription box just on the right of my blog home page. You will receive a confirmation email (which some systems will think is spam so keep an eye on your junk mail) that you need to acknowledge to complete the subscription process.

After you have subscribed, send this post on to your friends. Go on. You know at least one person who should read this post and three more who could use a bit of shaking up… seriously. Do it now. You read this far so send it on! I promise they won’t judge you or think less of you if you do.

what are your strategies for dealing with fear?

April 15, 2014

We all experience fear and we all have strategies for dealing with it. Applying for a new job; asking for a pay rise; submitting proposals; cold calling; annual performance review; submitting proposals; asking someone out – all can be rich sources of fear!

Not surprisingly when the question was posed recently in a LinkedIn group for sales professionals it provoked a large number of responses. They ranged from one liners like Take action. “The antidote to fear is action”  to lengthy and wide-ranging posts from people who clearly have many years of sales experience.

The question is an important one because as author and sales coach Jill Konrath (who posed the original question) reflected … the other thing I discovered as I thought through my first year in sales — was that my ability to deal with this fear was what made me successful. It kept me in the game till I actually learned how to sell.

So what advice did people have to offer?

  1. A common piece of advice was to practice – something I am very passionate about. Role playing possible sales conversations is said to build confidence and self-esteem.  I agree.
  2. Taking action by just facing your fear and picking up the phone and calling was another popular suggestion. A more direct form of practice I suppose. The common wisdom seemed to be that you will improve your sales call by making sales calls – a possibly higher stakes version of the role play. Absolutely.
  3. Keeping busy so you don’t have time to think about being afraid, preparing well (even by repeatedly playing back a recording of yourself) or saying to yourself it isn’t personal – the person on the other side of the conversation doesn’t want to hurt you, also got a mention. Yes.
  4. One alternative was to suggest that some people just aren’t cut out for it so make that clear up front and weed them out early – or “find the fearless” among the young who don’t know that they should be afraid! Perhaps.

Regardless of what you think of the answers I think they are asking the wrong question and in doing so they are trying to treat the symptoms and not the cause.

Fear, real fear of the oh my god the lion is going to eat me kind, is critical to our survival. It is designed to cause a change in behaviour like freezing or running away. In that respect advice like remember the other person in the sales conversation doesn’t want to hurt you makes good sense. But we aren’t expecting a prospect to eat us so what are we afraid of?

What we fear is that they will say “no”.

That’s all. One word. No. So why does one word have the same power to instill fear as a lion that might want to eat us?

It is because of the implications that one word has for a number of aspects of ourselves that we care about deeply. You can see some of them in Jill Konrath’s own comments to the discussion:

I felt fear that I wouldn’t make it in sales. I was scared that I couldn’t make my monthly quota. And, when I finally did, I was fearful that I couldn’t do it again.

Some of the things I think we all care deeply about are:

  • Income. A “no” can mean no income. It can mean no income for me and my family.
  • Professional reputation. A “no” can mean my reputation suffers. Too many no’s and my competence may be called into question. If my boss doubts my competence she may decide I am not suited for the job which would mean no income. See point above.
  • Self-confidence. A “no” could mean I am not as suited for this job as I thought I was. See point above.
  • Self-esteem. A “no” can mean I am no good. A no could be a rejection of who I am. See point above.

Holding onto a handrail for supportThose are the no’s that we do not want to hear. Those are the no’s that we fear. They strike at the heart of who we think we are and the things we are most interested in protecting and enhancing.

In Silvan Tomkins’ Affect Script Psychology what I have just described are the classic triggers for what Tomkins called the shame affect. Tomkins believed we had nine innate affects – interest, fear, startle, distress, anger, enjoyment, disgust, dismell and shame. For sound evolutionary reasons the shame affect is hardwired into us to let us know when something is getting in the way of something good that we want.

It needs to feel bad in order to capture our attention and it feels bad in proportion to our level of interest or desire in obtaining the positive outcome. You cannot not trigger these innate affects – you simply could not live without them.

Generating income is something into which many of us invest a lot of time and energy. We all want to be thought well of by others and particularly by our partner, our friends, our peers and our employers. As a result our level of interest in obtaining, and maintaining, both our income and our professional reputation is high. Any impediment to that interest triggers the shame affect and we feel bad, very bad. (That is part of what is happening when people are made redundant.)

