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Author: Dan Docherty

Active Listening vs. Hearing – Do you know the difference?

      Does the title of this blog capture your attention?  There is no doubt that this is a tough one for me. In the essence of humility, I have often struggled with the difference between listening and hearing. People have asked me the question, “Are you a good listener?” and I would answer yes even though others close to me may disagree. 


      In reality, I think we are asking the wrong question. The real question is this, “Are you good at active listening?” The difference between the two will be instrumental in having a high-quality vs. a low-quality relationship. 


  • Listening is an ACTIVE mental process – the art of paying thoughtful attention with a mind toward understanding the complete message being delivered. 
  • Hearing is receiving information.


      Think about our world today. We need active listeners more than ever. A lot is riding on this concept. I would be so bold to say that our future depends on knowing the difference. 


     Five years ago, I was given the assignment to interview an executive. The instructions were clear, interview an outstanding performer, “coach” them for an hour, and try to facilitate a positive mental framework the entire time. I was apprehensive, to say the least. 


     As I stepped into the office of a very busy executive who wasn’t sure what I was doing there and why she was being interviewed, I simply needed to trust the process. To trust the process, it was critical that I do more than listen and that I must dial into a deeper level of active listening. Can you imagine someone you don’t know very well walking into your office in the middle of the day to interview you for an hour? Trust me, it wasn’t the most comfortable of situations. My anxiety level was high, but fortunately my professor and mentor provided me with a set of provocative questions. 


  • If your life were perfect, and your dreams came true, what would your life and work be like in 10-15 years?
  • What are the values and virtues that are most important to you?
  • What kind of person would you love to be?
  • Who helped you the most become who you are or get to where you are?
  • What would you wish your legacy to be? 


     Those are some excellent questions. I hope that you are sitting somewhere at work, home, or vacation, and you’ve stopped reading to think about those questions in your life. The interview was a fantastic exploration of another person’s journey. 


      Here was the real breakthrough moment. In one hour, I knew more about this relative stranger than I did about people who had worked for me for over five years. It was a sobering realization and one that made me realize that I get so focused on myself that I don’t actively listen to someone else’s story. WOW!! There is no doubt that this exchange changed me at the core, and after the interview I sat in the parking lot for over an hour, processing what just happened.  The combination of questions, focus, and sincere interest in someone else turned this from an assignment to a mission 


Four plus years later, I vividly remember another professor putting up a slide with the following definitions. The slide had the descriptions of listening and hearing.  


      During the class, we watched a funny clip from the hit television show “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and I had a tipping point moment. I’m an “ok” listener but NOT a great active listener. After the clip, we were provided three tips about the mindset of active listening. (Another great clip is from the movie “Patch Adams,” featuring the late great Robin Williams and both clips are included below for your reference.)


  1. Suspend judgment – approach interactions as a chance to mine for gold not dig for dirt (that ought to make us think)
  2. Maintain an open mind – if you have already made up your mind, you will not hear anything new
  3. Be fully present – the other person deserves your full attention (this means stop multi-tasking)


     Look at the three tips more carefully. To “suspend judgment” illustrates that we have to slow down and turn the attention away from ourselves. To “maintain an open mind” demonstrates the direct opposite of having a closed mind. To “be fully present” means stop multi-tasking. 



     In hindsight, the interview was a success because of these three principles. I challenge you to go into your next three conversations with a mindset of active listening, NOT just hearing. For most of us, this will take practice and discipline. I believe that our relationships demand it. Best of luck.




Everybody Loves Raymond

Patch Adams

Keeping Your Eyes on the Horizon

     This past weekend, my wife and I had the opportunity to spend a few days at beautiful Lake Oconee in Central Georgia with dear friends of ours from Cincinnati. If you have never been to Lake Oconee, I highly recommend it. Our weekend was filled with relaxation, laughs, reading, great food, euchre, and outdoor activities. The weather was perfect, and the atmosphere couldn’t have been better. As you begin your summer activities, I hope you get a chance to find a place where you can take a deep breath, count your blessings amidst the current chaos, and be reminded that our country is beautiful.   


      As my friends know, l love the pure joy of being on the water, whether it is paddling a kayak or attempting to look calm on a Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP). My wife and I had the opportunity to SUP this weekend. As we walked across the dock, put our knees on the board, and pushed away from the edge, I was quickly reminded that the sport is called “stand up paddleboarding” and not “kneeboarding,” or “stomach boarding.” Maintaining your balance and relaxing on a paddleboard isn’t easy. For those of you that can practice yoga on a paddleboard, congratulations, you have my deepest respect. 


