Connecting at a Deeper Level
A Conversation
about Communication
with Larry Wilson,
Pioneering Founder:
Wilson Learning Corporation

By John Milton Fogg

Larry Wilson

Larry Wilson is one of the true pioneers of the personal growth and development industry. More, and most, importantly he was the man who brought the field legitimacy by taking his work into corporate America.

Larry started his working life as a teacher and then moved on to sell insurance. At 29, he became the youngest lifetime member of the industry's prestigious Million-Dollar Round Table. Larry's research and revelations into what inner and outer actions had created his own success were formalized into Wilson Learning Corporation in 1965, where he specialized in creating leading-edge motivation, creativity and teamwork programs, performance systems and human resource development.

Wilson came to national attention with the business best-seller he co-authored, The One Minute $ales Person. His book Stop Selling, Start Partnering: The New Thinking About Finding and Keeping Customers, provides a fresh approach for finding and keeping customers by developing powerful, long-lasting partnerships.

--JMF

Larry, what, for you, is communication?

Communication at its best is "connecting in alignment." Given that definition, it doesn't happen nearly as often as we think it does or would like to believe it does. It is, in fact, a very difficult process to get connected and aligned.

 

Why is that? It would seem to be the most natural thing in the world.

It is natural to communicate, but it is also normal to miscommunicate. A communication coach I had in college used to say, "The natural result of communication is misunderstanding."

First of all, we are all graduates of MSU: Making Stuff Up. Another word for this is "interpretation." I am continuously interpreting things that happen around me, and my interpretations of what you are saying may be very different from what you are trying to get across.

You use words, but a word is no more than a map or symbol for something else. A word represents something you are trying to get across. You assume that simply by using the word, I'm going to have the same meaning you have in mind. That would be fine if it were true, and probably it happens a lot. But it also doesn't happen a lot--and when that's the case, neither one of us knows that it is not happening. What's more, a great deal of what you're saying and what I'm interpreting is really coming from the past, oftentimes a very distant past, even all the way back to our childhoods.

Let's take a term like "network marketing." It has completely different meanings to different people. Nobody knows that better than your readers, right? When I utter those words, I have in my experience, my past, my definitions, a clear picture of what I'm talking about. But the person I'm saying it to clearly may have--and in this case, often does have--a completely different picture. This is a "loaded" word, if you will.

Here's the trap: most times I don't know how you are defining the word you're using.

 

So, do I need to pepper every conversation I have with, "What do you mean by that?"

It depends on the degree to which you are trying to be sure that what you want is what is happening. Therein lies the work of communication.

If I were having my first conversation with somebody about network marketing, I might say, "Hey, John: what comes up for you when I say, 'I'm in network marketing'?

You might be surprised at what comes up, right? "Isn't that a pyramid?" "Isn't that illegal?" Or, "I have a friend who did that, and he hated it." Or, "I have a friend who did that, and he loved it ... he's still doing it, and he's making a ton of money!"

The point is that you have no idea what the other person's thinking when you use those words. And if you didn't know what they're thinking, and you keep using those words, you can see how far off you might get from your objective, depending on their interpretation.

 

I remember a conversation that taught me this lesson: somebody said to me, "Is that like Amway?" and I said, "Oh, no! Absolutely not!" And the response came back, "Gee, that's too bad; I love Amway."

[laughs] Now, here would be the process of discovery. You hear the question, "Is that like Amway?" and you could come back with, "What do you know about Amway?" You're actually saying, "What is your interpretation?" without using the word "interpretation."

 

Most people think of communication in terms of speaking, as in, a "great communicator" is a great speaker. From what you're saying, it sounds like asking questions and listening is more important.

It is, but we have to know why we're doing it and what we're trying to do with it. To find out how people are interpreting what you say, you need to ask them in many ways, then listen, and then get even deeper with that.

If I said to you, "John, I have an idea for you that will really turn you on and make you a millionaire; you really need this, you've got to do this," I'm coming at you in a very direct way and a superior sort of position: I have a solution for you. But I don't know yet if you even need what I'm offering. I don't know enough about you to be that direct.

If I wanted to tell you an idea or a thought, I might say, "John, can I tell you a story about a friend (or client, or customer) of mine, and what happened to him?" and then describe my idea by illustrating it with a story. Of course, there'd need to be some context for bringing this story up, but the point is that I'm not trying to sell you my idea by saying, "Hey, here's what you need...."

 

What if the other person has provided a context?

Good question: what if he says, "You know, I have this problem: I don't like my job, it doesn't really utilize my talents..."? Most network marketers would say, "Oh, boy, do I have a solution for you!"--and be off and running, because it sounds like a great opening--but is it?