What makes it worse is that we are clever creatures and, once we have survived our teenage years, we can project into the future and anticipate the bad things that might happen to us. We learn to anticipate events that might trigger the shame affect in us and we do what we can to avoid them.

Our affect system is the cause of all the symptoms and it is the place you need to direct your awareness. If you want strategies to “deal with fear” the better questions to ask are:

What are my strategies for dealing with the shame generated by my anticipating that someone will say “no” to me?
What are my strategies for dealing with the shame generated when they do say no to
me?

Answers to the first question are what gets you to pick up the phone and make the first call, the answers to the second are what keeps you making those calls even if they repeatedly say “no”. It is what keeps you in the game until you actually learn how to sell, how to get to “yes!”

I would go so far as to say that the best sales people have no shame and I will tell you why that is in my next post.

***

If you would like me to come and share with you and your team the insights that come from the experiential learning environments that I create, make me an offer via the Contact Me page or via my LinkedIn profile.

If you enjoyed reading this or my other posts and you would like to read more, you can subscribe and receive them via email simply by putting your email address into the Email Subscription box just on the right of my blog home page. You will receive a confirmation email (which some systems will think is spam so keep an eye on your junk mail) that you need to acknowledge to complete the subscription process.

After you have subscribed, send this post on to your friends. Go on. You know at least one person who should read this post and three more who could use a bit of shaking up… seriously. Do it now. You read this far so send it on! I promise they won’t judge you or think less of you if you do.

a mood of redundancy…

April 8, 2014

Upset man on stairs with his head in his handsThere seems to be a lot of it around at the moment. Redundancy that is. Some close friends and colleagues have come face to face with it in recent times. For some it came quickly and for others it has longer time frame attached. Regardless of the timing, I imagine it can feel a bit like you’ve been kicked in the stomach and had your world turned upside down.

Admittedly those approaching retirement might be pleased with their “package” but for many income security is the most immediate concern. Career progression (assuming there continues to be a career!) is often the next thing on the mind of those who now face the prospect of finding a new role in a different organisation. Then there is the underlying impact on self-esteem and self-confidence of being “redundant”, of being considered surplus to requirements.

It is not surprising that anxiety, distress, fear, anger and shame are common responses. The emotional ripples spread far and wide and they change the mood of all the people that they touch. While redundancy (and the associated “package”) is the domain of the permanent employee, for every employee announced as redundant there is usually at least one contractor that will not have their contract renewed, a consultant who is no longer needed and a supplier who will lose a big client and a big chunk of their cash flow.

It creates a mood of redundancy and that is dangerous because if you are not careful it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Moods, your mood and the mood of the organisation, opens up and closes down futures in ways that few people understand. And I guess that is what I wanted to share in this post. If you have been made redundant recently your mood matters.

I don’t mean to say that in a “Don’t worry, everything will turn out ok. You just need to stay positive… [smiles encouragingly]” sort of way. But I will say that if you can look at what is underneath any negative moods you are experiencing I am confident you will achieve more positive outcomes. (Don’t take my word for it though. I am making that assertion based on a fusion of the work of two great thinkers – Silvan Tomkins and his Affect Script Psychology and Fernando Flores’ ontological discourse.)

In essence, our moods are self-sustaining emotional states driven by how we are thinking about the future. The only way that we can think about the future is to take what we think we know about the past (perhaps adding some other information we have gained from various sources outside our direct experience) and creating futures that we think are possible. Then we act based on those possible futures.

Take for example a mood commonly associated with redundancy – resignation. I think you would agree a mood of resignation comes from having accepted something unpleasant or negative that you cannot do anything about. Because there is nothing that you can do, that is the future that will be created.

I know what you are thinking. I have been made redundant. The company I work for is closing down – there is nothing I can do about that.

That may well be true. Saving the company may be beyond your capabilities. But moods are sneaky. They can colour all of your thinking in the same way the proverbial grey coloured glasses colour everything you see.

If you believe there is nothing you can do to change the future then you will not be able to see the opportunities that are available to you. Your body will register the distress or anger and your mind, bathed in a mood of resignation and so believing in the inevitability of that negative future, will confirm there is nothing you can do to avoid it and then in response magnify your fear and your distress. That reinforces your resignation and round and round you go.