  Once we finally launched from the dock, the real adventure began.  I found myself giving pointers to my wife as we attempted to maneuver around and through the oncoming waves that were being generated by ski boats, wave runners, and even pontoon boats. In the essence of humility, the advice I was providing to my wife was being given as I took a few face plants into the water myself. I was reminded that continuous learning is a gift, or at least that is what I’ve been told. 


      As we were heading back in, I asked my wife what she felt were the three biggest challenges to Stand Up Paddleboarding.  Her response was immediate and unequivocally clear, “standing up,” “arm fatigue,” and “looking down instead of ahead.” After my wife finished paddling, I decided to go out for another 45 minutes so that I could cross the channel and circle this beautiful island. As I was paddling I thought about what my wife said and how the same challenges to paddleboarding also challenge us in life and business. 


      As I continued across the lake, it dawned on me that there are a few simple tips to overcome the challenges described by my wife. 


Challenges Tips
Standing Up 
  • Use the paddle as a support tool by laying it perpendicular to the board as you stand  
Arm Fatigue
  • Use your arms, stomach, hips, legs, and feet to take the pressure off your arms 
Looking Down Instead of Ahead
  • Keep your eyes up and look at the horizon


    Then it hit me like a paddle to the head: those are also great tips for life during these times. 


  • When you get knocked down, and you have to stand back up, use the resources around you to support your efforts
  • When you get tired, challenge yourself to use your mind, body, and spirit to channel energy
  • When you spend most of the time looking down, start looking up to see the vision of where you are going 


     As I was heading back to the dock, I thought about the path I needed to take so I picked a spot on the horizon, and that became my focal point. I stayed fixated on that location so I could better read the waves coming at me, see on-coming boats, and take in the beauty of Lake Oconee. The additional benefit to looking out at a point on the horizon was that the board also stayed straight, and I didn’t go off course. 


     This summer, I hope that you can get a moment to lift your head and assess where you are going as you journey into the second half of 2020. Happy paddling! Oh yeah, don’t forget that when the wave of life knocks you down, get back up! 

A Janitor and The Class Reunion

    If you could…would you go back to high school? I’m not sure of your experience, but I wouldn’t go back even though I enjoyed those formative years. Fortunately, there is the historical tradition of a class reunion that allows all of us to see old friends, tell stories, and reminisce about the good, the bad, and the ugly of our high school days. 


    When I graduated, my 600+ classmates dispersed all around the world, and I wouldn’t see most of them again until the five or ten-year reunion. When you think about prepping for your reunion experiences, did you get excited and energized, or was it more like apprehensive, nervous, fearful, and nauseous?    


    Since the very first reunion was ever held, this is the question that needs to be asked:  “Do we go to reunions to learn about what others have done or are dreaming to do, or do we go to judge and be judged by what we have or have not done ourselves? 


     We all think and care about what people think of us. It’s human nature. So as I was prepping to attend my ten-year reunion, I felt great about walking in. I was happily married to my college sweetheart, we were on the verge of starting our family, my pharmaceutical career was doing great, and life was good. 


     The night came and as we arrived I quickly began to notice the superficial and repetitive nature of the questions being asked. 


  • What do you do? 
  • How are you doing? 
  • How is it going? 
  • Where do you live? 


     As this continued to go on, I decided to take a risk and go in a different direction. One I hoped would elicit a different response. So I began to ask one simple question, “Have you found your passion in life?” 


    That simple yet complex question yielded the most incredible responses. Person after person lit up as they shared very personal stories of success and failures. This one simple question cut through the clutter and noise of the bland conversation and penetrated the heart of the person I was communicating with that evening. 


     Then at one point in the evening, I walked up to an old friend I had not seen since graduation. I asked the question about “passion,” as I had done all night long, and he just stood there in silence, staring at me. He then told me that no one had ever asked him that question. As he started to talk, I could see the emotion in his eyes. His answer was a simple “Yes”. 


    After that, I was curious as to what he was doing for a living. He went on to explain that he was employed as one of the janitors in our high school. He then shared how he was nervous about sharing that news with others because his life choices might not meet the expectation of what others might think he should be. He explained how he loves being around the energy of the school, the impact of the environment created by and for the students, and the opportunity he gets to be with his family every evening for dinner. How amazing is that? 


    What dawned on me in recalling this is that when we operate in a place of purpose, it does the following.