Here's the danger: I don't know what he means when he says that.

I don't know what he means when he says, "I don't like my job." I don't know what he means when he says, "My talents aren't being utilized."

Instead of rushing in, I could say, "What do you mean, John, by not utilizing your talents?" I could simply ask it directly, like that, or I could say, "John, tell me more about your sense of being under-utilized." Or, "John, can you give me an example of what you mean by being under-utilized?"

When I ask those questions, I am connecting at a deeper level: I want to know what it means that you feel under-utilized at work. I want to know how much pain might be connected with that. I have invited you in to tell me more, rather than just respond with a solution; and in the process of you telling me more, we will become more connected and more aligned.

 

Larry, what do you mean by "more connected and more aligned"?

That's very good! [laughter] I am connecting more than intellectually. As the person speaks to the pain of being under-utilized, I get to listen and say, "Wow, tell me some more," and "Oooh, that does hurt," and we're connecting at a deeper level.

I can have a significant shared experience with you in a relatively short period of time, depending on how the conversation goes and how deep it goes.

There are four stages of conversation in relationship. When you first meet: "Hi, how are you?" "I'm fine, what did you think of the ball game?" the trivial stuff. That's the easiest, safest, and most reproduceable level of depth.

The next level is about ideas, such as business ideas: "Network marketing--let me tell you what it is."

The next level is emotional connecting: the pain, the hurt, the anger, the frustration.

The deepest level involves a spiritual connection, where we connect about the meaning of life. In the course of describing his feeling under-utilized, this person might tell me, "You know, I want to have more meaning in my life. I feel like if I died tomorrow, I don't know that my life would have been fulfilled." That's an entirely different conversation, and the depth of that conversation and our connectedness takes us from "me" to "we."

The "alignment" part is that now we really know, with examples and stories, with explanations and clarified interpretations, that we're really speaking about the same thing. We're not talking about apples and oranges.

Each level of connectedness carries with it the opportunity to form a deeper, more tightly-bound connection; we're bonding together at deeper levels. I am trying to find out how aligned we are in our connection. To use a more generic word: I'm trying to be sure I understand you. This is the essence of empathy. At Larry Wilson & Associates, we say, "People buy our products and services, not so much because they understand the products and services, as much as we understand them."

 

Larry, it occurs to me that many of the people I've worked with would say, "What you propose is absolutely right-on--and, do you have anything faster? That's going to take a lot of time!"

It's going to take a little more time, and it's going to get a long-term result.

You see, we want that short-term fix, which almost always has long-term problems. If we're willing to pay the price to dig a little deeper in the beginning, it'll make things later on that flow smoothly.

Let's look at the context of sales: When we go through this dance with someone, working to create a significant relationship, we are helping him get through the first obstacle to buying, which is trust. People have to trust before they'll go any further. That can take minutes to create, or it can take a long time--but if it's not accomplished, then nothing else is going to happen, no matter how much time you spend together.

Most people in sales try to jump right over that hurdle; they either assume they don't need it, or figure they already have it. But they don't--and that's as far as they ever get. They may spend time explaining everything, they may even get some nods and what looks like agreement--but after they leave, nothing happens, because they never got through the issue of trust.

 

What do you mean by "trust"?

I define trust simply as one person believing that the other person has his best interest at heart. And you can't walk in with a badge on that says, "I'm trustworthy"; this has to exist in the eye of the beholder.

When we wrote The One-Minute Salesperson, we talked about this wonderful paradox: the more I help other people get what they want, the more I end up getting what I want. It's a simple formula that says, "I don't have to worry about me, I can just let go of my concern about me and put all of my focus on them--because if I put my whole focus on the other person, on solving his problem, helping him feel the way he wants to feel and get what he wants, then good things will happen to me."

This has to be real; if I'm just pretending to put my focus there, the other person will catch it right away and disconnect. But if I am truly there to understand him, what he wants and how he wants to feel, that's going to take a little time.

Back when we finally realized "Made in Japan" wasn't a joke, as it had been after WWII, we discovered that they had a lot of ways to engage their people that seemed to get better results than the way we were doing it; they had things like "just-in-time," quality circles, and all these processes. We ran over there, saw what they were doing, came back and said, "Okay, we're going to be like the Japanese; we're going to have 'just-in-time,' quality circles, and 'go do it.'"

 

And it didn't work.

That's right. It didn't work because we didn't understand how the Japanese actually created the right environment for those things to work. The Japanese took a lot of time to get everybody informed, enrolled, engaged and aligned. Their way was to take a lot of time up front to get
it right, and then execute very quickly. Our
execution was disastrous because we didn't take the time up front, and people weren't aligned.