This is the realm of the statement “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t you are right”.

So I do want to say “You need to stay positive”. (I can’t guarantee it will all be OK and I think worry is useful because it helps us to see what it is we care about.)

It might seem like it is too simplistic to be helpful, but asking yourself what opinions about the future sit underneath your moods is a powerful way of creating new, and possibly better, futures for yourself. No future is guaranteed so the best we can do is guess at what it might be like. So if you find yourself feeling resigned to a particularly negative future, ask yourself is it really true that nothing you do matters because nothing you could do would change the future?

What if there was something? Can you allow for the possibility that there might be something you could do to create a different, more positive future? Would you be interested in that? Could you spend some time wondering what that something might be?

Try it right now. Take one minute to wonder about what you could do to create a better future. Then check on your mood.

I bet you noticed a change. Perhaps you found yourself in a mood of curiosity? And you feel different,  a little better? Because now it is possible to do something to create a better future. Now you are able to start to see the opportunities around you that allow that to happen.

Your body will register your curiosity and interest and your lower levels of distress and anger. Your mind, open now to the possibility of a more positive future, can  confirm the mood of curiosity as appropriate and will magnify your interest in finding the action that will bring that possible future into reality. That reinforces your mood of curiosity and round and round you go.

If  you are not convinced that your mood is tangled up in your assessments of the future then just cast your mind back to last Friday lunch time or the day before you went on annual leave. Your mood will have been linked to what was going to happen in the days that followed. Perhaps your mood could be described as resolute – “I can get through what ever they throw at me today because after 5 pm I am on holidays”.  Perhaps it was anxious – “I have so many things to do at home before we can leave for our family holiday tomorrow, I don’t know how I am going to get through them all.”

Try it. If you can find a mood that is not tied to how you are thinking about the future tell me about it in a comment. There might even be a prize.  I have a mood of confidence though – I see a future in which you cannot do anything to prove me wrong!

***

If you would like me to come and share with you and your team the insights that come from the experiential learning environments that I create, make me an offer via the Contact Me page or via my LinkedIn profile.

If you enjoyed reading this or my other posts and you would like to read more, you can subscribe and receive them via email simply by putting your email address into the Email Subscription box just on the right of my blog home page. You will receive a confirmation email (which some systems will think is spam so keep an eye on your junk mail) that you need to acknowledge to complete the subscription process.

After you have subscribed, send this post on to your friends. Go on. You know at least one person who should read this post and three more who could use a bit of shaking up… seriously. Do it now. You read this far so send it on! I promise they won’t judge you or think less of you if you do.

the gift of seeing into the future

April 4, 2014

The last slide was headed “Take home messages.” Along with Take the time now to review what worked and what didn’t and Do not fail to plan was this statement:

Don’t do it the first time for real!

Many organisations have plans in place to deal with emergency situations, natural disasters and other types of business interruptions. Not all those organisations actually practice their plans. Apparently only a handful then think outside the limits of the plans as they are written to wonder “What if …?” or ask someone outside the organisation to assess their performance, give feedback and facilitate reflection.

Practice is critically important because when you are actually in it, doing it under pressure, you get to see first hand the quality of the decisions you make. You can see how you and other people on your team behave under pressure and find out what you will actually do when there are only two of you left and there are seven things that need to be done – now!

Reflecting on how you behaved after the event, wondering “What if…?” and inviting feedback from others helps you to imagine new possibilities.

That kind of experience gives you the gift of seeing into the future so you can come back to the present and do things differently.

I think Ric Elias would agree. You probably don’t know Ric but  you might have heard about the plane that crash-landed in the Hudson River in New York in January 2009? Ric had a seat in the front row. His five-minute TED talk 3 things I learned while my plane crashed is a compelling take on the same theme. Your life can change in an instant.

That kind of experience gives you the gift of seeing into the future so you can come back to the present and live differently.

It happens during a Samurai Game – not the plane crash but the opportunity to see into the future! You get the opportunity to practice, to do it under pressure, and then to reflect with others who have shared the experience with you. What the majority of people are surprised to discover is that they often have completely different perceptions of what actually happened.  They always have different justification for their behaviors and the choices they made – different justifications for how they lived.