  • Alters our perspective
  • Shifts the energy of a conversation
  • Reinforces what impact is all about
  • Makes a difference for others
  • Has long-term value in building relationships


    After reflecting on that evening and writing this blog, it is the only conversation that I remember from that night. 


     How about you? Do you live in a constant social rat race of being what you think you ought to be? Living a life that is defined by what others want you to be is self-limiting. We all know that social media doesn’t help us with this. 


     We need to learn to focus on who we want to be and how we can get there. Remember the phrase “bloom where you are planted!” This phrase centers on taking advantage of the opportunities you have in life right where you are.  


    Thinking back to my high school reunion, it’s amazing how a single conversation can change your world. So a huge thanks to my friend for impacting me in ways he never knew. Until now!  




Emotional Contagion

     As we have lived through the last three months, all of us have been impacted by emotionally charged messages. From the words and warnings of our leaders forcing us into isolation, to the stories of resolution and bravery from our first responders.  Over this past weekend, news stories from around the country have demonstrated how emotionally charged messages can bring us out of isolation and into the streets.  Some of those involved in these protests have brought a message of positivity and needed change, but unfortunately, those messages have been swamped by the negatively charged emotions which shows the speed of how contagious emotions can be, whether they are positive or negative.      


    Have you ever considered the complexity and depth of the good and the bad that is created from these two powerful words; “emotion” and “contagion?” Look carefully at these definitions.    

  • Contagionthe communication of disease from one person to another by close contact. 


  • Emotionconscious mental reaction (i.e., anger or fear) subjectively experienced as a strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological & behavioral changes in the body (“Merriam-Webster Dictionary,” 2020). 

What happens when we put these words together and define “Emotional Contagion?” 

  • Emotional contagion –  the phenomenon of having one person’s emotions & related behavior directly triggers similar emotions and behaviors in other people (Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1993). 

    Emotions trigger behaviors and then those behaviors spread. In our blogs, we often discuss these types of topics in the context of sales and coaching conversations. Today, we are extending the dialog to business and life conversations. 


    You know what it is like when you are around someone whose positive emotions are contagious. It is that contagious phenomenon that makes us want to be around those people because it boosts our energy and that is then transferred to making us feel happy. The flip side of this coin is when we are around someone that has negative emotions.  They are unfortunately just as equally contagious.  So as the news continues to bombard us with stories, take notice of both the positive and negative emotional contagions and how it impacts behaviors.   Here is a great example of a positive contagion I hope you choose to participate in.


    A couple of weeks ago we launched a new episode of the Driving Change Podcast featuring comedian and motivational speaker Michael Jr. I encourage everyone to listen to this Podcast as Michael Jr. speaks to Jeff about how he has spent his career making laughter common in uncommon places.  These places include homeless shelters and prisons, churches, and arenas.  He has dedicated his life to inspiring his fans through multiple mediums, including sketches, stand-up, short films, and appearances in feature films. 


     I also want to direct you to click on the link below to view a video where Michael Jr. demonstrates the power of “why” as seen through Daryl, a music director. This off the cuff interaction with Daryl will inspire and change the way you think about your emotions and purpose. 


Michael Jr. Clip


     What struck me most in the clip was what not only happened to Daryl but what happened to the people around Daryl as he sang. You will notice that the audience around him powerfully felt his emotions and the impact was both immediate and powerful. This clip might be precisely what you need today. 


     In tough times, we need to be reminded of the impact of emotions. Emotions can bring out the joy in others, but they can also be used to feed our fear and anger.  So, the real question is what type of emotional carrier are you? 


     In our future blogs, we will continue to write more about emotional capabilities and the impact they have on our relationships. If you are interested in diving deeper into this topic, check out the best-selling book Primal Leadership (Goleman, Boyatzis, & McKee, 2013). This book defines emotional capabilities like self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Emotional capabilities are a complex set of dynamics that impact everything we do and learning how to master them should be a goal for everyone. 


      The ultimate message for this blog is for you to do your best to be a positive carrier of emotions and take the time to observe the impact that it has on those around you. Positive emotions can change the world, but so can negative emotions. It is your decision on which you will focus… Choose carefully! 


Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R. E., & McKee, A. (2013). Primal leadership: Unleashing the power of emotional intelligence: Harvard Business School Press.

Hatfield, E., Cacioppo, J. T., & Rapson, R. L. (1993). Emotional contagion. Current directions in psychological science, 2(3), 96-100. 

Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/emotion


Virtual Pictures

     Here we are closing in on the end of May, and many of us have been at home hosting or sitting on virtual calls at an unprecedented pace. I went back and looked at my calendar over the past four weeks, and I have either hosted or sat on the following technology platforms: Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, WebEx, and Google Hangout. 


     Check this out. Zoom reported in April that as of December 2019, that the maximum number of daily meeting participants was ~10M. In March 2020, Zoom reached >200M daily meeting participants, and this was at the beginning of the current crisis. Based on the surge in volume, Zoom had to respond to numerous issues of technology and security (Yuan, 2020). 


      Zoom isn’t the only one that had problems; we as communicators had to adjust. How do you connect when you no longer have the ability to leverage live meetings? Overnight, the world had a cosmic shift that has been reported on, written about, and chronicled for future generations to look back upon. Based on the change, have you leaned into how you communicate or fallen victim to the technology?  


     As fast as technology had to adjust, how did you as professional communicators improve? At Braintrust, we work every day with individuals on how to leverage communication skills to connect, serve, solve, and add value in a way that is supported by decades of science. The methodology doesn’t change whether you are live or virtual. 


So here is the question…


“Are you the Director of a “connecting virtual picture” in your conversations?”


     Our Driving Change podcast is launching a new episode next week with Dr. Tony Jack. Tony is a Neuroscientist from Case Western Reserve and a recent member of my dissertation committee. In 2018, Tony and his colleagues published an award-winning article that was discussed on the podcast hosted by Jeff Bloomfield (Boyatzis & Jack, 2018).  


In the article and podcast, Tony discusses the importance of two critical networks of our brains:

  •  the empathic network
  •  the analytical network 


     These networks can open up or close down our minds to new ideas, imagination, and creativity. Decades of research continues to support the power we have as communicators in impacting decision making and change by accessing these networks in a specific way.  So why is this so critical in our current global environment? 


    We, as communicators, need to be even more mindful of how we are communicating in the virtual world. All the questions that were referenced above pound our analytical network and make it very difficult to connect with the people on the other side of the technology. Let’s be honest, this is how every call is being opened, and it goes on for minutes! Here is part of the secret recipe to disrupt this ineffective messaging. 


    If you want to be a “virtual director” in your communications, then you must be able to leverage stories, pictures, metaphors, and analogies that open up the empathic network. The best storytellers know how to paint a picture even when they can’t efficiently utilize a brush or canvas. 


    Yes, you can share screens, utilize PowerPoint, or drawing tools, but here is a warning. You better practice it before you try it. Some of you have trouble coming off of mute…


So, I want to provide you with five practical tips to assist you in being a connecting virtual director that leverages networks within our brains.  

  1. Start with a connecting story and customer’s objectives (minimize the COVID story) – empathic network
  2. Discuss your customer’s challenges – analytical network
  3. Describe a vivid picture through an analogy or story – empathic network
  4. Demonstrate value by serving and solving your customers challenges – analytical network
  5. Close with connection as you discuss next steps – empathic network


    If you can practice this formula and create vivid pictures in your customer’s mind, you will leave an impact. The best communicators can create a virtual image in the way you use your words and the way you tell a story. 


    I encourage you to check out the podcast, get out a notepad, and get ready to listen to it multiple times. I recommend that you listen to both the podcast from Tony Jack and Richard Boyatzis. It will have an impact on how you communicate, whether you are face to face or on a Zoom call.  Click here to listen.


Boyatzis, R. E., & Jack, A. I. (2018). The neuroscience of coaching. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 70(1), 11-27. doi:https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/cpb0000095

Yuan, E. S. (2020). A Message to Our Users.  Retrieved from https://blog.zoom.us/wordpress/2020/04/01/a-message-to-our-users/


Gaining Commitment – It starts at the beginning

     If you Google “Trusted Advisor” for sales, you would find all types of blogs, articles, and buzz around these two seemingly simple words. 


     Let’s take a second and breakdown the words “Trusted Advisor” according to the Oxford Dictionary: 


  • Trust – assumed reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something. One in which confidence is placed.
  • Advisor – someone who gives advice.


     In your customer conversations, are you someone who has relied upon speaking the truth to your customers by delivering advice/guidance in helping them to solve a problem? If you engage this way on every customer conversation, you never really close!


     Here is the take away from the above statement:  Great communicators don’t close; they solve problems that lead their customers to feel the urgency and need to change. For me, this helped break the mold of how I was trained for years – “the A,B,C’s – Always Be Closing.” The difference between gaining commitment vs. closing is that stress is reduced based on a customer vs. me focus. 