It was like taking a seed that had lots of potential and dropping it in an unfamiliar and unreceptive soil. We might as well have brought those seeds back from Japan and dropped them on asphalt.

It's the same thing with communication. You don't plant the seed, then go out and dig it up the next day to see if it worked. It's about not just how to communicate, but also why we communicate. If this is a relationship in which I'm here to help the other person, then I will be willing to take a little time to really understand this person first.

At the outset of communication I need to ask, what is my goal, how do I want this to come out? This is a beautiful question to ask with any new connection you make--or any exiting connection.

If I create a picture of the outcome I want for this relationship and hold that picture throughout the interaction, the picture itself will help guide me into the very things I'm talking about.

 

Larry, you've used a metaphor of "be, do, have--soil, seed, harvest." What more can we do to prepare ourselves as soil for the planted seeds of communication, to make sure they're really going to grow?

If I am trying to help another person, to connect and get alignment, first I have to do all that with myself. In the 80's, after co-authoring The One Minute Salesperson, I went on to write Changing the Game: The New Way to Sell. The goal was to help people understand this process. We hired Alvin Toffler, who wrote Future Shock and The Third Wave, as a consultant to Wilson Learning, and said, "Tell us what the 90's are going to look like and what the year 2000 is going to look like."

Then we assembled a group of senior sales managers and senior sales trainers from about 30 different companies and asked them, "What competencies are salespeople going to have to have to deal with this new kind of future?" From their answers, we came up with a list of ten competencies.

Then we said to that same group, "Who do you have in your sales organization today who looks like someone with these kinds of talents?" We ended up with nine people: five men, four women, nine different companies; we interviewed those people for the book.

In trying to do their profiles, we asked them, "What do you do?" Their answers were all quite different from each other. They were all very successful, but they "did" different kinds of things.

We decided to look at the "being" instead of the "doing." We asked, "What can we find inside of these nine people? We can find no correlation in their doing-ness; what about in their being-ness?"

This time, we struck gold! We found a striking list of things they had in common, and called them "strategic thought processes"--STPs.

The first STP this group had, the number one correlation, came out to be this statement: "I cannot fail; I can only learn and grow."

Imagine: how would the general population behave differently if everyone believed that they could not fail, that they could only learn and grow? These nine people already had this attitude in common. They all shared that belief system, that fertile "soil."

The second STP was "selling on purpose." In other words, "I know why I am here. There is no question, no vagueness about it: I have a clear, concise, purpose in my selling." This purpose was really the purpose in their lives: it answered the question, "Why am I here?"

The third STP was "creating with vision." That means I always ask myself, "How do I want it to come out? What is the outcome I'm trying to produce?"

Another STP was, "How can I add value that's unique, significant and important to you, beyond any product or service, simply in the way I go about the process?"

Another one we called "leading the team." These nine were natural leaders; they could build a team.

 

How would you define "leadership," Larry?

Leadership is when someone follows you because they want to, not because they have to.

Another one was "partnering." Partnering is a whole level higher than viewing people as clients or customers. It says, "We're in this together."

The last STP we called "leveraging learning." The nine had the capacity to use their mistakes. Going back to "I cannot fail," that doesn't mean, "I'm not going to make mistakes." They were able to leverage what they learned and use it to step themselves up to the next notch.

 

How does communication figure into these people's success?

It's all a progression of communication. Starting with the first, "I cannot fail; I can only learn and grow," that's intrapersonal, me-to-me communication. I'm communicating a belief system that I'm connected to and aligned with.

The second, "selling on purpose," is me-to-me again: I have to be unambiguous in my me-to-me communication. I have to know why I'm here in this relationship with you. When I have that connected alignment with myself, I'm coming from my power; I am passionate, clear and grounded in these things.

The third is intrapersonal communication again: "creating with vision." I have communicated specifically and concretely how I want this to come out; I can see the picture and understand it, so I can tell whether it's happening or not, I can keep myself on track. This doesn't mean I'm not willing to change that picture as I go, but I'm starting out in a clear direction that I see.

When I speak about leadership or "adding value," now I have to clearly communicate my value to others. I have to communicate, "What's our purpose? What are our values? What is our vision?" This sets up partnerships, because now we have a shared significant emotional connection or experience.

It's all about communicating! Communicating to myself, creating the soil, and then communicating to you in a clear and grounded way, which is planting the seed and making way for all the doing-ness involved in growing and nourishing that seed ... letting the sun shine in, watering it, caring for it.

As a network marketer, you enter into a relationship with a seed of an idea from your grounded clarity, and you plant a seed of opportunity for someone else. Your job in a partnership is to do what you have to do, in your half of that partnership, to help that seed grow and grow--and end up in a bountiful harvest.