Mental Filters: The Key to Connecting
By Michael Lovas
Every sales person, manager, and
executive should be an expert at reading people. When you can
recognize someone’s thinking and decision-making patterns, you can
hire better, create better teams, inspire more effectively, create
marketing with pin-point accuracy, and of course sell more
Unfortunately, people-reading skills
are not taught to business people. They are the domain of
psychologists, psychiatrists, and Clinical Hypnotherapists who are
trained to operate on multiple levels at once. For example they:
listen and watch for behavior
build an expectation of positive
decipher the client’s mental
recognize the words and phrases
that can motivate that person.
Imagine if you could go that! Fact
is, you can. With that in mind, let’s look at the essentials of mind
reading in business.
Thought processes and decision-making
strategies are determined by something called “Meta Programs” (or
mental filters). They are not personality types, rather they are
the subconscious elements of personality and behavior. They are a
web of about sixty unconscious filters inside your mind. You use
these filters to guide your life.
Think of each filter as two sides of
the same coin. Most people are either one or the other in any given
situation. Every time you express yourself, you expose your
filtering configuration. That’s what we look for. Now, let’s learn
two of the most important ones:
Filter One – Procedures vs. Options:
Half the population
unconsciously relies on procedures to make their decisions, while
the other half relies on options.
How to Tell the Difference.
Let’s say, I ask you why you did something specific, for example,
“Why did you make your most recent investment?” There are only two
If you give me your answer in the form of a chronology, that
indicates that you rely on procedures (in the context of
investing). “Well, Michael, I had read in Money magazine
about a hot indexed annuity. Then, I started asking my friends
about it. Next, one of them . . .” See the story unfolding? A
story is a chronology, and a chronology is a procedure.
What to do. Once I recognize
chronology, I need to shift and speak to you in a procedural
structure. “Pam, here’s the right way for us to start working
together. First, we have a conversation and get to know each
other. Second, we’ll make an appointment to explore the right
options. Third, you decide which direction you want to go...”
If you give me your answer in a random list, it shows me that you
are generating ideas and unconsciously avoiding a procedure. “My
kids are getting to college age, so I need help with that. And, oh,
the mortgage, can you do something about it? Did I mention . . .”
What to do. First, make note of the
words and deliver them back to me (you should be doing this anyway),
and avoid using a procedure. In other words, give your information,
but do not use the connective words: first, then, next, or
finally. “Excellent, we can take care of all that at once.
College, mortgage and all the other stuff that you need when you
Filter Two – Standards:
Half the population looks to outside
sources for appropriate standards. The other half looks inside
themselves. Let’s say your credentials include JD, PhD, CIMA, CFP,
CPA or something else impressive. You are educated, intelligent and
have great insight in business matters. Logically, you probably
feel comfortable sharing it with other people. Is there anything
wrong with that? Yes! Giving advice is not a good idea until you
discover where that person’s standards are set, either inside her
own mind or outside of it.
How to Tell the Difference.
Simply ask this question, “Jane, how do you know when your (CPA)
does a good job?” You could replace CPA with insurance agent,
attorney, dentist, beautician or butcher. Jane will answer the
question in only one of two ways.
1) “The results tell me.”
If Jane looks to other people, results or data for guidance, you can
make suggestions to her. In fact, you need to make suggestions,
because if you don’t, she won’t be able to make a prudent decision.
She would simply guess. You would say, “You wanted X. We looked at
several of them. I recommend this one.” We call this way of
filtering “External,” because Jane looks to external resources to
set her standards (in a given situation).
2) “I just know.”
The opposite of External is someone who sets her own standards
within herself. When you see that, do not make suggestions, because
she doesn’t really value your opinion. Instead, simply give her an
opportunity to make the decision, “Jane, here are the facts and the
options. Now, it’s up to you…it’s your choice.” We call this
filter “Internal” because she looks internally for direction (in a
In my experience, most professionals
are comfortable giving advice. In other words, the natural
inclination is to treat all people as though they are External. Not
good. In fact, only half of the people alive are External. Which
means, that if you automatically make recommendations, you could be
alienating half the people you talk with. If you’re in sales, the
people you probably want to work with are business owners, managers
and professionals – people with assets and high incomes. They tend
to be more Internal. So, when you force your advice on them, they
unconsciously reject it.
See How Other Firms Use Mental
Filters. You already know
that therapists use Mental Filters to effect more positive rapport,
trust and results with their clients. In addition, Southwest
Airlines uses this methodology to hire their flight attendants. IBM
uses it in their mentoring program. IBM discovered that the success
of a mentoring program is directly related to the quality of the
relationships between the mentors and the protégées. And, those
relationships have a significantly greater chance to succeed when
the two parties share a similar Mental Filter configuration. Every
human being has about sixty Mental Filters. All humans expose their
Mental Filters when they express themselves. If you want to raise
the level of your success, consider learning how to read the other
Mental Filters of people who are important to your business.
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