     For most sales professionals, the anxiety and Cortisol start flowing as you feel yourself building up to the close. At Braintrust, we want you to change your mindset about gaining commitment. What if you start gaining commitment from the very beginning of the process? 


To prove this, over the past few months our blogs have followed a process: 


  • Build a personal connection
  • Align with your customer objectives and challenges
  • Define the gap that he/she is facing
  • Bring in your product/solution to solve the problem your customers face
  • Remove barriers that lead up to you gaining commitment 


     When we train communicators to think about this, we ask them to think about the beginning – “How did you build an authentic personal connection and align with your customers’ objectives and challenges?” This is the key to gaining commitment. You become the trusted advisor, you can then look forward to asking the million-dollar question – “What would you like to do?”


     What makes this work so effectively is throughout this entire process, your customer is the hero of the conversation, not your product. By placing the focus on them, you can create an atmosphere where your customer feels both confident and comfortable as you gain commitment. If you set this up correctly, your product then becomes the solution to their problem.  Go for it – put the power in their hands, you might be surprised by the results. 


     In Jeff Bloomfield’s new book NeuroSelling®, he writes it out this way.


“I recommend saying something like this, “Mr. Customer, based on the conversation we’ve had today, the problem you’re experiencing and how much it’s actually costing you, it seems like our solution is the perfect fit, what would you like to do?”   


     Here is the take away – become the trusted advisor you have desired to be by letting your customer drive. If done properly, you have then earned the right to ask the question.   



Mastering the Coaching Conversation


     Coaches, this process goes for you as well. You can ask the same question to your team members – “What would you like to do?” I have highlighted the word you because the power goes to the team member. 


     As a trusted advisor, you are empowering your players to align with their objectives and challenges. Have you noticed how power sits in the middle of empowerment?  Take the pressure off yourself. You don’t have to be the hero of the conversation, but your team members should be. When this happens you will witness an increase in both action and commitment that will keep your team moving forward. 


Engagement: “Boss” or “Coach”?

    Over the past four years, I have been studying, researching, and learning about the complex topic of employee engagement within US corporations. As a coach, let me ask you 2 quick questions:


  1. Does a lack of employee engagement keep you up at night? 
  2. Are you actively involved in impacting employee engagement? 


     Our blog is all about “Mastering the Customer & Coaching Conversation.” Have you ever noticed that the title isn’t “Mastering the Boss Conversation?” Gallup just published new data on employee engagement, and the research points to a precise insight into the world of employee engagement. High-development Cultures (HDC’s) train their managers on new ways of managing – moving from a culture of “boss” to “coach.” Does the following formula resonate with you?


HDCs: Engagement + Productivity + Performance + Profitability = Sustainability


    Gallup has been tracking engagement levels since 2000, and they published an article on February 4, 2020, titled – “4 Factors Driving Record-High Employee Engagement in the U.S.” by Jim Harter


    Historically, employee engagement rates have been hovering at around 30%. Yes, that is correct. According to Gallup, 70% of U.S. employees are “not engaged” in the workplace, and of that, 18% are “actively disengaged.” Gallup defines being “not engaged” as those in your organization that are psychologically unattached to their work and company, and those who put time, but not energy (or passion) into their work. They go on to say that unengaged employees will usually show up to work and contribute the minimum required, and they’re on the lookout for better employment. Now, think about your team. Is it possible that 7 out of 10 of your team members fit this category? 


    Let’s look at another definition of engagement that might help to further broaden our understanding about engagement – a work-related state of mind that is characterized by Vigor, Dedication, and Absorption (Schaufeli, Bakker et al. 2006) 


  • Vigor – high levels of energy and mental resilience
  • Dedication – sense of significance, enthusiasm, inspiration, pride, and challenge
  • Absorption – fully concentrated and deeply engrossed in one’s work 


    As I clicked on the Gallup article, I wanted to quickly look at the tables and see the change. What represents the “record-high” levels that Gallup referenced in the title. I thought to myself, was the old mark obliterated? Can we now show that this great “bull run” we’ve had in the economy is yielding crazy high levels of engagement? 



    As I read on, I was disappointed. The article reports that we have seen improvements, but the % of “not engaged” has moved from 70% to 65%, and the “actively not engaged” has declined from 18% to 13%. Yes, this is good news, but WOW do we “coaches” have a long way to go. As coaches, if we care about this topic, we need to dig into how we can add rocket fuel to these modest changes. 