Sharing “what I would do in that situation” is one thing, discussing and reflecting on”what I did in that situation” is another thing altogether.

You need the people in your organisation practicing before they have to do it for real. Ethical case studies, like the documents that set out your emergency plan, are a good place to start but they don’t give you the experience that comes with actual practice. Coaching people to improve their communication or leadership style by saying “not everyone sees the situation the same way that you do” is not anywhere near as powerful as the opportunity to experience the subjective nature of our shared reality first hand.

The greatest value comes from the kind of experience that lets you see into the future so you can come back to the present and be differently.

Whatever it is – you need to find an opportunity to practice it. Emergency response plans, ethical decision-making, difficult conversations or even CPR.

Find a way to practice. Today.

You don’t want to do any of them the first time for real.

***

This is a revisiting of a post first published in 2011 called don’t do it the first time for real. If you would like me to come and share with you and your team the insights that come from the experiential learning environments that I create, make me an offer via the Contact Me page.

If you enjoyed reading this or my other posts and you would like to read more, you can subscribe and receive them via email simply by putting your email address into the Email Subscription box just on the right of my blog home page. You will receive a confirmation email (which some systems will think is spam so keep an eye on your junk mail) that you need to acknowledge to complete the subscription process.

After you have subscribed, send this post on to your friends. Go on. You know at least one person who should read this post and three more who could use a bit of shaking up… seriously. Do it now. You read this far so send it on! I promise they won’t judge you or think less of you if you do.

females can’t sing

March 18, 2014
http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/image/5300718-3x2-700x467.jpg

Image: The Girl Can Sing. (John Young) via http://www.abc.net.au/rn

I was told it is true. They can’t.

Ever since Darwin determined it to be so in The Origin of the Species birdsong has been defined as something that males do. The primary role of the female is to listen and then choose a male to mate with. If you don’t believe me look up “birdsong” in a dictionary or a text-book. Males have the power to vocalise their desire, females listen and choose. Males use their song to compete, to get ahead, to defend their territory and secure a nest for their mate.

And yes, I can already hear your objections, there are some females who sing. They are rare and they are considered atypical. That is how it has been for, well, hundreds if not thousands of years.  That is the story we and all the researchers since Darwin’s time have lived in. It is what we are taught in schools and in Universities and, like everything else we learn, that makes it true. Females can’t sing.

Except it is not true. Turns out we got the story wrong.

Recently publicized research from the University of Maryland, the University of Melbourne, the Australian National University and Leiden University in the Netherlands overturns what has been a long bias in songbird research. It concludes that female song was present in the ancestors of all songbirds, and today remains in 71 per cent of the songbird species surveyed. Dr Naomi Langmore, from the Research School of Biology at ANU, found Australian species including include lyrebirds, fairy-wrens, honeyeaters, fantails, whistlers and magpies feature bird song from both males and females and that female birds are able to ‘whistle up melodies equal to those of their male counterparts’.

Dr Langmore concludes, ‘Female song can no longer be considered an evolutionary oddity.’

We got the story wrong and that is important because the story prevented researchers from seeing what is right in front of their ears. No one has ever disputed that birdsong is a powerful capacity to use in the competition for food, nest sites, mates and territories. Despite daily evidence to the contrary the common wisdom was that only the male of the species had that power.

As of today you know different.

The stories we live in determine our futures. Believing I am too skinny, too old or not funny looking enough to achieve my goals will mean that any evidence to the contrary, like female birds singing, will be considered an anomaly. A belief that I have always been a bookish type and not good at sports will present a huge barrier to my participation in any sport at any level at any time in my life.

Believing that I am not capable of leading will mean that, despite evidence to the contrary, I will not look for opportunities to lead and I am likely to decline them if they are offered to me.

More damaging though are the stories we tell ourselves about other people. The media, Government and others in positions of power know this to be true. It doesn’t matter what the actual qualities (positive or negative) of the person or group concerned, if I can get you to buy into my story about them then I have enormous influence over how you treat them.

Good CEOs know it too. They know they need to do more than just hold the vision. They need to tell the story about what it is all about. If they have no story, they have no influence.

When you have finished here read this HBR article “Stop fixing women and start fixing managers“. Notice the call for the CEO to frame the issue differently?

