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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 successfully.

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 patterns

  • build rapport

  • develop trust

  • demonstrate credibility

  • build an expectation of positive results

  • decipher the client’s mental structure

  • 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.

Mental Filters: 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 answers.

1) Procedures: 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...” 

2) Options: 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 have kids…”

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 given situation).  

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.

Read other articles and learn more about Michael Lovas.

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