Coaches Corner:


    I want to draw your attention to the four factors presented by Gallup that are driving the change. Gallup reports that changes in employee engagement are linked directly to organizations committed to High-Development Cultures (HDC’s)


  1. HDC’s are CEO and board initiated.
  2. HDC’s educate managers on new ways of managing – moving from a culture of “boss” to “coach
  3. HDC’s practice company-wide communication.
  4. HDC’s hold managers accountable. 


    As coaches, we can actively influence #2. What would change in our conversations if we incorporated the following mindset  – a facilitative or helping relationship with the purpose of achieving some type of change, learning, or a new level of individual or organizational performance?” (Boyatzis, Smith et al. 2019) We must have a mind-shift on what it takes to activate performance within our players. 


    Finally, with baseball spring training upon us, we will be reminded that a .300 batting average over a season has the chance to get a player to the all-star game and if this average is held over their career, a possible seat in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  However, business isn’t baseball, and this isn’t and shouldn’t be enough. We need to set our standards higher and remind ourselves that real transformation and sustainability comes from getting the best out of our players each and every day. Focus on a learning agenda that facilitates change in the individual and performance will follow.     



Boyatzis, R. E., et al. (2019). Helping people change: Coaching with compassion for lifelong learning and growth. Boston, MA, Harvard Business Review Press.

Schaufeli, W. B., et al. (2006). “The measurement of work engagement with a short questionnaire: A cross-national study.” Educational and Psychological Measurement 66(4): 701-716.


Barriers: Don’t Fear the Orange Barrels


I remember years ago driving home to Ohio with my family after a beautiful vacation in Hilton Head, SC. The music was playing, the windows were down, everyone had their nice bronze tan, and we were cruising along as we entered the mountain phase of the trip. Suddenly, I look up and there it was ahead of us – orange barrels, brake lights, and slowing traffic. As we quickly dropped from 70 mph to a crawl, I went directly into problem-solving mode. I asked my wife to reach into the glove box and pull out the map (this was the 90’s and we didn’t have in-car navigation as of yet). I vividly remember us being detoured through Gatlinburg, TN which added hours to the trip and needless to say, stirred up all kinds of strong emotions.  Looking back, it wasn’t the detour that aggravated me, it was being caught unaware and then having no control over the outcome.


How many times have you been in a conversation with a customer and everything feels like it is going well when all of a sudden, emotions start taking over and the next thing you know, things have gone off-course? When this happens, it is analogous to suddenly being stopped in traffic by the dreaded orange barrels that we encounter every summer. 


If my trip back from Hilton Head were today, technologies like Waze would have provided us with options even before we came to the construction. Wouldn’t it be great if our human brain was programmed in a way that we could avoid the orange barrel’s in our customer conversations before we get to a point where a barrier or objection actually stops us? The Waze app (now owned by Google) says it right in their tag line – “Outsmarting Traffic, Together.” Let’s discuss how to outsmart those barriers together! 


In our CEO, Jeff Bloomfield’s new book, NeuroSelling®, he reminds us that to reduce change barriers is to understand that our customers’ objections are rooted in emotions to their problems and their historical anchor points. As professional communicators, it is our job to maximize three critical levers in reducing or eliminating these barriers.  


  1. Reset the Anchor Points
  2. Reduce the Risk
  3. Reestablish the Value


Removing change barriers is meant to reduce emotions and therefore it shows your customers that you, your product, and your service can help overcome these barriers. Your customers are constantly evaluating risk and value. Jeff uses the following formula in his book.


Barrier = Risk>Value

Change = Value>Risk


Let’s head back to our vacation trip and our non-Waze decision-making. I followed everyone else because: 


  • I was already in it and eventually, it would get me where I want to go, I hoped…
  • I wasn’t sure if I had any other options and,
  • the risk of going a route I didn’t know was not worth it based on previous experience  


Your customers are feeling the same way with the problems they are facing. In our customer conversations, we are the “Waze” application! There is no technology that can program us out of removing barriers for our customers, so we have to prepare an alternate route that will not only get them where they want to go but remove the risk and amplify the reward. For more information, check out NeuroSelling®, which is now available on Amazon here.   


Mastering the Coaching Conversation


Hey coaches, how do you support your team members in removing their barriers (orange barrels) that stand in front of them on a daily basis? The great news is the formula remains the same. It is our job as coaches and leaders to help remove some of the emotion behind barriers to change. How often in our conversations with our team do we actually add emotion to the situation or try to force in a solution when our team member isn’t ready for it? Just like customers, our team members are processing risk and value. 