It is a call for CEOs to tell a different story.

The lesson beginning to emerge as companies’ progress on gender balance stalls is that we have relied on the wrong analysis of the problem [the wrong story!]. We have spent decades thinking that the lack of balance in business was caused by women doing the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing or even wearing the wrong thing.

We have spent far too long believing that females can’t sing. They can and they do, as well as or better than males.

But it goes further than that.  The stories we tell ourselves about what qualities are needed to succeed in business date back two centuries to before Darwin. Are you certain they still hold true in the face of  evidence to the contrary? What if we held a story that said that empathy, collaboration and teamwork are the critical capabilities we need to succeed in this century and the next? What would our leaders look like then?

Your ability to become aware of the stories you live in, to be open to and welcome evidence (new or otherwise) that shifts or changes or completely overturns your stories is a skill that will determine your success as a leader and the quality of the future we all will live in. It will be difficult but if you agree with me that change is required then that is where we need to start.

Change the story, change our future.

***

If you would like me to come and share with you and your team the insights that come from the experiential learning environments that I create, make me an offer via the Contact Me page.

If you enjoyed reading this or my other posts and you would like to read more, you can subscribe and receive them via email simply by putting your email address into the Email Subscription box just on the right of my blog home page. You will receive a confirmation email (which some systems will think is spam so keep an eye on your junk mail) that you need to acknowledge to complete the subscription process.

After you have subscribed, send this post on to your friends. Go on. You know at least one person who should read this post and three more who could use a bit of shaking up… seriously. Do it now. You read this far so send it on! I promise they won’t judge you or think less of you if you do.

breaking, bad is good

March 11, 2014

Different colured bunsen burner flames

Walter White did more than make chemistry “bad” in the best possible way, he demonstrated what we are capable of when faced with all the worst kinds of adversity.  So while the results, the human cost, of Walt’s achievements caused me to turn away about half way through the first season he is still a wonderful, fictionalised, example of what we all know – difficult situations, situations that we fear might break us, provide us with an opportunity to achieve things we never thought we were capable of.

Bad can be good for us.

Research supports this view.  Dr Terrance Fitzsimmons from the UQ Business School, in his Doctoral research on CEO appointments in Australia, found there are five things that the vast majority of the small number of female CEO’s have in common. One of them was that they had met and overcome a significant and traumatic life event before the age of 15.

Malcolm Gladwell explores the same theme in his book David & Goliath. He finds that the loss of a parent at an early age is a common experience for many who are successful in the political arena. Is your child struggling to read? Take heart in the fact that they share that life experience with the likes of Kerry Packer, Dick Smith, Stephen Spielberg and Lindsay Fox.  It is very much a case of the old adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

So if dealing with the difficult makes it easier for us to succeed in the longer term why do we spend much of our lives avoiding the difficult? Why do we demand that everything be made easy, provided to us in 15 second sound bites or blog posts of 700 words or less? In one of his recent LinkedIn posts, author Daniel Goldman (Focus, Emotional Intelligence) was criticised in a number of comments because his post on working with untrustworthy people didn’t provide “the whole answer” and included multiple links to other material he suggested people read. The view seemed to be that Goldman was deliberately manipulating them to get them to read additional material – rather than seeing that it is a complex and difficult area that cannot be explained let alone solved in 700 words.  Stone, Patten, Heen and Fisher’s book Difficult Conversations: How to discuss what matters most runs considerably longer than that, and, while it is recognised for making significant and lasting contribution to the field I suspect the authors would be the first to tell you there is more to it than is contained in the book.

Why is that?

Because human beings are not simple. Our complexity makes the myriad responses we are capable of difficult to understand. It is how we respond to the difficult that is the key to determining whether we are harmed or strengthened by the roadblocks life puts in our way.

The evidence points to early success in dealing with the difficult breeding ongoing success and conversely, early failure leading to on-going failure. (Gladwell points out that prisoners are between two and three times more likely to have experienced the loss of a parent at an early age.)

But how does that help you?

Take just one of the challenges I am working on at the moment, the lack of women at Board, CEO and senior management levels in organisations world-wide. How can we increase an individual’s chance of success without taking what seems to be the logical but drastic step of depriving them of one or both parents at an early age?