Next time your team members have a barrier, help them do the following:

  1. Identify the barrier
  2. Identify the emotion 
  3. Identify the perception of risk vs. perception of value
  4. Use information from prior conversations to alleviate concerns

Value Clarity: Beware of Knowledge Dumping

Mastering the Customer Conversation


      It’s hard to believe, but 30 years ago (this May) I was graduating from Miami University in beautiful Oxford, OH. After graduation, I had the fortunate opportunity at the age of 21 to enter the Pharmaceutical Industry as a territory manager. Have you ever received an opportunity where you felt the dichotomy of a tremendous blessing with the overwhelming fear of whether or not you can actually succeed? Well, that was me. 


      I remember going to training. In my new hire class we had nurses, pharmacists, seasoned pharmaceutical sales reps, and other team members with backgrounds in more science-related fields than I had. I also remember entering the training thinking that the only way that I could compete was to work harder than those around me by digging in and getting it done. Then it happened, we were hit with the avalanche of materials, processes, training, exams, and role-plays. It was at this point that I entered the “Pharmaceutical Rep Factory” – review disease backgrounders, clinical backgrounders, product modules, brand message training, objection handling, and then the ever torturous live training and role-play scenarios!


      Every day in the mail, I would receive package after package. After weeks of studying, the next step was getting on a plane to fly into New Jersey, where I would spend three weeks learning more, practicing more, and yes, more ROLE PLAYS. What sales professional hasn’t been through the gauntlet of role plays? Almost three months into my training, the day came when I was finally certified to go out into the field and start my customer conversations. I had made it through the Parke-Davis scientific think tank. It was no joke. The training team made me into a knowledge machine and my highest level of knowledge was product value. 


      By all definitions, I should have been ready to go out into the world and sell with value-based features and benefits! Does this experience sound familiar to anyone else? Have you or are you being trained this way? If so, here is the question for today – how do you define value, and what do you do with it?


      We hear it from our clients all the time; our team members value sell every day, yet the value selling isn’t shrinking the gap of eroding market share, longer sales cycles, and frequent discounting. Here is a harsh reality. Unless your customer is already buying from you or exceedingly motivated, you are losing opportunities based on two issues.


  1. Not putting the value statements in the appropriate order of the customer conversation.
  2. Not linking the value statements back to the buyers’ actual unique challenges or problems.


      This may sound simple, but challenge yourself today. How many sales customer conversations do you have where you back the proverbial dump truck of knowledge onto your prospective buyer? By doing this, you miss one of the two critical steps listed above. In order to stand out above the rest, we, as professional communicators, must think differently about our customer conversations and where we place our value statements.


Here are some practical tips: 


  1. Know your product or service value drivers better than anyone (the rep factory is important).
  2. Be subconsciously competent with this information. Nobody should know more than you.
  3. Once you have this level of knowledge and skill, you will be more apt to naturally connect these value statements to the unique challenges and problems your customers face.  
  4. Place the value statements after you have created a connection, defined the buyers’ gap, and quantified that gap with your customer.
  5. Then, link the value statements back to the actual problem that was agreed upon.


      Guess what more buyers will do? They will feel the urgency behind solving THEIR problem and will make faster buying decisions.





Mastering the Coaching Conversation


      As coaches, we must be persistent with our team members that having excellent product knowledge is great, but it isn’t enough. Value comes from using value statements in the right order and with the proper linking back to our buyers’ unique challenges and problems. You can help your team members take this extra step in their customer conversations. 


      When you are observing customer conversations or having practice sessions with your team, you must actively listen for the transition from value statements to how these statements solve a problem for the customer. Your coaching feedback should reinforce the importance of value-based knowledge, but you must be listening for the link. 


      One suggestion is to take a marketing collateral piece that is filled with product or service value statements and ask a question on each bullet – does this value statement solve a problem that my customer cares about? If the answer is yes, then write down what it addresses and share it with your team. If the answer is no, then get on the phone with marketing ASAP! 

New Year, New You? How Peloton Changed My Perspective

Mastering the Customer Conversation


     On January 8, I received a great e-mail from Apple titled, “Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions – you’ve got goals for 2020. We’ve got apps that can help you reach them.” Thanks, Apple! Then I began to wonder why this email came out on January 8th instead of the last week in December or even the first couple of days in the new year. Here’s why.