The solution, I think, lies in developing the skills needed to respond effectively to difficult situations in organisations. That much is obvious. What is less obvious but more important (and more difficult) is providing the opportunity to practice those skills in meaningful ways. That means creating breakdowns for people to respond to – difficult, challenging and engaging work that has zero associated financial and reputational risk. It can be done. But as I am already over my 700 word limit, exactly how you can go about doing that will have to wait for another day.

If you would like a hint you could read other posts that I have written as my thinking around the solution has fermented:

***

If you would like me to come and share with you and your team the insights that come from the experiential learning environments that I create, make me an offer via the Contact Me page. If you enjoyed reading this or my other posts and you would like to read more, you can subscribe and receive them via email simply by putting your email address into the Email Subscription box just on the right of my blog home page. You will receive a confirmation email (which some systems will think is spam so keep an eye on your junk mail) that you need to acknowledge to complete the subscription process.

After you have subscribed, send this post on to your colleagues. Go on. You know at least one person who should read this post and three more who could use a bit of shaking up… seriously. Do it now – it isn’t difficult! You read this far so send it on! I promise they won’t judge you or think less of you if you do.

death to the facilitators, long live the difficultator!

March 4, 2014

I am calling for a revolution.

Facilitators need to rounded up and run out-of-town. Making things easy must be outlawed.

And you know why. You’ve been there. A room full of people looking at “The Problem” where nobody trusts anyone else enough to let them lead the conversation. Enter the Expert Facilitator, engaged to make things easier. Plausible solutions start to appear and are captured (like wild animals) to be tamed into tasks that other people will be given accountability for completing.  The Problem has been solved! Or it will be after a few more meetings to sort out the specific details with the individuals involved…

Backs are patted and thanks are given.

Success is declared.

Except you know there is little chance it will be. A success that is.

And you know why. Because the facilitator made things easier. The truly difficult conversations didn’t take place. The plausible solutions are only plausible if you can acquire the corporate equivalent of a pair of ruby slippers and you know they don’t sell them in your size.

Training is the same.

You know before you go that you cannot fail. The trainer will ‘facilitate’ your learning. But you know what? Having someone there to make it easy for you turns it into a lose-lose situation. You lose because you don’t retain the skills or knowledge that is the whole point of the training. The organisation loses for exactly the same reason plus they paid to have you there. This is thinking at the level that created our problems and it is not going to help you solve them.

A revolution is required to bring about an end to the facilitator. An end to the trainer who makes things easy for you.

As the statues of Expert Facilitators are toppled in towns and cities around the world I would erect nothing in their place – that would only make it easy for you. And easy will not help us.

If you want to make a difference you need to find yourself a difficultator. They are not interested in hearing that you don’t have time, that your resources are limited or that Jo from Engineering is the source of all your problems. They are not interested in easy.

If you are lucky enough to find one you can be sure they will put the obstacles of reality into the path of you and your team. Provocations will be offered, unspeakable questions spoken. Easy to agree with solutions blocked and ruby slippers  held up and shown to be movie props – simple and elegant for sure but props just the same. Stakes are taken from their holders who are sent back to try again – this time taking account of a deeper understanding of the prevailing conditions within the organisation. A mirror is held up to help you stay focused on the question “for the sake of what are we doing this?”

Like the Fate of War in the Samurai Game, the serve you best when they are arbitrary, capricious and unfair. Why? Because the world is all that and more and easy will not help you.

Give up on calling a facilitator to make things easy for you. If you want solutions and you are prepared to do the work that is required to get you where you want to go (Kansas or otherwise) start searching for a difficultator. It will make all the difference.

(Perhaps I am being too quick in calling for the death of the facilitator. There may be a role for them yet – documenting the results of the process. Nobody likes to do that…)

***

This post was inspired by Augusto Boal’s idea of the difficultator or Joker in his Theatre of the Oppressed. If you would like me to come and share with you and your team the insights that come from the experiential learning environments that I create, make me an offer via the Contact Me page. If you enjoyed reading this or my other posts and you would like to read more, you can subscribe and receive them via email simply by putting your email address into the Email Subscription box just on the right of my blog home page. You will receive a confirmation email (which some systems will think is spam so keep an eye on your junk mail) that you need to acknowledge to complete the subscription process.

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