     If you believe current estimates, 40 to 45% of you made one or more New Year’s Resolutions. So, let’s do the math – according to current projections, the US population coming into 2020 is ~330 million people. Thus, simple math informs us that over 132 million people made New Year’s Resolutions. 


     In February 2018, TIME magazine published an article referencing that research has shown that about 30% of resolution-makers give up on their goal before they even reach the two-week mark. To make it even worse, by the second week of February, some 80% of those resolution makers are back home with the remorse of disappointment.  Apple clearly knows this so they wanted to offer their “encouragement” right about the time you were starting to give up.  


    So I started to reflect on the #1 ranked resolution of exercising more. About 2.5 years ago, a friend of mine showed me this cool bike in his personal gym called Peloton. I originally had no intention of buying a Peloton, but I did, and now I’m a full-fledged Peloton fanatic.  Here is my Peloton story and how it makes me think differently about New Year’s Resolutions.  


     A little background may help. I’m a 205lb (maybe 210) runner including finishing both half and full marathons. As a runner, I knew the day would come that I would need to begin cross-training more frequently in order to achieve my goals. So about a year ago, I bought my Peloton and it sat in my basement with an occasional ride. There is no doubt that the bike, the trainers, and the technology were worth the investment. The problem was that I didn’t have a passion for cycling and no learning plan to get there. So heading into 2019, I had a New Year’s Resolution to use my bike more frequently in order to EXERCISE MORE. Guess what happened, the goal was established, but my behavior didn’t change UNTIL – my focus changed. 


     As I continued working on my doctoral thesis on coaching, I read a new book entitled “Helping People Change” by Richard Boyatzis, and the lightbulb went off. Change isn’t about just setting a goal and then hoping it happens. In order to really change my behavior, I needed to understand my personal vision for why I wanted to change. Using this book, here is how I reframed my goal of exercising more in 2020. 



  1. Reframe the goal (more exercise) – Moved the goal from my first thought to the last
  2. Reset the real purpose – Focus on why I want to exercise more – more energy, less stress, feeling good in my clothes, etc.
  3. Learning agenda – Understand the why behind various methods and levels of training to build excitement around learning and doing – HIIT (High-Intensity Interval), HRZ (Heart Rate Zone), Low Impact, and Tabata 
  4. Experiment and practice – have fun and reduce fear by experimenting with new rides and runs in my training  
  5. Snapshot Progress with an accountability partner – self-monitor progress in small snapshots in order (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly) and communicate with someone joining in the journey


     One of the most common “goals” for the new year is to increase our income or sales attainment.  That’s always easier said than done, huh? Here’s the hard question for you to ponder:


“What specific skill improvement steps will you take in Q1 that will make you more effective in the customer conversations you will have throughout the year?” 


    Do you need to improve the way you connect?  What about the way you ask questions that are prospect centric vs. self-centered? What specific training, reading or learning do you need to do to ensure you grow your skill in the coming year in a way that will help you exceed your income or sales targets?


    In one of our recent “Driving Change” podcasts here at Braintrust, Tom Ziglar, son of the famed speaker and author Zig Ziglar, said it this way, “Doing what you’ve always done in today’s age will actually get you less than you’re used to getting”.  He’s right. Life is moving way faster for us than previous generations.  We have to do things differently. 


     It is up to each of us to change the narrative. All of us at Braintrust believe that you can drive change in 2020 by changing your mindset. Set your mind on what you want your life to look like on December 31, 2020 then make a list of what needs to be different to make that vision a reality.  From there, set your action plan to remove the barriers preventing you from your best life and begin adding in the actions needed to grow. Let’s do this!   






Boyatzis, R. E., et al. (2019). Helping people change: Coaching with compassion for lifelong learning and growth. Boston, MA, Harvard Business Review Press.


Coaches Corner – Mastering the Coaching Conversation           


     Coaches – Happy New Year! You know what else Peloton has – great coaches. They inspire, push, challenge, and engage with riders and runners both in the studio and through technology. No different than what we do every day as we strive to be great coaches in 2020 with employees that we see face to face and those that we work with remotely. 


      My challenge for us is not to allow ourselves to think that goals are enough. Can you tap into a learning plan for each employee? Don’t leave one employee behind in 2020. As you head out of or into the performance management season, I hope that you sincerely invest the time and energy to identify the learning plan for each employee that will put them on the best path to capitalize on their strengths in order to help them perform at a higher level.       

Source: Lourie Shaull